DevOps vs. Agile: Understanding the Basics
When talking about project management, two ways of management have become somewhat the standard: agile and DevOps. Now, most of you have probably at least heard the terms, but in DevOps vs. Agile, which is better? What are the differences between the two, and which approach is right for you? This article gives you an understanding of the basics of agile software development and DevOps so that you can choose the suitable method for your company.
Intro to Agile
Today, most companies use agile management methods, project management software, and other digital tools to help them organize their projects efficiently. Agile management is nothing new and has found its way into most industries because almost all processes and projects involve some form of digital system or tools.
The agile methodology has been around for more than 20 years and has been the basis of many successful software projects. It is also what many modern project management methods are based on—for example, SCRUM, Kanban, or OKR.
In 2001, a group of software developers got together and came up with the Agile Manifesto based on four values and twelve principles. The need for it came mainly from the software development industry, where traditional project management methods were no longer up to date. They all agreed that evolving technologies should be used instead of clinging to old-fashioned methods.
Last Updated October 2021
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The manifesto provides a foundation to ensure successful and productive collaboration on projects. It is very concise and consists of only four values.
The idea behind these succinctly stated fundamentals is that it sums up what distinguishes agile development and, by extension, agile management approaches from traditional management methods. Whether SCRUM, Kanban, or OKR, all agile methods use these principles in some shape or form.
“We value people and their interaction, try to implement products and projects as quickly and qualitatively as possible by working closely with our customers or stakeholders. Through planned buffers and capacities, we always try to react flexibly to changes.”
While the four core principles define the values of agile project management, the manifesto also contains 12 supporting principles that aim to provide a clear overview of the agile mindset.
Agile team management
Software projects are often hard to oversee, and goals or tasks for individual people are not always easily identified. Circumstances and requirements sometimes change, and the team working on the project needs to react to these changes dynamically, which is why most agile methods try to break down processes within a project into smaller increments that are more easily managed and worked on. These individual tasks are then assigned to teams or even individuals who still maintain a level of autonomy while working interdisciplinary alongside each other.
Even though in most agile management methods, each team member is responsible for setting and accomplishing their own goals, some methods assign different roles within a team to ensure that the project runs as efficiently as possible. For example, in SCRUM, a SCRUM Master oversees the team’s application of the framework itself.
The exact management structure depends on the agile method that is chosen. It is essential to know that specific frameworks require filling particular positions.
Top courses in DevOps
Welcome to Developmental Operations
On the other hand, DevOps is not as rigid as agile and does not require employees to take over a new role within a team. It is more of a management method and tries to improve the company culture. DevOps takes the development process and makes it as interdisciplinary as possible between the development team and operations. Both departments benefit from this partnership immensely since they can share insights and work on solutions together, which is why communication is crucial.
DevOps also tries to automate whenever possible to guarantee continued integration and delivery of the product. For example, automated code reviews speed up the review process. Unlike agile, it is not defined by a specific framework and is more an approach for a company’s culture and incorporates many integral parts of agile project management.
This approach is usually based on three principles known as “the three ways.” The three ways work as a framework and guideline for the company when adopting DevOps.
Way 1: Flow or systems thinking
This way is based on the premise that everyone involved is focused on the flawless performance of the entire system. Errors are always dealt with immediately when identified to not interfere with the performance later on. Collaboration and communication are highly crucial to make sure the system runs smoothly, and so is limiting the tasks that the employees are allowed to handle simultaneously since the attention given to the critical task at hand is increased. Flow means that you do not work on things that don’t benefit the end-user or take up time, which is why automation plays such a massive role in DevOps.
Way 2: Amplifying feedback loops
For DevOps to work, there needs to be a work culture where feedback and criticism are encouraged and welcomed by everyone involved. In this case, we are referring to feedback gathered by all sources, and internal feedback is just as valuable as external feedback received from customers or other stakeholders. The purpose behind this is to identify problems and bottlenecks early on. By enabling the team to gather lots of feedback and responding to it objectively, the quality of the product can be guaranteed and constantly improved.
