Why customers get stuck in the middle of devops deployments

Puppet, devops, from last year’s findings, dedicated internal platform team
Credit: Dreamstime

The vast majority of organisations are mired in the middle of their devops journey, according to the 2021 State of Devops report by automation software vendor Puppet, which surveyed 2,657 technical professionals around the world about their continued adoption of devops and agile practices.

“There are far too many organisations that have been stuck in the middle of their devops evolutionary journey for far too long—even if there are pockets of success in which individual teams are highly evolved,” the report authors noted.

Respondents to the Puppet report were asked to self-identify where they are in their devops evolution, with a record high 18 per cent identifying as highly evolved and four per cent just starting out in 2021.

That leaves the vast majority of 78 per cent in the middle of their journey. Highly evolved devops practices typically lead to on-demand deployments, with key metrics like lead time for changes and mean time to resolution (MTTR) being measured in minutes not hours.

“Every year we see a large part of respondents are not moving beyond the middle of the evolutionary journey. Middle organisations have optimised for the team but not [for] the team of teams,” said Nigel Kersten, field CTO at Puppet, during a press conference. “The highest level organisations have made devops invisible, and it just becomes the way they do work and deliver software.”

What is holding organisations back in their devops journey?

The report notes that breaking workloads down into microservices and using cloud services and automation tools do not automatically equate to a highly evolved devops practice.

Other key needs include cultural factors like a clear and joined-up approach, setting effective goals and establishing consistent measurement all key factors; these factors often hold back that large middle class from true enterprise-scale devops practices.

“Despite all their devops talk and funded initiatives, these companies have failed to address or understand the cultural, organisational, and process changes required to adopt a new way of working with technology,” the report authors noted.

In short, while these organisations are saying they are doing devops, they have yet to truly internalise all the elements required to reap the full benefits of more-aligned developer and ops teams. “They haven’t addressed the organisational silos and misaligned incentives around deploying software to production that gave rise to the devops movement,” the report noted.

Other blockers these mid-level organisations face include shortage of skills (33 per cent), legacy architecture (29 per cent), organisational resistance to change (21 per cent), and limited or lack of automation (19 per cent).

At the higher end of the evolution curve, these blockers become even more cultural than technical, with insufficient feedback loops (18 per cent), unclear responsibilities (18 per cent), and failure to share best practices (17 per cent) the most cited by respondents.

The report also pointed to extensive buying and leadership being highly important factors in any devops evolution.

“The most highly evolved firms benefit from top-down enablement of bottom-up transformation,” the report noted. “Strong teams can create substantive change within themselves and in adjacent teams, yet in the absence of meaningful leadership support, success will be confined to pockets, and widespread evolutionary improvement will not occur.”

Automation and platform teams remain key to devops evolution

Automating away engineer toil is a key tenet of devops, and 90 per cent of highly evolved organisations have automated their most repetitive tasks, according to the survey results. But for mid-evolution organisations, there is still much work to be done, with only 62 per cent of these organisations reporting high levels of automation across their teams; of all respondents, 58 per cent said there remain multiple handoffs between teams before a service can be deployed.

Focusing on automation alone will not push mid-level organisations into the upper tier, though. “As an industry, we hyper focus on the automation aspects of devops to the detriment of team interactions, fast flow, collaboration, and optimisation of the whole system, and we do this because building out automation is a concrete, technical task that can usually be done by a small number of teams,” the report noted.

Continuing from last year’s findings, the presence of a dedicated internal platform team was again identified as an important factor for scaling devops success. “When platform teams can leverage existing automation, they can accelerate devops transformations.”

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