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Uniting Dev, Ops: How can they work together in software development?

How do Agile and DevOps overlap? Do Ops organizations run on Agile principles, too? If they don't, how can they get started?

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DevOps is a new buzzword, but the concept isn't new. In my first programming job back in ancient times, programmers enjoyed a close and productive partnership with operations folks. In the late '90s and early '00s, Agile development reminded us that cross-functional teams that include system administrators and database experts are an efficient way to deliver business value frequently.

Avoiding any kind of silo is critical to successful software development. Larger companies require more effort to break down silos and keep new ones from forming. But separating "Ops" from "Dev" is risky in an organization of any size.

My last team transitioned to Agile in 2003. It was a small team of four developers, two testers, a system administrator and a DBA. In 2006, an overeager new manager decided to separate the system administrator and DBA into an "IT" team. That team grew over time. Fortunately, our company culture and physical proximity meant that our Dev and Ops teams continued to work as one virtual team.

If your current software development teams don't include operations experts, try a different approach. Each team can think about which people might help their team. Perhaps they need a database administrator whose time is dedicated to helping the development team, as opposed to maintaining production databases. Or maybe they need a system administrator who knows networks. They must get the right operations knowledge into the teams.

Companies without enough operations staff distributed among their development teams and still support production should try creative solutions to ensure close Dev-Ops collaboration. Make both development and operations tasks and activities visible. When a Dev team is blocked because they need help from a system administrator or a DBA, make that blockage visible. This can be done with physical task boards or developer-friendly online project tracking systems.

Both development and operations employees must be allowed to work at a sustainable pace. Failing to invest in enough people with the right skills could mean blocked projects and the loss of overworked, unhappy employees. Use frequent retrospectives and problem-solving experiments to make sure DevOps functions in principle and practice in your organization.

This was first published in September 2012

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