Way 3: Culture of continual experimentation and learning
Innovation can only occur when the culture allows experimentation and mistakes. The entire organization must leave room for experimentation and foster a learning culture where the team members help each other become better at what they’re doing. This can be done by sharing knowledge and fostering a mindset within the team where taking risks is encouraged and not punished. Only by making mistakes can our team truly innovate and optimize their performance.
If you want to learn more about the most helpful tools you can use when adopting DevOps, you should check out this article.
Both methodologies aim to develop software efficiently and effectively while reducing waste and improving workflows and collaboration between individuals and stakeholders. They aim to encourage innovation and remain flexible while creating as much output as possible.
The most significant difference with both of these methods is that DevOps works well in larger companies with different development and operations teams since the collaboration of the two is the basis of this method. On the other hand, agile has a lot of different ways of implementation in a company. Not all agile methodologies require users to learn and understand new software and can be applied with things as simple as a whiteboard and Post-its. Agile can also work immensely well for smaller teams since there are agile methods like Kanban that individual people can use independently without needing an entire team or other people to fill specific roles.
This results in agile being more easily adopted on a smaller scale without risking much time and resources. Agile doesn’t necessarily focus as much on the culture as DevOps does and allows different teams within the same company to use other methods. In contrast, DevOps only truly works when the entire organization adopts it.
Agile strengths in DevOps
There are several benefits to using agile methods in DevOps, such as:
- Communication – The entire management process becomes easier since interdisciplinary communication and collaboration happen daily and problems can be identified and solved before they become severe. This, in turn, helps improve company culture since the different teams are working alongside each other and thereby gain a better understanding and respect for their colleagues. DevOps also reduces the time it takes for products and new features to be market-ready. Due to automated testing and continuous delivery, errors in the software development process happen much less frequently.
- Continuous delivery – In agile, continuous delivery does not play the same role as in DevOps. Many methods, such as SCRUM, work with time windows in which the team works effectively on a product or an increment, meaning a small part of a product, and only delivers when the predetermined delivery date arrives. Agile means working iteratively on increments and changes. In DevOps, it is considered a continuous process that focuses on constant testing and delivery in which operations directly work together with the developers to give feedback and approve updates.
- Team Size – Most agile methods split the development team into smaller groups that are then instructed to work independently and manage themselves. They define their own goals and might be given a time window in which they need to complete the objective. At regular intervals, the different teams meet to discuss the progress made and how the finished increment helps the company reach its overarching goals.
- Automation – In agile, certain aspects of a project may be using automation to some capacity, but it is neither required nor expected. It should be incorporated only to improve the delivery of an increment or a process. Using DevOps automation plays a much more significant role, especially in automated testing of software components.
After comparing the two approaches, it becomes clear how similar they actually are while still giving us a better understanding which one is more suited for our own project.
Depending on the agile methodology, applied feedback is gathered internally or by including stakeholders in the process. When external stakeholders, such as clients or customers, are involved, the feedback meetings are usually at the end of a sprint. In contrast, the team might gather internal feedback during the team’s daily stand-up meeting. Either way, the feedback happens more or less after the fact, so it always takes time until the input can be incorporated into the product.
When using DevOps, the feedback usually comes from the operations team and is shared with the development team. Since operations and development are working alongside each other, they have a great understanding of the other team. They know precisely how to formulate the feedback so that the development team can apply it.
Both of these methods require an agile mindset, so it is beneficial to understand the basics of agile project management before deciding which of these methods is suitable for you and your team. If you work within a smaller team, you should take a closer look at SCRUM or Kanban as a methodology. If you work in a larger company and you feel that the development team could benefit from the insight knowledge of the operations team and vice versa, then you should look at DevOps as an extension of the agile management approach.