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How to ensure DevOps success

In this article, you'll learn more about the value DevOps brings to businesses. To do so, we'll present the 5 most important KPIs you can use to measure the success of DevOps in your business. 

If you could increase revenue by implementing a new process and thus increase business value, would you do it? Most business owners and executives, without hesitation, would answer with a resounding "yes." Yet such a process has already evolved over the past decade. We're talking about DevOps, which allows software companies to continuously iterate and deliver faster. However, you first need to find a way to measure this added value to show whether the adoption of DevOps has been successful.

What is DevOps and why is it important?

To define DevOps, you need to examine areas related to company culture, methods and tools. One explanation might be as follows: DevOps is a combination of mindsets, practices and tools that enable organizations to deliver applications and services faster and easier. It allows products to evolve and improve in less time than companies that rely on traditional processes for software development and infrastructure management. (Source: Amazon Web Services (AWS) website)

 

DevOps should enable a continuous, repetitive feedback cycle between development and IT operations teams:

Figure 1: From Dev to Ops

In older work models, there is usually a logical demarcation between development and operations/operations that is deliberate. Tasks are passed back and forth across this boundary by teams, with most of the context lost and no knowledge transfer. However, as software projects become more complex and market demand requires faster iterations, these models cannot scale. DevOps methodologies and processes improve software development at scale, connecting operations and development to transform complex manual processes into improved automated processes.

With DevOps, end-to-end software development can be done faster. Features get to customers faster, increasing value and flexibility. To find out if you are successfully using DevOps, measure the following KPIs.

Identify and measure KPIs

Key performance indicators (KPIs) can be used to measure whether a team or initiative is successful. Generally, KPIs must align with a specific goal, be measurable, and fit within a timeframe. In the case of DevOps, KPIs should provide quantifiable data on goals such as deployment speed and application performance.

In the lines below, we present the five most important items and how they can be integrated into reporting.

 

1. Deployment frequency

Assuming you could select only one performance metric to evaluate your DevOps processes, it should be deployment frequency. If the main goal of DevOps is to increase the speed of development and deployment, the most important success metric is software delivery frequency. Once teams adopt DevOps, frequency should increase, with any decrease indicating a bottleneck in the process.

To easily measure delivery frequency, you can set up a webhook in the final stage of your CI/CD pipeline or delivery tool. Each successful delivery should trigger the webhook and increase the number of deployments. In highly complex deployment environments, you may need to make the metric more detailed, such as by region or by customer.

2. Lead time for changes

In a successful DevOps organization, the rapid flow of feedback between IT operations and development enables changes to occur quickly, correctly, and efficiently. New features, patches, bug fixes, and security fixes should go from creation to delivery with minimal lead time, with longer lead times again indicating a bottleneck.

To effectively measure lead time for changes, you need to adopt at least two other methods from DevOps and Agile:

  1. a common work backlog for Dev and Ops that transparently reveals the status of all work packages e.g. with systems like Azure or Jira.

  2. deploy individual work packages and features to ensure deliveries contain isolated small changes that can be rolled back as needed.

 

The next step is to link each change directly to a ticket or work package and assign an ID. The delivery system (e.g., a CI/CD pipeline), reads this ID and can use webhooks to automatically close the ticket for each successfully delivered change. Finally, to get the lead time for changes, simply measure the total time that elapsed between opening and closing the tickets.

3. Error volume and error rate (error budget)

Another important metric is the number of errors. The Defect Escape Rate is the ratio of bugs found by the user in Production to bugs found during testing by Quality Assurance (QA) in the test environment. This metric provides insight into the quality of your software deployments and the effectiveness of your QA team's test coverage.

Note that striving for 100% defect-free operations can be counterproductive. So, for example, hesitating to make changes and the backlog of important feature upgrades increases as a result. We recommend giving your SLAs a bit more flexibility to work with reasonable error budgets.

4. Service level agreements

A service level agreement (SLA) can be "soft," such as an idealized goal. However, it often defines a legal contractual obligation to maintain a certain level of availability of an application over a specified period of time. All parties should work together to determine what exactly constitutes uptime and downtime and then agree on an effective measurement method.

5. Application performance

Most web-based applications measure performance using metrics such as TTFB (Time to First Byte), error rates, and response times. These are all easily quantifiable and direct indicators of the user experience provided by an application or service, and details of application performance may also be included in the SLAs explained earlier.

 

Reporting KPIs

With a refined list of KPIs, a solid service level agreement, and a monitoring infrastructure, you have the data you need to determine whether DevOps is delivering on its promises. However, technical and non-technical stakeholders in the organization are likely to be interested in the metrics, and the question remains: How can you effectively present this data?

Fortunately, there is an extensive ecosystem of tools that can be used to report and visualize KPI status. A key goal in DevOps is to make work "visible." While it may be obvious that teams are working, the difficulty is determining the contextual importance and overall status of work packages Methodologies from the agile world such as Kanban or user stories have proven to be a proven tool.

Dashboard solutions

Several dashboard solutions are available to improve the quantification of KPI metrics. Tools such as Datadog, Grafana, and Tableau provide comprehensive capabilities for visualizing a variety of business and technical performance metrics. Most of these solutions are already integrated with other SaaS platforms, tools and APIs.

For KPIs related to SLAs and application performance, you should collect the data you need directly from production systems. You can also create visualizations on lead time for changes and deployment speeds. This way, you summarize all the numbers into user-friendly dashboards and can share them with relevant stakeholders.

Summary

Real-world experience has already demonstrated the potential of DevOps and its added value for businesses... However, to do this, you first need to make the added value measurable. You should also ensure that all stakeholders can easily identify and understand the driving factors.

However, for DevOps to have a chance of success, both technical and non-technical teams need to be coordinated. Non-technical stakeholders must buy in and work with software teams and vendors to create meaningful, realistic KPIs and SLAs. Technical teams must design systems and processes that optimize software delivery and provide solid tools for communicating the value DevOps brings to the business.

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