July 9, 2021

The State of DevOps

With 2020 officially underway, DevOps has evolved beyond buzzword status, proving that it’s here to stay and continues to grow, year after year.

There’s no shortage of reports on the “State of DevOps.” However, most of these reports meant to be informational resources are advertising tools for specific software providers. Sure, they touch on the requisite hallmarks: DevOps isn’t about the destination—it’s about continuous improvement, and it’s a crucial part of your digital transformation effort.

And yet, most of those reports consistently promote the idea that DevOps’ success depends on using their products and services.

One of the few exceptions to the rule is the DevOps Research & Assessment (DORA)Accelerate: State of DevOps: Strategies for a New Economy” 2021 report, which offers an unbiased look at the space.

In this article, we’ll look at what DORA has to say about the state of DevOps and some of the newest trends shaping the space.

What is DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA)?

The DORA report is sponsored by almost 20 vendors and surveys a global pool of over 30,000 technical professionals. As such, we believe that DORA is one of the more unbiased resources when it comes to reporting on DevOps.

This DORA report represents six years of research and data collection in DevOps, offering new insights about the current state of DevOps, along with some predictions for what’s to come.

In these next few sections, we’ll look at some of the key findings and DevOps achievements found in the 2019 report.

More Organizations are Considered Elite Performers

Last year’s report introduced Elite performers, a fourth category coming out of the high-performance group.

As a quick point of reference, the report breaks participants into four categories (low, medium, high, or elite performers), which allows teams to benchmark their own performance based on the state of DevOps on a global scale.

The Elite category now makes up 20% of participants, nearly triple the 7% recorded in last year’s report, and compared to those in the low-performance group, have achieved the following results:

  • They execute 208x more code deployments.
  • They recover from change failure 2,604x faster.
  • They report 7x fewer failure rates.
  • They consistently maintain 106x faster lead times.

Additionally, Elite performers are twice as likely as their low-performing counterparts to meet or exceed performance goals.

The takeaway here is that Elite status is something organizations can achieve by continuously improving their strategies.

A New Metric for Future Progress Reports

DORA’s key metrics identify how your team’s performance stacks up against industry baselines for:

  • Lead times
  • System availability
  • Frequency of deployments
  • Change failure rate
  • Time to recover from failures

To continue to measure this, DORA introduced a new metric in last year’s report, software delivery and operational (SDO) performance, which will prove useful in tracking future progress.

According to the survey, there’s emerging evidence that software speed, stability, and availability are key drivers of an organization’s performance. This allows businesses to gain insight toward the big-picture performance standards outside of the DevOps team, with top performers seeing gains in overall productivity, customer satisfaction, and profitability.

Cloud Changes the Game

Cloud computing is a cost-effective, scalable platform for building and deploying software, but how you implement the infrastructure matters.

The study found that 80% of respondents host their main application in the cloud. Yet, just under 30% effectively implemented the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)’s five essentials of cloud computing.

What’s more, Elite performers were 24x more likely to have achieved all five characteristics than low-performing organizations.

As a point of reference, here’s the basic rundown of the NIST essential characteristics:

  • On-demand self-service. Allows users to automatically provision resources as needed, rather than relying on human intervention. One way to consider this is making a bank transfer through an app versus calling up the bank to have a teller do it for you.
  • Broad network access. This means that a platform’s capabilities can be accessed through different platforms: smartphones, laptops, desktops, tablets, etc.
  • Accelerated elasticity. Functionalities can be elastically provisioned and released, allowing businesses to scale up or down based on demand. On the consumer side, available capabilities will appear unlimited.
  • Measured service. Cloud systems automatically control, optimize, and report how resources are used based on the type of service. Services include bandwidth, processing power, storage, and active users.
  • Resource pooling. This term refers to a multi-tenant model where provider resources are pooled and physical and virtual resources are assigned dynamically and on-demand. The customer can indicate their location—state, country, or nearest data center—to help with load balancing and improve performance and availability.

Keep in mind, success doesn’t come simply by adopting some cloud-based tools. Instead, success hinges on how teams use the cloud to deliver value to specific areas of their business.

Organizations are Investing in Productivity Gains

The 2021 State of DevOps findings reveal that successful DevOps organizations routinely invest in tools that support rapid software deployment. They noted that productivity not only allows companies to hit organizational goals faster and with more accuracy, it also drives improvements in employees’ psychological state, citing gains in staff reporting better work/life balance and fewer cases of burnout.

Additionally, the report revealed the importance of developing a culture of psychological safety, where team members feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable with colleagues and take risks. Additionally, factors like being able to depend on colleagues, structure, and clarity around roles and responsibilities,

Elite performers know that productivity shouldn’t be measured in terms of bug fixes or lines of code. Instead, they should think of productivity in terms of how effectively staff can complete complex tasks without interruption or distraction.

Here are a few areas recommended in the DORA report:

  • Easy-to-Use Tools
  • Internal and External Search Functionality
  • Reducing Technical Debt
  • Promoting a Culture that Values Learning & Development

Changing Approval Processes Matters

While not the most exciting trend in the mix, the report found that organizations that streamlined the way they handle change approvals can reduce employee burnout, while also impacting speed and stability.

Making changes to software development and production processes is a complex, bureaucratic affair. Typically, change management processes exist as a system of checks and balances, ensuring key decisions are made based on what’s best for the end-user and the organization alongside the maintenance of and alignment with existing security and compliance standards and policies. Processes also involve determining the best tactics and methodologies for managing the change.

Researchers found that processes like running decisions through a formal change approval board can negatively impact the production pipeline. Elite performers instead use Agile practices to streamline change approval processes, such as:

  • Eliminating external approval processes like change management boards that act as both gatekeeper and blockage.
  • Building controls into automations that restrict certain changes.
  • Shifting change approval responsibilities to another DevOps engineer as part of the code review process.
  • Requiring change information to be distributed throughout the development lifestyle, ensuring all relevant parties understand how a particular change impacts other areas in the application.

Community Structure Sets the Stage for Scalability

No matter how much software development evolves, culture remains central to an organization’s ability to succeed. According to the report, DevOps is most successful in organizations that focus on building community.

Elite organizations build community structures that span the entire org chart, and typically use one of the following four common models to scale up:

  • Community Builders: This group focuses on what’s called communities of practice, where employees learn by doing, and use grassroots and proof of concept approaches. The report found that this method was used 46% of the time.
  • University: This group places an emphasis on education and training, and while it’s not very common (only 9% of organizations use this model) it can be effective.
  • Emergent: This group makes up 23% of organizations and applies a hands-off approach with a concentration on grassroots efforts and communities of practice.
  • Experimenters: This group represents 22% of respondents and focuses on activities involving community and creation. Often, this approach leads to high performance as workers experiment and test new ideas quickly.

Striving for Elite DevOps Achievement Standards?

As mentioned earlier, the 2019 State of DevOps report allows you to review the industry’s most meaningful metrics and benchmark your performance against the global DevOps community.

In the end, those considering adopting a DevOps strategy or leveling up existing practices must be prepared to strive for superior performance and prioritize creating a cultural environment where collaboration, change, and optimization are core values.

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