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Seven steps to making DevOps a reality

February 7, 2019
Melody Meckfessel

VP of Engineering

Accelerate State of DevOps Report

Get a comprehensive view of the DevOps industry, providing actionable guidance for organizations of all sizes.


When it comes to creating a business that can thrive in the digital age, the benefits of DevOps are clear. In a recent survey sponsored by Google Cloud, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found that about two-thirds of the respondents who use DevOps have seen benefits that impact their bottom line, including increased speed to market (identified by 70% of the respondents), productivity (67%), customer relevance (67%), innovation (66%) and product/service quality (64%). Not only do these factors deliver profitability, but they’re precisely what cements a winning reputation among customers–the ultimate payoff.

We’ve seen these benefits within Google where DevOps helped us build secure products used and loved by billions of people across the world. However, as head of DevOps practices at Google, I know firsthand how daunting implementing a new model can be, even if it’s worthwhile. Intrigued but unsure of where to begin, customers constantly ask me: “How can I make DevOps a reality?”

Implementing DevOps can be really hard. Getting people to work differently doesn’t happen overnight. From our own journey toward embracing what are now known as DevOps practices, we learned seven critical lessons essential to adopting a DevOps model.

1. Pilot a small project

This provides a low-stakes opportunity to master key DevOps capabilities, such as building small, diverse teams with shared goal. A few small wins will provide evidence to the rest of organization that DevOps works. Soon others will want to follow suit.

2. Be an open-source player

Leveraging open-source tools and engaging in the community keeps you up-to-date on the best solutions and practices and attracts top talent. It also flattens your company’s learning curve and speeds up release cycles. According to a recent DORA study, 58% of businesses made extensive use of open source.

3. Embed security within software development process

By addressing potential security issues as early as possible, you’ll avoid pushing those issues out to production. Over half of participants in the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey look for holistic approaches to improve security while automating the DevOps toolchain. In addition, the recent DORA study also found that top performers who build security into software development conduct security reviews and complete changes in just days.

4. Apply DevOps best practices

Use Site Reliability Engineering (SRE) principles to help build collaboration, reduce waste, and increase efficiency. Also look for ways to implement end-to-end automation. Not only does automation enable higher productivity, it frees organizations up to focus on what really matters:  delivering value and driving performance.

5. Provide immersive training

People will only commit to organizational change when they understand its premise and are given the resources and opportunity to put new tech to work. That’s why three-quarters of the top-performing DevOps teams in the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey, as well as Google, provide immersive, hands-on DevOps coaching and training, such as code labs and quick-start projects.

6. Establish a no-blame culture

By running blameless post-mortem meetings in a safe environment built on trust, we learn from our mistakes. Because let’s face it, defects and coding errors happen when building software. By presenting mistakes as opportunities, you enable people to relate to one another and solve problems together, while ensuring that the same mistake won’t happen again. That’s how the DevOps model can evolve faster.

7. Build a culture that supports DevOps

I’m underlining this because the rest is worthless without it. When people feel like they have each other's backs, they're more likely to take smart risks; more likely to create; more likely to move faster. Trust comes down to these principles:

  • Data-driven decisions: Look at data from code, logs, and traces, and use that data to arrive at decisions.
  • Transparency: Choose sharing over secrecy and siloing. Everyone sees the same data means everyone feels comfortable and confident.
  • Shared goals: Constantly collaborate so developers and operators are working toward a common goal.

Those are the basics. Reading the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services survey in its entirety will help flesh out the details. The report is full of proven tactics used by the most successful DevOps-based businesses, as well as statistics that demonstrate why it’s a worthy investment. After you’ve digested those facts and figures, consider my own intangible observation: there’s something magical about understanding what makes people productive, collaborating with them, and then empowering them to deliver value. Hope you get as much out of this transformation as we did.

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