Identifying DevOps Best Practices (& How to Implement Them)

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Athena Ozanich
Athena Ozanich


To the untrained eye, DevOps may seem like "a big ball of wibbly-wobbly… timey-wimey… stuff." But it's so much more than that. DevOps is a powerhouse, combining technology and people to create impressive products, services, and software solutions.

Developers setting up DevOps best practices

However, to make the best use of your DevOps workflow, you'll want to maximize all that it has to offer. In that vein, this post will cover some of the best practices for running your team's DevOps pipeline and workflow.

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Best Practices for DevOps

Many of the best practices for DevOps revolve around using the right tools for the job. However, there is more to it than just that; many factors such as culture and practices affect what is considered best practices. With that in mind, these practices will be more in the style of a general overview.
A list of DevOps best practices

1. Implement version control workflow.

Implementing version control at the beginning of your workflow has a multitude of benefits. While not all will be of use to your team, there are a few best practices that will improve the efficiency of your workflow. One of the best version control systems in the industry is GitLab, a powerful tool built by Github. As such, the following tips are from the perspective of that tool for uniformity's sake.

Build your project once.

Build your project and dependencies first and only once if possible. A common practice is to include the build process as one of the early steps in the CI/CD cycle. The idea is to build once per iteration of the CI/CD cycle, minimizing the risk of oversight and uncaught bugs in the project. The result of each CI/CD cycle should be versioned to control the state of the build between pulls.

Commit more frequently, branch less often.

Committing updates frequently supports adding changes in smaller, more manageable chunks which means less opportunity to introduce bugs or issues. This approach allows a team to release updates that are ready to be added with a much lower risk of breaking changes, delays, or downtime. Branching less adds to the clarity and planning for the development and integration updates coming down the DevOps pipeline. Maintaining a clean project tree with minimal branches reduces confusion and code conflict during the development process.

Utilize the power of pull requests.

Pull requests are a fantastic way to track and monitor changes, updates, proposed features, issues, and more. These pull requests get assigned to teams and team members, which helps effectively monitor the lifecycle of your project. Pull requests also offer a lot of flexibility and control over the delegation of tasks and responsibilities. In this vein, your team can communicate and collaborate more effectively, thus fostering a higher quality of work.

2. Incorporate a "Shift Left" approach.

As a general rule, this is the practice of starting a given action earlier in the DevOps pipeline. For DevSecOps, it refers to security practices — for DevOps, it means building for continuous everything, including integration and deployment.

The Shift Left mentality fosters an improved sense of CI/CD — Continuous Integration and Continuous Deployment. To properly Shift Left, you must include your IT Operations starting early in your DevOps pipeline — after all, a DevOps team cannot function properly without it.

Furthermore, the Shift Left mentality is not only about the tools. Shift Left includes the people and the practices in your team as well.

3. Utilize the Agile methodology.

Agile improves workflow for teams and team members. Implementing the Agile Methodology from the very beginning of your project adds to the efficiency of your team. The improvement in team efficiency leads to a better quality of work and improved product.

The agile methodology also increases the speed and frequency of your releases and is further supported by adding automation to your workflow. Automating tasks will simplify your Agile sprints and reduce team workload.

4. Support team-driven workflow.

Allow your teams to build a workflow based on their knowledge of the field. Allow cross-team feedback on what tools work for everyone. Finding tools that improve communication and collaboration helps smooth workflow and close up knowledge gaps caused by previously siloed roles.

Bridging the gap between siloed team roles helps foster a better, cross-team culture. This culture also provides insight into what tools work and which ones don't adapting to this information is vital for success. Furthermore, Agile sprints will ease the process of responding adaptively to changes in your workflow.

5. Build cross-team culture.

Culture is a very different concept from communication and takes more than just clever tools. Building a cross-team culture means improving empathy, compassion, and openness across all teams. Your teams need to know they can safely and comfortably communicate with each other.

A solid, positive cross-team culture has a massive impact on the effectiveness of your teams and the tools they use. This result has a compounding effect on the quality of work provided by your DevOps teams — whether negative or positive is up to you.

6. Add automation to your workflow.

The benefits of the DevOps team and workflow are at their best when implementing automation. However, integrating automation as early in the development pipeline as possible is vital. Automating processes like version control for tracking bugs and errors wherever possible will save hours from painstakingly repeating steps.

Adding automation to your workflow will also simplify many of the stages, from testing to deployment. Furthermore, automation allows you to focus on tasks that need a more personal touch.

7. Monitor and observe the state of your project.

Throughout the lifecycle of your project, it's helpful to monitor the process and track any bugs, errors, and/or issues that may arise.

After deploying the project publicly, you'll want to observe the behavior for any problems, opportunities for improvement, or new features. Staying ahead of any potential issues is vital for continuous unhindered progress and continuous improvement. Maintaining a workflow of continuous everything is much more difficult when we are catching bugs post-deployment. Catching bugs and issues late slows the pipeline down — no one likes clogged pipes.

8. Collect and incorporate feedback.

Collecting and incorporating feedback from users — and even your team — is a vital part of long-term maintenance for your project. It provides insight into the success of your project — as well as its pain points — and thus, outlines your project's roadmap to success. It also serves as valuable metrics for your team that inform future agile sprints and improve your team's workflow.

DevOps Best Practices: Final Thoughts

When it comes to maximizing your team's productivity, implementing these practices is the best place to start. As you may have noticed, these tips carry a lot of overlap, one tactic further bolstering others. When utilized in conjunction, these practices have a compounding — ideally a beneficial — effect.

Incorporating best practices for these unified concepts at the beginning of your project is vital for getting the best out of your DevOps workflow. Implementing industry best practices will aid your team by building from the experience of others. In this vein, it will save you hours of headaches and frustration and help your team build a DevOps pipeline that is self-improving.

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