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Can Agile and DevOps Coexist?

Can Agile and DevOps Coexist?  cover image

What is the difference between Agile and DevOps?

Agile and DevOps are often used interchangeably; this is probably because they deliver the same outcome, complement each other, have some of the same principles, use the same terms and were implemented as practices in software companies at approximately the same years. But despite all these similarities, they are not the same thing. Let’s look at the similarities and differences between Agile and DevOps, and see when and how they can work together (and when they don’t).

What is Agile?

Yes you probably know it well, agile started to be the buzz word it is with the agile manifesto. It came to being as (according to the manifesto-ers) a  ‘cooler’ alternative to the waterfall development method with its 12 principles. Now this is being lived and breathed by development teams all around the world by coding on short iterations and bite-sized deliverables - to enable quick releases. As opposed to the waterfall methodology, which focuses on long-term planning and multi-feature releases that take months. You can read more about development agility here.

What is DevOps?

While agile development is a method for development, DevOps is also based on agility, but it focuses on agile operations. In other words, it’s about getting code that was developed (in an agile, waterfall or other development method) released to production faster by implementing short iterations. It’s also about helping developers with the infrastructure they need for developing (in an agile, waterfall or other methodology). This includes CI/CD pipelines, testing, rolls outs, setting up environments, automating guardrails and safety measures, and more. (Do you see where the confusion between the two is stemming from?).

And just to make things more confusing, DevOps is also the name of the role of the person who is in charge of the DevOps practices.

But DevOps is more than a method or a role. It’s caught on so strongly that it has become a professional culture and almost a religion. This culture fosters collaboration between development and ops teams, shared responsibility, transparency and communication. Just like any culture, DevOps also has online communities, events, beliefs, symbols (memes) and even their own jokes.

What’s the Difference?

As you understood by now, DevOps and agile can coexist (and according to DevOps, they probably should), but they’re not mutually exclusive:

  • Agile development - is focused on the inner dev loop. That is where coding and individual testing take place.
  • DevOps, or agile ops - focus on the outer dev loop. The outer dev loop is everything else up to the release, from code review to deployment to controlled releases to continuous testing. So theoretically, DevOps could be releasing code in an agile manner, while the development itself took place in a waterfall method.

Blurred Lines

But despite the clear-cut differences listed above, the reality is a bit more complicated. The ongoing adoption of microservices, as well as more and more organizations becoming agile across the board and the embracement of “shared responsibility”, has blurred some of the borders between developers and DevOps. As a result, we can see developers involved in DevOps work, attempting to set up their own environments, taking part in building pipelines and more.

This issue has become so controversial that the question “Is DevOps killing the developer?” has become a source of major online debate and conversations.

Therefore, while adopting agile development and ops and removing silos increases developer productivity, it’s also important to make sure one role doesn’t swallow up the other. Here are some tips to get you rolling (to production):

  1. Plan and define - Make sure the goal and purpose are clear, and plan how the entire roll out looks like, from coding to deployment. This will ensure that responsibility is shared, while meeting everyone’s requirements. Involve scrum masters, DevOps leads and engineering leads in the process.
  2. Build integrated teams - Built agile teams that include developers and DevOps. This will enable clear communication and constant feedback, to enable one seamless release flow.
  3. Implement automation and CI/CD tools - Remove as much of the manual burden as you can by implementing tools that will automate the process. Decide who’s in charge of running and monitoring the tools, while making sure everyone is educated about their functions.
  4. Everyone should test their part - Don’t leave QA and testing to a single part of the flow. Decide which types of tests each person runs - developer, QA, DevOps, SREs, etc. (depending on your organizational structure). This will ensure quicker releases.
  5. Document your work - Consistent communication and transparency are significantly improved with good documentation. This is important for making sure everyone is on the same page and can continue working in a collaborative manner. Circling back to point 3, some tools, like Swimm, enable automated documentation. Sign up here.

So Can They Coexist?

Yes, DevOps and agile development can (and probably should) coexist but are not the same thing and should not be used interchangeably. Now the real question is: how can they coexist? Share some of your best practices with us in our developer and DevOps community.