Boosting DevOps Productivity Requires Visibility, Automation

Engineering teams continue to struggle with roadblocks and bottlenecks during the development process, according to Software’s recent 2021 Code Time Report.

The study, which is based on feedback from more than 250,000 developers using the Code Time plugin, found the median code time per developer is 52 minutes per day, or four hours and 21 minutes of code time per week.

The data also revealed that only about 10% of developers spend more than two hours per day coding, including on weekends, while about 40% of developers spend more than one hour per day coding.

The study also indicated developers are battling distractions that range from too many meetings and too many interruptions to too much wait time on processes and systems.

Distractions, Disruptions and Meetings Dog DevOps

The conclusion was most companies ineffectively deploying their development and DevOps teams, bogging down engineers with distractions, disruptions and meetings as well as system inefficiencies, such as slow reviews, slow builds and bad tools.

Software’s CTO Mason McLead said based on the company’s estimates, developers spend an additional 41 minutes per day on other types of work in their editors, such as reading code, reviewing pull requests and browsing documentation.

“The key to ensuring the highest levels of productivity from DevOps teams is visibility,” he explained. “We’re all biased toward focusing on what’s readily apparent, but the biggest bottlenecks are often hard to find and difficult to measure.”

McLead said by improving visibility across the entire development life cycle in a way that measures system-level metrics and not individual performance, DevOps teams can focus on the biggest constraint and have a more meaningful impact on their team’s productivity.

He said one example of a productivity metric with hidden barriers is lead time.

“I’ve spoken with many managers who disproportionately focus on how long it takes to review pull requests as a key lever to minimize lead time,” he said. “However, there are many stages in releasing a new feature that might actually be the key constraint—for instance, how long it takes to test and validate changes in a staging environment, or how long it takes to release merged pull requests to production. ”

While these stages of lead time are all measurable, McLead explained most DevOps teams don’t have a data pipeline or BI tool set up to measure them.

He added that once an organization can diagnose the key constraint, it’s a lot easier to come up with an effective solution to minimize that constraint.

For example: If pull requests are taking a long time to create, are tickets being properly scoped? Can you see a correlation between the size of the pull request and the time it takes to be approved and merged?

McLean pointed out that if pull requests are taking a long time to be reviewed, it is critical to ensure proper expectations are being set.

He added it’s important to determine if there is a system in place to remind reviewers and enough time set aside in the day to perform the review.

“Taking steps to further automate deployment processes are another potential fix if it currently takes a long time to deploy a change to production,” McLead said. “It really all comes down to being able to measure the top constraint so that you know where to spend your time.”

Remote Work and Visibility

Remote work is also expanding the role of traditional DevOps teams: The trend toward more flexible working styles will demand more investments in DevOps such as secure provision of remote infrastructure, better access management and developer onboarding to better enable productivity for improved development teams.

“Visibility into how your DevOps investments are making an impact will play a big role in the decision on whether to stay remote or return to the office,” McLead said.

He added one way to attract and retain a highly productive DevOps team is to show that your DevOps investments are paying off.

“I recently talked to an engineering manager whose team wasn’t getting features out fast enough,” he said. “It took a month on average to complete a ticket, which had a significant impact on their ability to move major roadmap items forward.”

He explained that by implementing measures to improve throughput (eg investing in CI/CD, reducing build times and improving test coverage), they were able to decrease lead time from one month to four days.

By setting up a data pipeline and BI tool and increasing visibility, the engineering manager was not only able to report on metrics to his executive team and board with confidence, but also boost morale on his team.

From McLead’s perspective, retaining talented and trained DevOps engineers is critical because many DevOps projects require a longer timeframe in which to implement and measure their success.

“Highly effective DevOps teams measure not only how their investments are improving efficiency in the short-term, but also how changes in throughput and productivity are trending over months and years,” he said. “If your team is experiencing high turnover, it’s even more difficult to consistently deliver results over these longer time frames.”

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