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2016 State of DevOps Report: The top 3 takeaways

Nicole Forsgren Partner, Microsoft Research, Microsoft

The 2016 State of DevOps Report was just published today, and as one of the authors, I’m very excited about a few key trends we're seeing. 

Each year, we look at what is happening in the world of software development and delivery and then summarize and present the results. After five years and over 25,000 responses, our results show that IT is a driver for business outcomes such as productivity, profitability, and market share. The report also shows that it is possible to achieve both speed and stability in software delivery if you include three important components: good technology practices, lean management practices, and a good organizational culture that prioritizes information flow and trust. And by the way, these things are all possible for large enterprises—not just startups and greenfield technologies.

In pulling together this year’s report, three takeaways stood out. Here are my highlights:

1. The road to great takes work

For years, we've been saying the road to great is tough and we've been encouraging teams in the middle of a transformation to not get discouraged. We’ve also been warning teams to pay attention to their technical debt. The data this year supports these points: High performers are doing a great job, spending the most time on new, value-add work (49 percent) and spending the least time on rework (21 percent). They’re building in quality early and reaping the benefits.

This is where it gets interesting: Low performers are doing more new work (reporting 38 percent of their time here) and less rework (spending 27 percent of their time here) than the medium performers. Medium performers report spending 32 percent of their time on rework and 34 percent of their time on new work. (Note that all of these differences are statistically significant.) Why? This could be because low performers are prioritizing new work and pushing new features out the door, while ignoring rework and technical debt. This seems like a good idea in the short run, but it is a bad strategy in the long run.

Medium performers are probably paying off the technical debt they’ve accumulated over the years. Their overall process is still better than that of the low performers—they’re delivering code faster and more reliably—but they are spending more time on rework right now and less time on new work. My takeaway from this: If you find yourself in the midst of a technical transformation and it's difficult or discouraging, hang in there! You’re doing important work. It gets better.

2. Your employees are driving value

Good technical practices (such as continuous delivery with trunk-based development and integrated security testing) and lean product management (with visibility to customer feedback and the value stream) improve the extent to which employees identify with their companies. That's important because employees who identify with their organizations are more engaged with their work, make better products, and are more connected. Identity drives organizational performance.

This was backed up in other measures of employee satisfaction in the survey: We found that employees in high-performing teams were 2.2 times more likely to recommend their organizations to a friend as a great place to work.

3. Build quality in, then reap the benefits

We asked respondents how much time they spent on rework and unplanned work this year, and the translation to monetary waste is staggering. The mantra of continuous improvement has never been more true: every month, every quarter, you must improve your processes. Build quality in. Reduce rework. Reduce errors.

The cost savings to your organization are huge: What if you no longer spent 10 percent of your time fixing silly things that never should have broken? Now imagine if every technical person no longer spent 10 percent of their time having to fix things that improved processes and that automation could fix. (The report includes a section to help you calculate the financial implications of this.)

Now take it a step further: What could you do with an extra 10 percent of your time? What new, exciting projects do you want to work on? What ideas do you have that you just don’t have time for? The best, most innovative companies allocate one-fifth of the workweek for employees to be creative. The other companies sprint every day, trying to keep up. But we know that it takes time and space to create awesome things.

That's just the beginning

While these are my favorite highlights, I've just scratched the surface of what's in this year's report. We extended our investigation of continuous delivery and its effect on IT and organizational performance. We also expanded our investigation upstream to see how product development approaches affect IT and organizational performance. We included measures of culture and expanded into employee identity and engagement. The report wraps up with a framework and calculations to present the financial benefits of your own technology transformation.  

I encourage you to download the free 2016 State of DevOps Report, give it a read, and let me know what the key takeaways are for you. I look forward to your comments.

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