Agile with DevOps

Stronger in Tandem

Within IT, agile development is in vogue. One philosophy that more and more companies dedicate themselves to is DevOps – which unites development and operation. For employees, this means a big change. Time and support is needed to make sure that agile teamwork does not remain a mere theory.

In an increasingly digital world, user demands also grow. When a tool does not keep its promises, users will look for alternatives. Here, agile providers have a clear advantage. Let us assume that a company wants to launch a travel portal. An agile development team will not collect requirements, plan, code, test and stabilize for one year until an encompassing product can go online – which still does not make the users happy. Instead, agile developers will quickly offer an optimal minimum version (Minimum Viable Product, MVP) to their customers, which will then be further developed. For example, the travel portal might in a first step only offer domestic flights. Some weeks later international flights might be included, then railway connections might be added and finally, also hotel bookings. When users request additional features, these have priority. Features without added value are, however, ignored. 

The focus is on products – not disciplines

This approach is not only useful for start-ups in the digital sector. Traditional companies are also turning to agility for their IT operations. One philosophy is particularly popular in this context: DevOps. It combines the IT disciplines of software development and software operations. One product does not anymore run through various areas but lies completely in the hands of one interdisciplinary team. Usually, such a team does not comprise of more than a dozen members. Specialists for coding, testing and operations normally sit in one office and coordinate their actions constantly. The manager is replaced by a so called product owner. He keeps an eye on the users’ wishes and criticisms, and sets priorities together with the team.

Contrary interests require compromises

Yet it is not enough that a company interlinks formerly separated departments, builds small teams, nominates a product owner and organizes some agility training. Instead, employees and managers must develop nothing less than a new self-conception. They must dismiss long-established processes. Not everyone is happy to receive more responsibilities – or conversely to hand over control. Not everyone welcomes weekly deliveries. Not everyone is prepared to quickly reach agreements with colleagues. Good compromise is needed daily, for example because developers and operators have contrary interests: While the former want to renew as much as possible, the latter aim to keep the overall system stable. Every change is a potential disruptive factor.

Leadership, teamwork and self-organization – all is set into a new perspective through DevOps. This change is especially of a cultural nature and needs time. For sure, employees also need the appropriate tools – for instance project management methods like Scrum. Here continuous training can be helpful. Living new behaviors, for example decisiveness, is at least as equally demanding. Employees need to have sufficient freedom to improve the necessary soft skills. This should also be considered when teams collaborate with external IT service providers: In a DevOps context, they often have to be integrated in a different way. Therefore, team workshops and employee coaching should be possible at any time – not only in the critical DevOps implementation phase.