DevOps Project Management: How Does It Move Pipelines Forward?

Stephen Roddewig
Stephen Roddewig

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Project management is a critical component of any large-scale business endeavor, and it involves careful planning, resource allocation, and coordination between multiple stakeholders to deliver the finished product on time and within budget.

Project manager using DevOps project management tool

DevOps is an approach to software development that extends the principles of agile development by integrating both the development and operations units of the IT team into one homogenous unit. This integration enables a more seamless flow between the traditionally siloed sides of the software development lifecycle and leads to fewer defects in production because operating requirements were considered from the outset of the project.

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In this post, we will examine the differences between DevOps and project management, how they can be joined for greater benefit, the best practices of DevOps project management, and the tools you can use to implement this methodology within your organization.

Let's start by detailing the differences between these two disciplines and dispelling a common misconception.

DevOps vs. Project Management

Given the fluid nature of DevOps and its continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) process, the methodology may seem at odds with project management strategies that tend to follow timelines with a set start and endpoint. These approaches seem more closely aligned with traditional software delivery methods like the waterfall approach.

However, project management styles can adapt to fit the parameters of the DevOps pipeline. The key is to shift the focus away from the one final product and instead refactor the timeline to follow the agile approach of incremental deliveries at the end of each sprint.

Let's take a deeper look at how DevOps and project management fit together.

What is DevOps project management?

DevOps project management is a union between the two disciplines where project management is tailored to and supports the DevOps model. In a DevOps project management approach, project managers serve as coordinators between multiple contributors and as trackers of timelines and dependencies.

However, project managers also need to be closely aligned with the DevOps team and bring a deep understanding of the development process and skills needed to create the end product. There are several best practices that project managers should follow to achieve this integration with the DevOps pipeline.

DevOps Project Management Best Practices

The following are best practices to help project managers from traditional backgrounds emulate the DevOps model.

Embrace the MVP mindset.

In software development, the minimum viable product (MVP) is the simplest version of an application that will still meet the central requirements of the project. DevOps embraces the MVP as a philosophy to ensure there is always a deliverable at the end of each sprint without delaying turnaround with an overly wide scope.

In contrast to traditional project management strategies that emphasize the final monolithic product, this is a considerable shift. DevOps is viewed less as a linear process with set start and end dates and more as a constant process of improvement.

The advantages of the MVP mindset are that customers receive a deliverable faster and their feedback then helps the team course correct earlier in the cycle. Otherwise, the team may deliver the finished product in a waterfall approach only to discover they have not fully satisfied the user's needs, and the process has to start all over again.

Focus on both on-time and quality deliveries.

Project management places a heavy emphasis on meeting deadlines. While this is important, many of the metrics DevOps teams use to measure success focus on more qualitative factors to gauge if the customer is meeting their goals with the application.

This means that quick turnaround times are important. So is allocating enough time and resources to ensure the deliverable quality meets a high standard. Project managers need to weigh both these factors when deciding on the goals for a sprint and assigning tasks.

Part of an effective delegation of responsibilities is understanding the dependencies for each task.

Emphasize dependencies.

Even in system architecture that follows a microservice approach of building small applications to handle individual tasks, there are dependencies between these applications, the systems they run on, the data they handle, and more.

Tracking dependencies goes beyond configuration management. It requires maintaining visibility into all the moving parts of both the IT environment and the DevOps team's tasks to properly define sprint goals.

Each deliverable should fully function in the existing environment and be ready to deploy at the end of each DevOps cycle. If that delivery is slowed by a backlog of tasks or a system requirement not being met, then more thorough dependency tracking is needed.

Use tools to do the heavy lifting.

Automation is a major focus in DevOps to scale the impact of a team's effort, and DevOps project management is no different. Project management tools provide a single source of truth for how work has been assigned, how the project is proceeding, and what issues have occurred along the way. This information is valuable for the entire team to provide greater context and foster more informed decision-making.

Ideally, these applications will overlap with the tools the DevOps team uses in their day-to-day work so that both project managers and developers are on the same page. Dashboards can provide real-time metrics on how the team is performing against their goals and help project managers detect potential issues to address earlier in the cycle.

Speaking of tools, let's examine some of the options available to implement DevOps project management strategies in your organization.

DevOps Project Management Tools

Below are five of the top DevOps project management tools.

DevOps project management tools showing GitLab, Asana, AWS, Jira, and Azure logos

1. Jira

Price: Free with paid plans available

Jira Board showing status of projects in a Kanban board

Jira is a project management and issue tracking platform from Atlassian tailored to the needs of software teams. It enables project managers and team members to collaborate while they plan, track, and release projects and report on the results of each sprint. Jira also integrates with the rest of the Atlassian product suite, including Bitbucket, Confluence, and Pipelines, and additional developer tools for greater insights and functionality.

2. Azure Boards

Price: Free with paid plans available

Azure Boards showing project view with the status of work tasks in Kanban board

Azure Boards is a project management solution that integrates with the larger Azure DevOps suite to encompass the full DevOps lifecycle, including Pipelines, Repos, and Test Plans. Azure Boards has Kanban boards, team dashboards, and custom reporting to track every stage of development, and it offers advanced analytics so you always know the status of your project. The tool also provides pre-built and custom workflows to ensure you can capture every task.

3. AWS DevOps

Price: Free with paid plans available

AWS DevOps CodeBuild dashboard showing automated testing workflow for code commits

AWS DevOps is a comprehensive suite of tools to manage pipelines and develop software in the same stack. The built-in tools CodePipeline, CodeBuild, CodeDeploy, and CodeStar support the entire DevOps lifecycle and can be deployed in the cloud or on local machines. In addition, AWS Marketplace provides access to thousands of additional tools for enhanced project management and development capabilities.

4. GitLab

Price: Free with paid plans available

GitLab issue tracking dashboard showing number of issues opened and closed between team members

GitLab is an application designed for the full DevOps lifecycle with a focus on managing team members' assignments and project organization. GitLab uses issues to track tasks and labels, milestones, and iterations to categorize these issues for better coordination. In addition, the platform offers visualizations to quickly view progress toward goals and even integrates with code merge requests to directly correlate issues and milestones to developers' work in real time.

5. Asana

Price: Free with paid plans available

Asana project view showing tasks assigned to the user

Asana is a project management platform built to simplify and automate the process of capturing assignments and activity across the team. It offers multiple views of tasks, including timelines and boards, to provide the context needed to prioritize work. Through forms, templates, and rules, project managers can institute approvals and customize workflows to match the team's needs. Asana also integrates with more than 200 productivity tools, including GitHub and GitLab.

For a cross-section of the technologies your organization will need to achieve a DevOps pipeline beyond project management, check out our full list of DevOps tools.

DevOps project management leads to  better outcomes.

By combining the practice of DevOps with the principles of project management, you achieve greater coordination between individual team members and the larger goals of the sprint. This leads to better outcomes by ensuring that task scopes are properly defined and dependencies are tracked so the application is ready to deploy. DevOps project management tools simplify this process and promote visibility between project managers and team members so everyone is on the same page and working toward the same goals.

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