This article provides a guide to implementing DevOps, understanding why it matters, plus three DevOps best practices for development teams:

  • Code Environments
  • Version Control
  • Automated Build, Test & Deploy

Article also includes the following bonus content:

  • E-book on version control for enterprise apps
  • Automated testing checklist
  • A step-by-step guide to feature branching

What is DevOps?

DevOps marries development, or the building of the product, with operations, or the behind-the-scenes work that enables a product to be built. DevOps practices and principles are implemented upfront and in tandem, permeating all phases of a development, deployment and ongoing support. Executing DevOps well has the following benefits across teams:

  • Businesses backing the product enjoy higher development ROI
  • Development teams become more efficient and produce higher quality code
  • Product leaders plan road maps more confidently so they can deliver on client and user expectations

Why is DevOps Important?

Many teams are eager to jump into development, with a narrow focus on features and delivering the end product. This common mistake means less attention is paid to behind-the-scenes operational processes. When DevOps is not a priority, it can lead to delays in delivery, unexpected surprises, costly rework and an overall slower working pace.

Teams that focus on DevOps, however, are able to eliminate these negatives and avoid breakdown. By spending time implementing DevOps best practices upfront, teams can work faster and better down the road.

Planning for the Long Run

A key component of executing DevOps is planning, and it’s essential to get organized and complete the important foundational work that sets the stage for development before the coding begins. This means resisting the urge to rush into development, and instead thinking long-term and focusing on overarching business goals. Planning ahead enables development to run smoothly and remain on schedule, reducing overall costs, work time, and stress.

Not a Silver Bullet

Just remember that, while DevOps is a proven strategy for on-time development, it doesn’t work the same way for every organization. Some argue that DevOps becomes more difficult to implement across larger teams. In his article, The Human Scalability of DevOps, Matt Klein, a software engineer at Lyft, provides some excellent insight into the dangers of blindly implementing DevOps without adapting to fit the context.

3 Key DevOps Best Practices

There are several processes key to ensuring things go smoothly during development, and that you’re creating the best possible products. Implementing these DevOps best practices will increase organization and improve the development workflow, leading to increased efficiency across your development team and a higher-quality product. These outcomes improve ROI, and result in increased profit for your company.

Of the many DevOps best practices out there, three things are key to ensuring a project’s success:

  • Creating test, QA and staging environments
  • Implementing version control
  • Automating build, test and deploy processes

>> Learn how to make the most of version control, beyond Git. Download the e-book: Version Control on Enterprise Apps

Code Environments

A project often has several developers working on it at one time. To accommodate this type of situation, multiple environments are set up to handle the code.

Using multiple environments prevents conflicts between different sets of code, while keeping developers from overriding the work of other team members. Multiple environments allow developers to work on various parts of a project in tandem and keep development moving along. Using multiple environments also allows for more efficient code testing and reduces time spent cleaning up the code base and resolving merge conflicts.

Below are examples of a few common production environments, with the test, QA and staging environments key for DevOps. It’s important to note that not every project calls for every development environment.

Local

The individual developer’s workstation. The code developed is not yet integrated into the larger project, and is created to perform a specific functionality in isolation.

Sandbox

Used to determine where and how untested code performs. A venue to test code quality without impacting final versions or breaking existing functioning code.

Integration

The process of merging different developers’ code into a working copy of the software. Used to test how the different components work together.

Quality Assurance

Used to test the functionality of the system before the code is moved to the next environment. QA is conducted to ensure new code won’t have a negative impact on how the current version of the product works.

Staging

Used to ensure all upgrades to the production environment will be completed without errors. A staging environment is an added step that ensures quality of the final product.

Production

The “live” version of the product that users interact with directly. Previous testing environments are used to ensure what is released in production is of the highest quality.

Version Control

Software routinely needs updating to include new features or reflect changes in the database. To make updates efficient and effective, it’s important to implement a process called versioning, or version control.

Version control is a DevOps best practice that ensures all technologies within a product are reliable and comparable. Version control ensures new updates or changes to the code do not negatively impact an existing, well-functioning product — and that if they do it’s possible to revert back to the previous product.

Version control can be thought of as a safeguard, maintaining previous copies of the software to ensure it remains compatible with new technology and operating systems. It enables fast and accurate updates, reducing the time developers spend fixing mistakes and reducing risk for end users.

Feature Branching: The Key to Effective Version Control

One key component of version control is feature branching. Feature branching refers to the process of coding different features separately, as opposed to on top of each other, and is used to avoid conflicts and issues during development.

  1. Starting with the same source code, each developer creates their feature.
  2. Two weeks later, they come together and merge their code and changes.

This process allows them to work more efficiently, eliminates ongoing merge conflicts, and expedites the entire development process. The feature branching development strategy allows for smooth, efficient, and predictable work that remains focused on the final product.

Software development can be considered an ongoing process, and DevOps best practices such as version control using feature branching enable the process to run smoothly.

How To Do Feature Branching
 
>> Find out how multiple developers can merge code with minimal fallout in this Step-by-Step Guide to Feature Branching


Automate Build, Test and Deploy Processes

Automation is absolutely essential to development and a key component of DevOps. DevOps includes automating the various systems, pipelines, and infrastructure that enables software development. The alternative, manual deployment, involves unnecessary risk and can result in data loss or corruption.

Automation allows teams to work quickly and avoid repetitive and manual processes. Automation also facilities quick and easy iteration, so dev teams can spend less time on deploying code and more time on writing it. This, of course, leads to increased development ROI.

Here are some key practices and principles of DevOps that should be automated and included in your development process:

Unit Testing

Testing source code in small increments. Unit testing provides a controlled way to pinpoint areas of code that need correcting, and should be automated to save time and avoid manual error.

Behavior-Driven Testing

Steers and informs the way unit tests are conducted by ensuring tests are created to examine not just how well the source code functions, but how well it delivers the desired outcome. Behavior-driven testing requires your product development team to align their test parameters with end-user objectives.

Testing Standard

A crucial, internal benchmark that must be achieved. For example, one test required for each user story, and the tests must cover 90% of the codebase. An application or feature must be required to pass tests in order to deploy.

Production Servers and Staging Servers

As outlined above, separate servers to host codes at various stages of development. A staging server is home for applications that are not yet live, and all tests should be conducted on the staging server before being released to users on the production server. Once an app or feature has passed tests, it should be migrated to the production server from where it can be released to users.

Both environments are needed to keep testing and production processes smooth and error-free, and being disciplined about server use is critical for version control. Your production and staging environments should be exactly alike.

Backwards Deployment

The ability to move data from a production environment back to staging and development environments. This is necessary when re-work is needed, or if an issue arises. Like all of these processes, this process should be automated to save time and avoid costly errors.

>> Download the checklist for automated testing best practices.

Plan Ahead with DevOps & Build Digital Products with Confidence

As you can see, implementing DevOps best practices and principles is an essential component of any development project. These principles are a part of good planning, and should be considered and implemented at the onset of any project. Implementing DevOps through automation, version control and use of proper testing environments can lead to overall increases in efficiency and quality, saving time and money in the long run.