Building a successful DevOps culture: 5 steps to get started

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If you want to get the most out of the cloud, you should be looking to shift your mindset to a more agile culture and strive to deploy software programmatically multiple times per day.

Adopting DevOps can help you get there.

As a set of practices that automates the processes between software development and IT teams, DevOps enforces an agile culture that allows you to build, test, and release software faster and more reliably. But what might sound simple in theory is more difficult in practice.

Many organizations make the mistake of wanting to do DevOps without fully recognizing the complexity, dedication, and change required to achieve a mature DevOps culture. We’re here to help with that.

Here’s a roadmap for successfully implementing DevOps in your organization.

1. Earn buy-in from the top down

If you want to achieve a successful DevOps culture, everyone at your company, from a junior developer to the CIO, must support the organizational change. Far too often, that’s not the case.

Employees may be set in the “way things have always been done” and reluctant to uproot the status quo. Sometimes there’s pushback from the operations department. Sometimes developers don’t care about DevOps, they just want to code.

Whatever the reason may be, DevOps isn’t attainable unless the whole company’s on board. And that starts at the top.

DevOps culture requires executive-level buy-in and sponsorship right off the bat. You need leadership to support changing the software development lifecycle, championing automation over manual processes. You need leadership to encourage experimentation and promote knowledge sharing. All of which will feed and nurture your DevOps culture.

2. Develop a firm understanding of CI/CD

To achieve DevOps, you must fully commit to understanding and implementing continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD).

The CI/CD methodology gives your development teams the tooling they need to automate application deployments from development through production.

Evaluate your current business processes, looking for any that are still manual. This will enable you to find inefficiencies in your software development process and make changes to improve software development flow and delivery. Which leads us to …

3. Automate everything

We can’t stress this enough: Automate everything.

It’s true that automating processes will initially take longer than performing those tasks manually. But making this change will save you time, energy, and resources in the long run, and also reduce the risk of human error that could cause even more problems.

If you encounter unexpected issues in production with the latest deployment of your software, simply redeploy the previous version with the push of a button to resolve the problem within minutes. Use the time gained to reproduce and correct the issue in lower environments and to write a test for your pipeline to run to cover the problematic scenario moving forward.

Be sure to make security and governance in your automation a priority, not an afterthought. Write and add automated tests into all your new and existing deployments. This includes, but is not limited to, both functional (unit, integration, post-deployment, etc.) and non-functional (performance, security, etc.) testing. Strive to have all tests and deployments in all environments automated.

While this may seem time consuming in the beginning, you’ll be thankful you did it.

4. Adopt an agile approach to software development

Your software teams must practice an agile approach to software development, as well as practice CI religiously.

This means creating a software development flow that pushes code at least once a day. This means coding for simplicity. This means eliminating long-lived feature branches (one-to-two weeks should be the maximum).

Everything that’s not a secret value or parameter needs to be in source control management. Facilitate deployments so that your CI/CD tool monitors source control for changes and kicks off the automated pipelines to update your software or infrastructure automatically as changes are committed.

5. Implement a robust CD solution

It doesn’t matter what CD solution you use, so long as the software and code are deployed rapidly and automatically to any environment.

Automating software deployments means also codifying the configuration for all of your CD solution’s jobs and pipelines and storing those in source control management. Doing so enables your CD solution to be deployed, updated, and maintained in an automated fashion.

You must be prepared in the event your software and code disappear, so be sure your source control management is backed up in multiple places and regions, and that you’re able to rebuild everything from code. Make sure your teams rally around broken builds and fix them as soon as possible. Have all your builds and deployments run at least once per day, and if you have a physical CI/CD server, cycle it every week to validate dependencies and edge cases.

Software and tooling are always changing. If you’re not deploying daily and cycling supporting infrastructure daily, you can’t be completely confident that your build and deployment will work as expected.

Strive to deploy to production during the day and build applications and microservices to expect failure. The more times software is built, tested, and deployed via code, the more deploying to production becomes a normal activity rather than a ceremonious event that takes place in the late evening or on the weekend.

DevOps requires commitment

A successful DevOps culture doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why, as an organization, you must be willing to fully commit and embrace it.

Cutting corners or taking shortcuts early in the development lifecycle will only result in technical debt and perpetual problems. You’ll find it’s worth taking the extra time to do things correctly the first time.

By achieving a mature CI/CD, automation, and DevOps culture, your software will become more reliable and released more quickly, your production deployments will be more efficient, you’ll use less resources, and you’ll become a more agile organization.