Are your agile and devops processes good enough?

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Many organizations have shifted to agile planning and delivery methodologies to improve consistency, reliability, and customer satisfaction in building and enhancing applications. They embrace devops cultures, principles, and automations to increase deployment frequencies, shorten lead time to changes, shorten mean time to resolve incidents, and improve other key performance indicators (KPIs).

You might be wondering how your team and department stacks up against other similar-minded organizations in adopting agile and devops. Are you adopting best practices, facing similar struggles, and targeting achievable outcomes?

Two recently published reports have some answers. The 15th State of Agile Report by Digital.ai and Puppet’s 2021 State of DevOps Report both provide benchmarks on the overall maturity of these practices. Both reports include many details and analyst commentary. Here are my five key takeaways from these two reports.

Agile and devops will evolve to support more hybrid work

Agile practices continue to move forward since the Agile Manifesto, while devops platforms and capabilities are making it easier for more technology teams to automate and operationalize the cloud. The switch to remote work in 2020 and the current interest in hybrid work models will create new opportunities and challenges for organizations.

In the agile report, only 16% of respondents claimed they were fully remote before the pandemic. As pandemic restrictions lift, 56% favor a hybrid approach, and another 25% will stay fully remote. Only 3% plan to report back to the office full time.

Innovation and collaboration are often easier with colocated teams, so many leaders will seek practical changes and tools that support hybrid ways of working. Hybrid work will require shifts in how agile teams organize daily standups, automate more workflows between agile and devops tools, and formalize communication and collaboration practices.

Achieving agile or devops maturity isn’t easy

The devops report said that 10% of organizations qualified as having highly evolved devops practices back in 2010. In the 2021 report, that number grew to only 18% of respondents. But these organizations can deploy on demand, need less than an hour lead time for changes, have less than one hour mean time to recovery from incidents, and have change failure rates under 5%.

That’s certainly a very high bar for most organizations, but 78% of mid-maturity organizations still demonstrate significant improvements in these KPIs.

In the agile report, 80% of respondents perform the basic agile ceremonies, such as standups, retrospectives, sprint planning, and sprint reviews. But more than one-third of respondents are not using estimation practices, assigning dedicated product owners, planning releases, road mapping products, or instrumenting agile portfolio planning. Respondents identified more than 20 agile platforms, 10 different frameworks for scaling agile, and more than 20 different planning and delivery tools currently being used.

This shows there isn’t a clear-cut answer on what maturity bar to target, which practices to adopt, or the types of tools to standardize. Every company’s business goals, cultural DNA, and leadership objectives will lead them to different technology strategies and different practice maturity paths.

Improving devops KPIs requires adopting standards

One of the 12 Agile Manifesto principles is, “The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.” I agree with that statement but also believe companies, departments, and teams should adopt technology standards, select common platforms, and establish practice centers of excellence.

Technology leads and architects might prefer complete freedom in selecting tools, but the research suggests that mature devops teams are more likely to create standards. In the devops report, more than 87% of high-maturity organizations and 65% of mid-maturity ones share common tools, languages, and devops methodologies. They look to have clear roles, plans, and goals for their work (89% for highly evolved and 72% for mid-level) and make sure people on their team have a clear understanding of responsibilities (91% for highly evolved and 78% for mid-level).

The devops report has suggestions for how teams organize around features, solutions, and infrastructure delivery objectives, while the agile report illustrates which agile practices and tools have greater adoption. Leaders should encourage agile teams and devops practitioners to debate standards and leverage platforms before seeking new tools, innovations, and upgrades.

Aligning on target KPIs benefits the business

How fast is fast enough? What level of automation is required to reduce errors and minimize manual steps? Are the targeted operational KPIs aligned with business goals and customer or end-user satisfaction?

In the agile report, the top three measures of successful agile transformations, with more than 50% response are: customer satisfaction, business value, and business objectives achieved. Also, 56% of respondents have implemented or are planning to implement value stream management.

There are two takeaways here. The first is that whether you are agile, devops, or both, teams must focus on business outcomes and customer satisfaction as their primary objectives. The second takeaway is that selecting and improving operational KPIs requires investment, so leaders should be selective on which metrics to focus on and what goals to target. For example, teams with high change failures might focus on this KPI and prioritize continuous testing practices. On the other hand, teams building customer-facing apps in a competitive market may elect to increase deployment frequency to get new features out faster.

Breaking cultural barriers requires strong leadership

Both reports call out the need for active leadership and culture change as critical to successful agile and devops programs. In the agile report, more than 40% of respondents identified culture clashes, lack of leadership participation, and inadequate management support as agile challenges. In the devops report, more than 44% of the leaders in more-evolved devops organizations actively promote culture changes, devops practices, and business benefits.

Respondents recognize that the only way to get buy-in for collaboration with business stakeholders on end-to-end processes, the investment to implement platforms, and the time to train and adopt practices is when technology leaders drive transformative changes with their business colleagues. After all, devops isn’t all about automation and optimizing the cloud, and agile methodologies aren’t just aiming for productivity, quality, and on-time deliveries. When agile and devops target business benefits and customer impacts, everyone wins.

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