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DevOps and value stream mapping: Why you need metrics

Eric Robertson General Manager, DevOps, CollabNet
Metrics on a whiteboard

Software is transforming the priorities of business in every industry. Consider how Tesla has disrupted the automotive industry, how Airbnb has changed the world of hotel bookings and vacation rentals, and how Uber has turned the taxi business upside down. Each of these companies led with software that created an entirely new experience for the customer.

This radical shift has caused traditional companies in all sectors, and even government organizations, to innovate and compete. They know that better customer experiences fuel business, and software lets them deliver those experiences to win, delight, and keep customers. 

As organizations work to deliver better digital experiences through faster, higher-quality software, process innovation in the software development industry with agile and DevOps has become a higher priority for tech executives. DevOps tools and practices make it easier for companies to offer continuous delivery, continuous integration, continuous testing, continuous monitoring, and continuous feedback. To get that continuous feedback, you need metrics. Value stream mapping can help with that.


Why you need continuous feedback

For development practices to stay continuously aligned with business objectives, you must focus on more than teamwork, empathy, and tooling. You need to understand what is and is not working and be able to prove your success. That means using metrics.

For example, you might think that your team produces effective results in a reasonable amount of time, but you probably do not have the metrics to prove it. Having robust information that provides insights into the success of a product, from the initial idea to when it produces value, is paramount. You can generate, collect, and act upon this type of feedback to directly affect your business. And the faster, more frequent, and more continuous feedback you have, the better your team can ensure value creation.

To gather that feedback, you need metrics. 

Feedback metrics

When I talk to IT professionals who are leading development and operations teams at some of the world’s largest organizations, they usually can’t point to specifics about their software development lifecycle (SDLC).

When I ask, “What’s your rework rate (percentage of tickets mapped to releases)?” or “What’s your MTTRI (mean time to recover/resolution of an issue)?” they tell me it's messy at best. Even financial organizations, which need to provide detailed audit trails and comply with regulations, have a difficult time tracking down such things as mean time between failures or change lead time. One reason is that, even if they have tools that provide this data, those tools are not integrated, and the situation is even worse if the organization is trying to collect data manually. That leaves managers pulling reports from high and low. Like almost every other segment of IT, these managers are drowning in unleveraged data.

Collecting metrics that span the entire DevOps lifecycle not only is useful for compliance, but also helps to guide business decisions, affects the speed of delivery and innovation, helps reduce operational costs, and solves the online scaling problem.

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DevOps and value stream mapping

To some degree, the DevOps movement has been a bit of a gamble for organizations. While teams can see that implementing agile and DevOps best practices can improve the speed of delivery, simply moving faster is not good enough. How do you know if you are moving in the right direction? Smart business leaders won't gamble with their most important asset, which more often than not is software.

And this is the core where value stream mapping (VSM) brings value to the DevOps lifecycle. Good measurement is based on the ability to integrate the many tools across the lifecycle, analyze and associate myriad events, and report on the findings to give managers actionable data. VSM helps companies measure the value they are receiving from DevOps tools and practices.

At the recent DevOps Enterprise Summit London, I spoke with dozens of practitioners and managers who attested to the lack of data-driven decisions in the DevOps lifecycle, and I sat in on sessions such as Alexa Alley's "After the Value Stream," in which she discussed what it means to measure success and ensure that your business continues moving forward with agile practices for long-term success and implementation.

According to analysts from IDC and Forrester, the value stream and VSM are critical lean enterprise techniques that many organizations are now adopting. Measurement and metrics are necessary to improve the flow of information and drive continuous improvement and feedback for successful DevOps initiatives.

VSM is about more than just dissecting the SDLC to find bottlenecks and pain points, although it is certainly helpful in that area. Analyzing value streams gives management confidence that the business is focusing on the right projects and initiatives. By taking a clearer look at the KPIs and metrics across the toolchain and scaling the entire organization, these leaders can make informed decisions the way most business leaders prefer to—with data to back them up.

Think beyond faster releases

As people move away from making gut-level decisions in DevOps, they realize that continuous improvement is about more than just quicker release times. By moving forward with DevOps intelligence, you will be able to see the links between each event in the lifecycle and its impact on the customer. VSM is really all about providing better service to the customer and leading with software to turn your industry upside down.


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