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DevOps trends to watch: Teams, value streams and 'NewOps'

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Ericka Chickowski, Freelance writer

Most IT and business leaders understand that DevOps done right can help them improve profitability and market responsiveness. But many are still trying out to figure out how to scale DevOps pilots across organizations.

That's why so many experts' predictions for DevOps this year have less to do with awareness or automated technology and much more to do with making maturity breakthroughs in operational models, business alignment, and leadership execution.

Here are the key DevOps trends to track in 2019.

How to Build a DevOps Toolchain That Scales

A 'trough of disillusionment' will hit some

Gartner analyst Gene Spafford has bad news for many of those dipping their toes into the DevOps waters without the correct leadership strategies. In a recent report, he predicted that in the next five years, 90% of DevOps initiatives will fail to fully meet expectations.

Those failures will not occur because organizations chose the wrong release management software or automation tools. Instead, dashed expectations will be due to the limitations of the DevOps management approaches used by IT and business leadership.

Organizations hoping to use a few DevOps-driven technologies as a quick fix for deep-seated organizational problems are going to discover what many DevOps evangelists have been warning about for years: This movement requires big process changes to make a difference.

Get the process right

First among them is restructuring teams and the design process, so everyone is working to the right business outcomes—particularly improving customer experience, said Anders Wallgren, CTO of Electric Cloud. 

"We’re still not aligning around business outcomes. That has a lot to do with the fact that people don't involve critical aspects up front, including design, user experience, architecture, security, and performance. We keep treating them as things we can sprinkle on at the end. And it doesn't work that way."
Anders Wallgren

To beat this mentality, Wallgren said, leaders need to do more to create a one-team mentality. The goal should be that all IT specialists are working with a singular drive to create great outcomes. 

Value stream management will be big

Even more crucial than collaboration within IT is how technologists work externally with the business to execute on business strategy. According to Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop, too many IT leaders today are stymied by "this weird and broken layer that we've put between technology and the business."

This is likely why so many CIOs struggle to create and execute on digital transformation strategies. Approximately 84% of CIOs see digital transformation as crucial to their survival, but only 3% have managed to scale any digital transformation projects across their entire organizations, according to one SAP-sponsored survey by Oxford Economics

Kersten and others believe that for DevOps and agile teams to truly align software delivery with business goals—and thus enable broader digital transformation efforts—leaders need to start designing process flows and success metrics around the value created for the business. This is what's driving many CIOs and business stakeholders to weave value stream management into DevOps.

Eric Robertson, vice president of product management and strategy execution for CollabNet, explained that enterprises are using value stream mapping to understand and gain insight into the work items and user stories delivered to the customer. The goal is to track those items to the delivery side of the house and also back upstream, to the business.

"Basically, it's about the delivery of value to the business—on time and with a high level of quality."
Eric Robertson

Tasktop's Kersten said this means making some radical changes in how leadership drives software delivery objectives. Applications—internal and external alike—shouldn't be delivered as projects, but instead should be nurtured as products. And those products should be managed according to the value they deliver to users and to the business.

"Each of the products needs to have someone responsible for product management," Kersten advised; he recently expanded on this theme in his book Project to Product. That product manager probably needs to be someone who's very close to the business or embedded in the business, he said. 

You need to define that role, and then you need to define the business results that you want that product to generate. "And then of course you start managing everything to those business results," Kersten added.

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Many will realize ops isn't an add-on

Many experts say that this is the year that the "NoOps" snipe hunt is put to rest. The idea that developers can completely subsume operations duties through automation does not include the end-to-end vision of what it takes to keeping applications running.

"The quest for enterprise agility that assumed dev could do it all has run its course," said Tim Eusterman, senior director of solutions marketing for BMC Software. In 2019, ops will reassert its role in the DevOps team with a renewed focus on key values, including governance, production orchestration, stability, and scalability that are considered pre-development, he said.

In other words, more IT leaders will realize that ops needs to be an equal partner in the delivery of IT services. Damon Edwards, co-founder and chief product officer for Rundeck, said the reality is that the last mile of DevOps is ops.

"You do all this work, you do all create all this value, and until you connect at that last mile, you're not getting the value out of it. And that I think is what's going on with a lot of big enterprises."
Damon Edwards

He believes that a lot of today's DevOps disillusionment is because big organizations haven't retrofit operations to the new DevOps reality.

Building and testing software faster and more efficiently is great, but how is that going to really unlock the power of your business? Edwards asked.

"You’re not making money writing the software. You’re making money running the software. So it's got to be running in order to get ROI from the cost you spent writing the stuff." 
—Damon Edwards

That is why NoOps is a no-go for the future of DevOps.

More changes needed

Edwards believes there is still a lot of bloodletting to go as the ops people refashion their roles. They need to work with devs and the business to define the business tolerance for failure and reliability, and to determine how their roles work in an integrated fashion.

He said he sees ops organizations following the same path that the QA function went down early on in the DevOps movement. Back in the day, many pundits predicted that the QA role would disappear in the era of DevOps. But now, years later, QA is as important as ever. It's just that manual testers have had to evolve into a consultative role as the experts in testing who help build automated testing systems, rather than executing the tests themselves.

As operators go down the same path, this will require them to evolve into new specializations in the operations world.

This year will bring an increased focus on specialized skills in areas such as cloud operations and site reliability engineering as these "NewOps" professionals renew their focus on modern IT operations, said Andi Mann, chief technology advocate for Splunk.

In turn, these new career paths will help IT leaders to direct higher-value skills and resources more appropriately to deliver on real business goals, Mann added. This can mean delivering more features, improving service quality, ensuring system reliability, or improving customer engagement.