I’ve come to realize DevOps is highly misunderstood when its actually simple.

Tools + Communication + Automation = Speed, Stability and Value

Simple right?

So that’s how I look at it but what is the actual definition?

DevOps (a portmanteau of “development” and “operations”) is a software development method that stresses communication, collaboration, integration, automation, and measurement of cooperation between software developers and other information-technology (IT) professionals.

In theory its dead simple. In practice, it requires work just like everything else.

In my experience, even the companies that have a “culture of change” don’t change quite as easily as they may like to think. All the hemming and hawwing still happens. The nay sayers still exist. All the long drawn out meetings trying to convince key stakeholders still happen. And nothing moves quite as fast as the champion’s want them to AND THAT IS OK. Yep, you heard me right. Its perfectly ok.

Why do I say it’s ok? Because implementing a DevOps movement is scary and the vast majority of companies get it wrong while claiming a huge success. What generally happens is, we pick out the parts that sound cool like “Automation” (I’m 100% guilty of this), call our team members “DevOps Engineers” (managed not to do this), create a few meetings between Developers and Operations and call it good. Things get better between the teams, releases get better and we can deploy shit with the click of a button if we have spent enough time on it. But wait there’s more….if your company really gets a hair up their ass, they bake QA into the automation process. Thus hopefully we’ve gotten some integration between subsystems and system tests. Realizing that system tests generally catch issues which drive system integrations to happen. Bassackwards much?

After that, we officially have the gold nugget to success and true nirvana has hit its peak. We are deploying to production 80 times per day, PagerDuty never wakes us up and everything is air tight. right?

THE HOLY GRAIL!!!!

But as we soon come to find out, its not all beer and whiskey from here on out. The hard part is yet to come.

What’s missing? The most difficult parts are missing. feedback – collaboration – measurement of cooperation – communication. Which mostly boils down to Communication. But we can get away with what we have. I mean, its just a flesh wound right?

So inherently there is an order. A continuum by which DevOps is implemented. Easiest first, most difficult last. Go figure right? What’s the easiest? The parts that don’t require communication of course, automation and tools. Every geek can get behind those two. I mean, who doesn’t like tools? And who doesn’t like to click a button and see lots of cool shit happen that you can show off at your favorite meetup?

What do these other four things really buy us? How about planning, buy-in, innovation, reduced MTTR (mean time to recover), coordinated work, motivation, effectiveness, morale, speed, change lead time, retention, reduced costs from production defects, lower defect escape rate, reduced deployment times, and the list goes on.

I would propose that communication is the linchpin to a truly successful DevOps paradigm yet the one most avoided when getting started. Without it, all we really have is some cool automation.

But how do we do all this? Its hard right? It requires effort that geeks don’t generally engage in. How do we accomplish this part of DevOps and do it well? What makes this so difficult? Is it different for every company? Are we really that bad at communication? Or do we simply talk in different languages? Are their best practices to follow? How do we measure cooperation? What degree of collaboration is good?

In a follow-on post we’ll start to explore this paradigm of communication and how different companies make it happen.

 

Thoughts on communication:

Speak the same language – As odd as this sounds, encourage people to define what they mean by xyz. Make it a point to get definitions that may not be clear. I’ve seen and contributed to so many long conversations that could have been done in 3 minutes because multiple people were working from different definitions of the same word.

Innovate on communication – Have a retro on communication. Find out how to communicate in a manner that others can consume. Iterate on it.

Don’t allow different communication mechanisms to become a barrier – Allow people to consume Asynchronous information in different ways. Provide an ESB for communication if you will. Think ChatOps. Write some coffee script that will allow engineers to register with various types of communication. RSS feeds, email, message boards, online reporting, IM, Reddit, text to speech (maybe thats too far?). Let people consume information how they want to when its Asynchronous. Let them subscribe to what they think it important.

Provide venues for communication to happen organically – That sounds like a high level, completely ambiguous piece of no information. What I mean is, if multiple teams likes beer, make it a habit to go to lunch and drink every Friday. Find commonalities between the teams and exploit those to the companies benefit. Increase morale, collaboration and communication in one fail swoop. Some of the best ideas come from this one thing. DO NOT see this as a bunch of engineers taking off for the afternoon. You would be amazed at how many ideas come out of these venues.

Synchronous communication – should all happen the same way. Keep it consistent. One, maybe two technologies is fine. Beyond that is too much. Don’t have 10 different ways to constantly interrupt your colleagues.

Close the damn loop – All too often someone important gets left out of the communication loop. This can often happen because the email that got sent looks like the 1000 other emails received that day. Find a way to emphasize information that is important. You can even require an acknowledgement.

 

Painful to watch:

Hiring people that do both – really? I guess in a small organization it can work for some duration of time but I would have to argue that one person will never measure up to an engineer that is dedicated to one or the other. Its preposterous. If the application has any degree of complexity, the concept of one engineer being great at everything is plain ridiculous. What you end up with is a mediocre solution that is lacking in more than one thing. Its why we have QA, and developers and operations and performance engineers and security professionals. Because there is too much for one person to be good at all of it. Don’t be stupid, let people do what they are good at.

 

What do you think? What can we do to communicate better?