The Surprising Secret to DevOps ROI

Content By Devops .com

As a result of my many years of DevOps consulting, I have discovered a simple, but not well-understood, secret ingredient that drives ROI for all the Three Ways of DevOps.

Measuring and optimizing return on investment (ROI) for DevOps is not well-understood. It is a proven fact that DevOps, when engineered well, delivers tremendous value to organizations by way of continuous delivery practices. Reduced lead time, more frequent releases, lower failure rates and faster time to restore services are well-accepted indicators of DevOps value. It is not a secret that the combination of engineering DevOps practices for people, processes, and technologies around the Three Ways of DevOps – continuous flow, continuous feedback and continuous improvement – gets results. As valuable as these things are, they are not a measure of ROI, and do not tell you what to do to improve the return on your DevOps investments.

How Do You Calculate and Optimize DevOps ROI?

First, it is important to understand that ROI for DevOps is best measured using a simple ratio of return (R) divided by investment (I). (OK – for the accounting purists out there; I know the real ROI formula is actually (((R-I)/I)*100%) but that is a technicality that we don’t need for this argument.)

The “return” of DevOps value is the important factor in the numerator of the ROI ratio. While there are many values that can be attributed to DevOps, the most direct value that can be measured and justified for legitimate comparison purposes is the cost savings associated with accelerating software delivery value streams. Application developers, and others, can get more applications released faster because of DevOps, which has a dramatic effect on valuable cost reductions. The “investment” in DevOps projects is the denominator of the ROI ratio. To optimize ROI, simply increase return by getting more application releases out faster, while reducing the investment required for a DevOps project. Sounds easy enough. But wait! How do you do that?

The primary factor in the return is derived from reducing bottlenecks. I have found, in more than half of the thousands of DevOps value streams I’ve studied, that the biggest bottleneck is testing! It is a myth that continuous testing is just the execution of automated tests. I am talking about the whole range of ‘testing things,’ including test strategy, test planning, test resource scheduling, test design, test implementation, test environment management, test execution, test results reporting, test result analysis, troubleshooting, fix, retest and test management. That is a lot! In fact, testing things are a source of bottlenecks for every stage of a DevOps pipeline, for all three ways of DevOps. The point is that ROI can be greatly improved by improving testing.

As it turns out, the primary factor in reducing investment costs also has to do with testing! Putting ‘testing things’ in place is expensive in terms of labor and capital costs for both people and systems. The primary factor to reduce total investment cost is to standardize, share and use ‘testing things’ with as many application pipelines and stages as possible.

What is the secret ingredient that I have discovered? After all, the importance of testing itself is not much of a secret. I have isolated the key ingredient that is the heart of all ‘testing things.’ The purpose of a test is to determine a verdict. A test verdict is the codified representation of a pass, fail or inconclusive result state of a test, assessed relative to the purpose of the test. Test verdicts are essential, no matter what kind of test it is; no matter the stage in the pipeline a test is used. Without a verdict, all the ‘testing things’ in the world are not valuable.

So – the secret ingredient for optimizing DevOps ROI is to optimize test verdicts. Those that know how to optimize test verdicts hold the key to optimizing DevOps ROI.

As I indicated in this eBook I authored for the DevOps Institute, verdicts from properly engineered testing at each stage in the pipeline are essential for assessing the artifacts produced in each stage.

How Can You Optimize Test Verdicts?

As I have pointed out in prior articles, well-engineered DevOps requires balancing the nine pillars of DevOps.
Surprisingly, test verdicts play a crucial role in optimizing all nine pillars of DevOps, and are vital to accomplishing the best return for the least cost investment in DevOps. Here are some examples of how this works for each pillar:

Leadership – Leaders tend to underestimate the importance that ‘testing things’ have on DevOps ROI, and that the central ingredient of test effectiveness is the optimization of test verdicts. By sponsoring DevOps projects and training programs that drive improved test verdicts, leaders will have a direct and lasting impact on ROI.

Collaborative Culture – How often have you seen people wasting time arguing over the meaning and importance of a test? Collaboration between application developers and QA and Ops teams is more effective when test verdicts are clear and based on a common understanding of the purpose and importance of each test.

Design – The creation of excellent tests, designed to efficiently resolve to clear verdicts during the design phase, makes for reusable test assets in all subsequent stages and releases, and can be reused with other applications.

Continuous Integration – The validation of builds is faster when all integration tests are arranged to get clear verdicts quickly during the build process.

Continuous Testing – Test verdicts associated with each test are the key information ingredient that test management systems can key off to optimize test selection and test execution for each stage in the continuous delivery pipeline.

Elastic Infrastructure – Test environment management (TEM) systems can optimize the orchestration of test resources better when test verdicts are clearly understood. Knowing a history of verdicts for a group of tests indicate which resources and how much of each resource are needed to run each test. This knowledge is essential to drive test environment management systems that have scaling algorithms for optimizing the use of ephemeral test environments, and to ensure test resources are used optimally.

Continuous Monitoring – Reporting and analysis of test results can be a major bottleneck in the pipeline, but can be dramatically accelerated when the test verdicts are clearly defined.

Continuous Security – Security tests are not much use without a clear verdict. While there is no such thing as 100% security assurance, the aggregate set of security test verdicts helps to profile security for applications and releases.

Continuous Delivery – Algorithms that govern the ‘doneness’ of an application release candidate, and decisions to promote a release to production, depend on analysis of service level objectives (SLOs) derived from service level indicators (SLIs), including test verdicts. The fidelity and quality of those verdicts is essential for operations and site reliability engineering (SRE) teams to be confident enough to not bottleneck an application release.

What This Means

Measuring and optimizing DevOps ROI requires strategies that deliver value by improving returns through reducing bottlenecks and reducing investment costs. ‘Testing things’ are a dominant factor contributing dramatically to both the return and investment components of the ROI equation. A comprehensive strategy for optimizing test verdicts is the secret ingredient for optimizing and leveraging investment in ‘testing things,’ which, in turn, has a dramatic effect on improving DevOps ROI.

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