Mark Mzyk | October 3, 2011
All the rage in developer circles and at conferences at the moment is talk of DevOps. This is the loosely defined movement that is about getting developers more closely involved in operations.
All the rage in entrepreneur circles at the moment is the concept of the Lean Startup. The term, coined by Eric Ries, is a startup that achieves validated learning through the build-measure-learn loop. What is validated learning? Learning what the customer actually wants so that a useful product and a sustainable business model are built.
It may not appear that the Lean Startup and DevOps are related. Obviously, with a statement like that, I’m now going to tell you how they are. It starts with small batches.
Small batches are the practice of having cross-functional teams work together on the smallest units of work possible while pushing that work to the customer as soon as possible. In working this way, the product gets to the customer quickly, allowing the business model or product direction to be validated.
The common model today is large batches. Instead of a small team working cross-functionally to push a product in front of a customer, the team specializes, with various team members completing their phase of the product before passing it on to the next person in the chain. If at any point a fault is found, the product has be sent back down the chain while those up stream ideal, waiting for the product to reach them. All the while nothing is getting put in front of the customers, so no feedback is being gained. Eventually the product will reach the customer, but if any flaws are found or the customer rejects the product, the entire process is repeated, leading to long lead times before customer behavior can be learned.
Contrast this with the small batch process, where small changes are continually pushed to the customer. This leads to quick feedback and rapid turn around times, resulting in a better product.
Lean startups embrace small batches as I’ve just described. DevOps is the same. DevOps is about embracing small batches, but the batch in this case is a narrow part of the overall process: pushing a product from development to deployment to seeing it in use.
DevOps is about allowing production behavior to quickly feed back to developers so that development can adjust quickly to situations in production. Often times the fastest way to make this happen is to have developers occasionally serve as, or even to be, the operations team. As with the lean startup, the potential efficiency of an individual unit (developers, operations) might appear to be undercut, but the efficiency of the system as a whole (developing products that work in production) is sped up.
When developing a system it is easy to envision how a system should run, but that doesn’t mean that is how the system will run. Often unavoidable differences in hardware and traffic lead to differences in how the system actually performs with how it was envisioned to perform.
DevOps is about tightening the same loop as the Lean Startup: the build-measure-learn loop. The only difference is the narrower focus of DevOps. With the loop as tight as possible, knowledge gained from the actual system is fed back into the next iteration of the product so the system becomes better in small, but tight, increments.
DevOps is a subset of the Learn Startup. Both are a reaction to today’s fast changing world and the need to create a system that can optimize the whole quickly, even if that means undercutting what appears to be the efficiency of the individual unit.
Both DevOps and The Lean Startup are about eliminating waste.
I’ve only touched the surface of the Lean Startup and DevOps movement. For more on DevOps and to read the article that inspired this one, see the Ars Technica article Google CIO and others talk DevOps and “Disaster Porn” at Surge.