DevOps and continuous delivery are both seen as an extension of Agile. In environments that use these strategies, teams have streamlined processes and improved feedback loops. Automation to support and amplify agility, responsiveness and faster time to deliver has emerged as a key to success for applications. This article talks about how to create the right feedback loops. The goal of almost any process improvement initiative is to shorten and amplify feedback loops so that necessary corrections can be continually made.
The feedback-first approach
DevOps pipelines require smaller, incremental code changes that can introduce rapid code iteration and testing. The successful execution of DevOps depends on the implementation of CI/CD, and CI/CD successively thrives on a cycle of continuous feedback.
The developer commits a change to the version system, and soon as that’s done, testers are notified alongside other automated tools. DevOps teams need continuous feedback because it enables them to take subsequent steps and make enhancements. Yet, all this communication and notification can increase the noise and make implementation tricky. To resolve this, one must fine-tune the CI/CD pipeline and then design a technique to handle the inherent challenges of feedback loops.
Feedback in the loop
Feedback loops are a key enabler for contemporary delivery. To link customers to DevOps, you should focus on user delivery needs by amplifying and shortening your feedback loops. Once the build is pushed to the testing environment, the concerned team members and testers are notified about it.
Next, testers verify whether the build succeeded. Here is where continual feedback plays an important role. Once testers start testing and log results, the development team or the concerned developer gets an email, a notification or an in-tool notification regarding the results of the code. If the test cases fail, the developer starts resolving the issue based on the automated feedback immediately, thus saving time and effort. This is the essence of the Shift Left approach. Based on the continual feedback coming in, the dev team decides on the next steps based on whether the build succeeded or failed.
Achieving continuous feedback
CD requires that DevOps teams perform a group of automated steps to create the code live. This is one of the most challenging practices to generate feedback for. Even if the code is successfully deployed in production, the automation and monitoring setup might not be ready to give actual feedback on the impact of every release on end users. The feedback generated by various systems within the DevOps environment, such as server metrics or application performance metrics, is challenging for businesses to understand and manage. Here are some recommendations for achieving continuous feedback in DevOps environments:
- Real-Time Communication: Instead of using email, use collaboration tools, messaging services or chat clients that provide an instant messaging experience that suits the pace of DevOps. Most of these types of apps and chat systems can integrate into CI/CD tools, which enables the sending of status messages and feedback.
- Focused Messaging: Set clear guidelines and expectations for what your DevOps teams require within feedback messages and how soon feedback is provided about occurrences like success, failure or an automated action. Reduce redundant and unnecessary messaging by summarizing information.
- Use of Monitoring Systems: Monitoring is a crucial part of DevOps deployment. Monitored metrics can provide valuable feedback to developers, and monitoring is often the success or failure benchmark for updated code at the end of the CI/CD process. It can help complete the DevOps feedback circuit before the subsequent iteration begins. Monitoring tools play a crucial role in continuous feedback that continues into production. A monitoring tool is often configured to generate alerts for variations in CPU and memory usage. As QAs and developers get this information on resource consumption, they address the build issues or optimize the code.
- Manual Observation: Manual testing and feedback have their own place within the highly automation-led world of DevOps. Automation isn’t a catch-all cure that will work in all instances. Keeping things in check with human involvement enables you to solve problems that automated systems cannot.
- Automated Transitions: Hand-offs often waste tons of your time. If you would like to accelerate your feedback loops, eliminate as many hand-offs as possible to assist development flow throughout your system. You can achieve this by removing the boundaries that exist between different parties, including your customers.
Layers in the delivery process
Here are the roles for each of the parties involved in software delivery and the ways each of them can influence how DevOps links to customers:
In traditional linear models, R&D writes and tests the code and then hands it off to operations to deploy and run in a production environment. This can cause a lack of ownership for the project as a whole as well as a slower pace of development. But in DevOps, the development and testing team members work closely with operations, often as a unified, multi-skilled team that works on completing common, customer-related goals. By being exposed to end-user requests, developers who are more conscious of what is going on in production can take full ownership of their code, even when it’s in production. Conversely, the operations team can enable developers with frameworks and tools that will help R&D engineers test, fix and ship code faster. In addition to knowing their users, developers can build products on top of a loosely coupled architecture, making sure to scale back complexity and enhance delivery flexibility. Flexibility not only makes it easier to understand customers' needs but also helps the team deliver the smallest amount of functionality that produces value in the most effective manner. With their new position within the delivery process, developers have an enhanced responsibility to users and depend upon user feedback to constantly deliver value.
Product and software testers must have a firm grasp on the technical aspects of a feature in terms of how it can interact with the remainder of the product and the ways it will affect overall performance and security. This data is required for both manual testing and the preparation of infrastructure for automated tests. Test engineers, as the first end users of new features, should be able to see the entire picture. Like product owners, testers should directly interact with users, which allows them to qualitatively assess a feature’s value and readiness.
Interacting with users face to face helps testers work with product owners to create user focus groups, which may help run a controlled UAT. By teaming up with product owners and users, test engineers can take a proactive approach by leveraging their deep technical understanding of how a product works to assist in perfecting its quality and capabilities.
DevOps has increased the importance of the nonfunctional requirements operations teams run by making them as vital to managing and stabilizing software or a product as the product owners' functional requirements. Delivering an online as-a-service solution means taking ownership of all of the IT management aspects of the running software, including performance, availability and security. Simply knowing that the system should be up and running 24x7 isn’t enough. Operations should know, understand and participate in building service-level agreements with users. By doing so, they will plan, implement, build and maintain their environment in a way that is consistent with user expectations.
In most discussions about the core values of a service and its features, product owners could be better proxies than actual users. However, direct communication between R&D, operations and customers shouldn’t be considered stepping on anyone’s toes. Organizations should understand this and maximize certain cases. When the situation involves more technical issues, product owners should encourage and facilitate direct communication between the parties that are involved and participate in quick remediation and delivery. Because fast, quality delivery is the product owners' responsibility, they need to continuously share their discoveries, including user requests and market trends, with R&D as well as operations.
Measuring your feedback loops
Using DevOps metrics to verify whether feedback is saving time and increasing productivity or adding unnecessary complexity is vital. You’ll use metrics like mean solar time to resolution and dev, fix and full cycle time. Another important metric is full sprint cycle time. This is also referred to as commit-to-deploy time and provides information about the health of the CI/CD pipeline. DevOps teams that predominantly use Agile approaches often use sprints, which tend to place strict deadlines on the CI/CD cycles. Feedback loops provide valuable information about the obstructions within the sprint cycle that hinder its progress. Measuring everything possible about deployment and development systems allows teams that are new to CI/CD to reinforce and fine-tune the processes to save a lot of time and increase efficiency. However, don’t rely blindly on metrics – though they will tell you important things, the most important feedback about your product and teams comes from other communication channels.
Continuously capturing and responding to feedback is vital to rapidly and repeatedly turning innovative ideas into highly relevant and desirable products and services. Accomplishing this requires the complete engagement of the event and operations teams, as well as all other individuals within the organization. In contrast to unidirectional, legacy models, DevOps is bidirectional. It is based on delivery as well as customer feedback in order to make improvements.
Useful links and resources