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How to explain 5 clear benefits of DevOps to leadership

Gene Gotimer DevSecOps Senior Engineer, Steampunk

Many organizations are in the midst of transitioning to, or have recently adopted, a DevOps culture. In response, other organizations are considering following suit, but often they don't know why they are changing other than because others did it.

Even if your organization understands why it should change, convincing your leadership to invest in a DevOps transformation isn't always easy. What is in it for these decision makers? If you need to persuade your management to adopt DevOps, what's the best way to explain the benefits and how moving to DevOps will achieve them?

Here are five benefits to moving to DevOps for IT leaders, and how to demonstrate why DevOps will provide them.

1. Better quality

"Better" is an ambiguous quality, and every tool vendor and consultant promises "better quality" without any real criteria to back that promise up. But in a DevOps culture, the team can genuinely give the organization quality improvements that matter to decision makers. How? By addressing their biggest concerns.

When I start a team on a DevOps journey, I begin by asking those in leadership about their biggest worries. What in their release process are they most worried about going wrong? What do they feel is most lacking?

Also, I like to find out what facets of quality they value the most. If they had to release in an emergency and were empowered to skip any tests, which ones would they keep? Which tests are too important to ignore, even when time is of the essence? Web security? Performance? Bad user experience?

The answers to these questions indicate the critical aspects of quality for the project. Then I explain that the progress of any build through the pipeline makes it clear how the team can address those quality aspects, and when. Open communication and collaboration, dashboards, and a clearly defined release process make visible which tests have completed and which haven’t, how the build is doing, how much is left to do, and when stakeholders can expect the build to make it through the pipeline.

You should address the most important aspects as soon as reasonable in the pipeline, and push the most expensive tests toward the end. In this way you can increase leadership's confidence in the build and release process, and they'll know that the team handled their biggest concerns.

2. Higher confidence in releases

Since the pipeline is addressing the business's most essential quality concerns, there is less risk that some critical problem will make it through to release or that the team will discover unpleasant surprises just before release.

More importantly, your end users are less likely to be the ones finding those bugs. The process addresses the riskiest and most critical quality tests earlier. So by the time your team is ready to do the most expensive checks in terms of time and effort, they are confident that they have already found the most serious problems. As your team tests each build successfully, and without a catastrophic failure, the leadership will gain more confidence in each release—and in the release process itself.

Increased visibility into the pipeline and repeatable automation lead to confidence that the release process is working as desired.

3. Less wasted effort

Along with improved confidence in quality, leadership should be able to identify inefficiencies, wasted time, and needless efforts. Just as stakeholders will become more aware of what is essential to the organization, leadership will be able to see what isn't.

Your DevOps pipeline will highlight extra steps in the release process, testing that no one pays attention to, and redundant approvals and checkpoints. Those steps can be shortened or eliminated and replaced with testing that provides more value.

In addition, an increased focus on automation will get you through the process faster and more efficiently. That will leave more time available to focus on the more valuable parts of the release process.

I can't guarantee that decision makers will act on all of the waste that's identified, but they will know that they should, and this will still be a selling point in favor of DevOps.

4. Better predictability

Because the business can see more about the progress of each build through the delivery process, decision makers will have a better understanding of what has been completed and what is left to do, as well as what is going well and what is not. That lets them plan more realistically for near-term, mid-term, and long-term releases and changes.

They will have more confidence that the current build is a viable candidate for release or know early on that it is unlikely. They can see when a feature should be ready and won't make rash or unrealistic promises that undermine the team's ability to deliver a quality product.

Using automation adds consistency and repeatability to the testing process. And leadership will see the impact of trade-offs in time and effort; a little extra time will allow your team to deliver this feature safely, or releasing now without the feature will mean that feature won’t be available until the next release, which will occur in a predictable amount of time. 

5. More flexibility

Flexibility in agile and DevOps isn't as much about changing the business model on a dime as it is about being able to continuously adjust and improve the release process as business needs change.

Early in the project lifecycle, speed to market might be crucial. Once you have users, the focus might shift to a steady stream of features. As the user base grows, stability becomes more important.

Throughout these strategic shifts, tactical opportunities and challenges will present themselves. You might see a marketing opportunity if a particular feature can be ready by a given date, you might gain a new client if you can support its business needs before your competitors do, or you might have a chance to ride the wave of attention if you can just get the next release out when you need to.

Being able to adjust your process to answer the needs of the business at any given time is a benefit for any organization trying to survive and grow in changing markets.

Start explaining

By clearly explaining the benefits of DevOps to the business and demonstrating how it can achieve those advantages, your team can open the way for the organization to begin a DevOps transformation.

Once you demonstrate the benefits, perhaps through a pilot project, and show that the process can be continually adjusted to keep meeting the business' needs, your organization's leaders will begin to understand the value of fully supporting and adopting DevOps throughout the organization.

For more on explaining the benefits of DevOps to leadership, or if you're an IT leader yourself and want to fully understand the benefits, drop in on my tutorial, "DevOps for Leadership," at Agile + DevOps West, which runs June 2-7 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

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