Despite the rise of low-code/no-code software platforms and the efforts laid down by top-tier software vendors to simplify their expanding product portfolios, the general trend that surfaces across the bulk of all enterprise software deployments is one of interconnected complexity and convolution.
The truth is, modern software development is more complex than ever. A single enterprise project can have dozens of stakeholders and hundreds of APIs.
However, with DevOps (development and operations), developer and operations teams can unify workloads and deliverables in a joint effort. With WebOps now joining DevOps as a more web team-focused version of the original DevOps workplace methodology, we can reasonably guess that IT teams will become more systematically process-centric in the years ahead.
But even when projects spiral, and it’s clear that teams are feeling DevOps pain and strain, the source of that negative energy can be far from obvious. Hence, visibility is the first consideration in a DevOps environment, according to Andrew Davis, senior director of research and innovation at Copado.
Without visibility, improvement for day-to-day business operations may be slow-moving or difficult to manage.
What is DevOps Visibility?
To determine what DevOps visibility is or what it really means, Davis argues that a complete answer must include a combination of software development elements and aspects.
“These [aspects] can be as specific as a proper version control mechanism and pipeline management tools to something as large as a transparent organizational culture,” said Davis. “But without all these elements contributing to visibility, an enterprise simply won’t have the information it needs to improve quality or accelerate releases.”
Although DevOps has been widely adopted, and many IT decision-makers report their organizations have adopted DevOps practices to improve software, not all of them have reported success. Thus, when an organization experiences DevOps pain, the first step is to check for where it lacks visibility.
Key Visibility Indicators
Copado offers three key indicators that can be improved by DevOps visibility:
- Over-reliance on manual processes and interventions: Tracking changes manually creates problems later, and it is very easy to make a small change and fail to log it. Manual methods can also keep critical information siloed, so different teams might have incomplete or conflicting information—all of which frustrate visibility.
- Unclear goals: Good DevOps is iterative and leverages circular feedback loops to work toward the ultimate end goal of a strong user experience. However, during development, teams can lose sight of the bigger picture, and unclear feedback mechanisms can make it challenging to prioritize the right things and set the best goals.
- Trouble with complex merges: Continuous integration (CI) was supposed to be a solution to the time-consuming process of integrating changes into a code repository. However, even CI can create bottlenecks when joining multiple complex branches. Full pipeline visibility provides tools to simplify branches so even complex merges are manageable.
“As these three areas indicate, tackling visibility demands a coordinated effort, and it can be tempting to think that it is too much of an undertaking,” said Davis. “However, people waste an enormous amount of time and energy when they don’t have what they need to do their jobs, so the time spent improving visibility is worthwhile because it provides the insights necessary to get work done.”
Processes that Benefit from DevOps Visibility
The key to ensuring project visibility is to make sure a project begins with proper planning that encompasses everything from situational awareness to version control, planning tools, traceability, auditability, and compliance. This will ensure the full field of vision can be brought into focus at any given point in time.
“Plans enable the team to know exactly what everyone is aiming to do with the DevOps initiatives in place,” said Davis. “Without insight into required use cases and planned work, you could face redundancies, missed benchmarks, solutions overlap, scope creep, and more.”
Value stream management
Since value streams center on project flow, businesses should place high importance in understanding and handling them. A team needs to understand the benefit of every project as well as the risk. Without value stream visibility, they can’t recognize the flow of work and where those benefits and risks appear.
According to Copado, system changes could benefit from visibility to ensure version consistency and that relationships across metadata in system architecture are clear and understandable.
“Visibility also helps to avoid overwrites, metadata conflicts, and the frequent introduction [or recurrence] of bugs,” said Davis.
Moreover, project leaders can see the potential impact of system changes by having an understanding of dependencies and their connections at every level of the software supply chain across teams, systems, packages, and within a codebase.
Copado’s Davis also says that performance is arguably the most important aspect of visibility, as it can help businesses identify bottleneck sources, work distribution, and opportunities for improvement.
“Tracking performance can be team-focused based upon the four key DevOps metrics of lead time, deployment frequency, change fail rate, and time to restore,” said Davis. “These give a good indication of how the overall team works together, combined with an assessment of throughput from the development team to help understand work capacity.
“Alternatively, performance visibility can be individual-focused. Whilst granular metrics applied to individuals may seem appealing, this can do more harm than good when it comes to changing behaviors.”
Ideally, performance visibility is based on the team. Then, if needed, the business can trace back individual-level problems.
How to Enable DevOps Visibility
To support visibility, a business needs tools to increase transparency and reproducibility throughout the software development lifecycle.
There are a few visibility best practices to increase DevOps ROI (return on investment). Key among these will be the need to adopt version control.
Version control is an automated method of tracking changes to code. Updates are kept in an immutable log that developers and stakeholders can reference and roll back to if problems arise. This becomes the single source of truth coders can turn to as they manage their updates.
Enterprises should also think about the need to connect user stories and metadata.
“When a business ties changes in version control to user stories, it gets a narrative that explains the who, what, where, when, and why of changes,” said Davis. “Specifically, it connects the exact change, when it was made, who did it, why they did it, if anything else was changed, and the goal of the change.
“This develops a story of historical changes to the same material.”
Davis further advises that firms should “organize the architecture” because “noisy” metadata can obscure architecture visibility. Often, one of the fastest ways to discover architecture issues is to simply organize it into folders and packages.
Importance of Value Stream Management in DevOps Visibility
A business looking for DevOps visibility control needs to enable value stream management (VSM). According to the Copado team, value stream management starts with mapping.
In this approach, the DevOps team visualizes workflows to understand where bottlenecks lie and why they occur. This means they can make improvements, eliminate waste, and focus on the strongest value drivers.
Further, by implementing a VSM platform, DevOps teams can get an understanding of the connections and integrations between tools, applications, SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions, and other components in one place.
Another way DevOps teams can improve visibility is by leveraging DORA metrics. DORA metrics involve measuring lead time, deployment frequency, change fail rate, and time to restore to test how an overall process compares to others. It can be applied across a wide range of questions to quantify results.
Incorporating value stream mapping, a VSM platform, and DORA metrics will improve DevOps visibility, highlighting places in processes where value is stuck.
“Visibility gives teams and leaders alike the information they need to turn their attention further down the pipeline,” said Davis. “This will begin to increase quality, improve speed to deployment, increase and accelerate innovation, and finally achieve resilient development processes.”
Taking Steps Toward DevOps Implementation
There seems to be a fairly widespread assumption that DevOps is some kind of cure-all solution that can simply be directed at projects, teams, and all forms of software entities in order to provide some kind of improvement.
However, DevOps is a complex set of practices that relies on visibility of business processes to be managed properly. Businesses should be aware of this complexity before taking any steps toward implementing it for their projects or business processes.
Adrian Bridgwater is a technology journalist with three decades of press experience. Primarily he works as a news analysis writer dedicated to a software application development ‘beat’; but, in a fluid media world, he is also an analyst, technology evangelist, and content consultant. As the previously narrow discipline of programming now extends across a wider transept of the enterprise IT landscape, his own editorial purview has also broadened. He has spent much of the last 10 years also focusing on open source, data analytics and intelligence, cloud computing, mobile devices, and data management.