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The state of Agile and DevOps in 2016? Room for improvement

Two new Agile and DevOps surveys show there is work to be done in order for companies to take full advantage of these development strategies. It's easier said than done.

Apparently companies that claim to be embracing Agile and DevOps turn out to be a bit like those of us who are trying to be healthier in the New Year, but still can't kick the donut habit. Two new surveys released this month show that, like dieting, implementing Agile and DevOps correctly and completely is a lot harder than it looks.

Or to put it another way, it's apparently easier to say you're doing Agile and DevOps than it is to do it. Take DevOps, for instance. Executives at CA Technologies kept hearing from customers how critical it was to use DevOps to boost productivity, so the company decided a survey of actual DevOps usage was in order, Kieran Taylor, senior director of DevOps solutions marketing at CA, said. The survey, conducted by Freeform Dynamics, asked 1,442 respondents in 16 countries about their DevOps usage. Despite the belief that DevOps is a widespread development practice, a full 60% of those surveyed had either done nothing with DevOps, were just exploring the idea or had implemented the practice in only selected areas.

Few companies truly 'doing DevOps'

And even among those reporting "broad implementation" of DevOps, there remained a serious disconnect between what they knew they should be doing and was important, and what was done, Taylor explained. For example, 81% said cultural harmony in IT was important in DevOps but only 29% have managed it.

It's not like people are doing poorly and not sure how to improve. They know what they need to do, and they want to do it; they have to just keep working on it.
Diane Hagglundsenior research analyst at Dimensional Research

One of the issues, of course, is that there are lots of steps involved for a company to truly embrace DevOps -- the survey calls out nine areas. In fact, the survey showed that only 20% of the companies were truly "doing DevOps." It's perhaps no surprise that of those really getting behind DevOps, the vast majority are "digital disrupters" and not mainstream companies.

"Part of the difference is really around culture," Taylor said. "Mainstream companies may not have the same culture of innovation disrupters have. If you're going to be successful with DevOps you need to adopt a culture of innovation and collaboration."

Agile and DevOps are in lock step

The picture is no brighter when it comes to Agile deployment in the software testing arena. For the second year in a row Sauce Labs asked Dimensional Research to survey 520 software professionals about their Web and mobile testing habits, Diane Hagglund, senior research analyst at Dimensional and author of the study, said. Her take on the state of Agile testing in 2016: "When you start measuring what people are doing specifically, it's really not going that great. It was very surprising to us how kind of not there companies are right now."

What's wrong? Well, only 23% are fixing bugs right away and only 24% achieve the "holy grail" of Agile (i.e. testing in small increments). The bottom line is that only 21% have achieved all five pillars of Agile, Hagglund said.

That comes as no surprise to testing expert and Agile author and consultant Matthew Heusser, who said it's easy for companies to call themselves "Agile" while actually missing most of what it stands for. "When they say they're Agile it really means they're doing standups, stories and sprints" instead of focusing on breaking down the testing to improve productivity. The result is that companies are trading, say, a 400% boost in productivity for a 30% improvement, which Heusser said is extremely short-sighted.

Amount of automated testing falls short

And don't get Heusser started about automated testing. The Sauce Labs survey showed that only 26% of those surveyed have more automated than manual testing, a fact that Hagglund would describe as not optimal, but that Heusser said only misses the point. Companies want to fully automate because there are too many bugs to deal with, and automation is treated as a safety net, he said. The solution might include a tighter feedback loop -- a key Agile principle -- but companies need "sound engineering practices" to get at the root of the bug problem. "The people who claim that they are completely automated are full of it," Heusser said flatly. "The whole conversation is a mess."

Agile adoption can be messy, for sure, but Hagglund did see some reasons for optimism in her survey. Currently, 67% of the companies surveyed are deploying at least weekly and nearly half, 46%, want to deploy faster.

"I think that's the good news here," Hagglund said. "It's not like people are doing poorly and not sure how to improve. They know what they need to do, and they want to do it; they have to just keep working on it."

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