How to measure outcomes of your company's DevOps initiatives

Nicole Forsgren, author of Accelerate: The Science of DevOps - Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, talked with TechRepublic about ways to gauge DevOps success.

Nicole Forsgren, author of Accelerate: The Science of DevOps - Building and Scaling High Performing Technology Organizations, talked with TechRepublic's Dan Patterson about measuring and optimizing DevOps initiatives. She started by addressing obstacles that businesses face when implementing DevOps:

Forsgren: "I think one of the biggest (obstacles) is not getting started or thinking you're not ready, right? Anyone can be ready to start. You just need to start somewhere. Another big challenge is not measuring anything, which I think is super important because if you don't measure where you are, then you don't know if you've had a success, or a failure unless it's huge. Right? Unless, it's epic.

Another big challenge I see is sort of death by initiative. Right? It's so hard if you have 50 initiatives, or even 20 initiatives. We need to kind of boil it down to a handful of core things that we can focus on because our people can only do a handful of things at a time. The first, of course, is software delivery performance, the ability to develop and deliver software with both speed and stability.

Now some people might think, why is this even important? But by being able to develop and deliver software with speed and stability we can beat our competitors to market, we can pivot when we need to pivot, we can dull out our customers, we can keep up with compliance and regulatory changes, and security threats. Another category of outcomes that are super important is organizational performance. We find that high performers are twice as likely to meet or succeed organizational performance goals. So these things include profitability, market share. Even things like effectiveness, and efficiency, and customer satisfaction.

SEE: Quick glossary: DevOps (Tech Pro Research)

Now something else that's super important that sometimes people don't consider, but I think is just as, if not more important are work life balance goals. We find that investments in DevOps capabilities, like automation, and process drastically improve the work life of our workers, right? They decrease employment pain. They decrease burnout. They improve employee net promoter score. They make our lives better.

Anytime you want to measure something, I think it's important to keep two key things in mind. The first is to focus on outcomes and not outputs. The second is to focus on global measures, and not local measures. Okay, let's look at the software delivery pipeline as an example, right? As an example of a local measure, but so many people tend to focus on is velocity, right? It comes out of the agile movement. So many times we have groups that focus on story points. Stories that get broken down to their points. Teams assign points to how much work they think it will be, and then when you finish your work a customer signs off on those points. Velocity is a capacity planning tool. So, it's a measure of how much work a team can get done.

SEE: Job description: DevOps engineer (Tech Pro Research)

It shouldn't be a productivity tool, okay? There are a few reasons why. One is that velocity is only for a team in a particular context. It shouldn't be used to compare teams. Another is that it's a local measure, not a global measure. What I mean by that is we can have situations where teams will gain this metric, right? You might overestimate the points that you can complete because then when you complete your points you get extra gold stars on your forehead. Another thing that can happen is that then you don't want to help other teams in getting work done because it decreases the amount of points that your own team can do. You're optimizing for your local points, and not the global goal of getting work done to further the goals of the business, right?

So, we also want to focus on outcomes and not output. The outcome is delivering features to delight the customer, not an output of story points for the team. We're seeing DevOps take an interesting surge in the market, and in the front of mind of so many companies. Right? In the past it was something we weren't totally sure about. Right now we're seeing many more companies pay attention to it because they're realizing we have strong outcomes and strong evidence space outcomes. So, in the next six months I think we'll see broader mind share. In the next 12 months I think we'll see broader adoption, and in the next 18 months we'll see even greater delivery into companies bottom lines."

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Business performance
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About Dan Patterson

Dan is a Senior Writer for TechRepublic. He covers cybersecurity and the intersection of technology, politics and government.

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