Best practices for DevOps teams

DevOps teams improve efficiency and reliability in development workflows, helping engineers spend less time building processes from scratch and more time programming. These best practices will set your DevOps team in the right direction.

March 2, 2023

DevOps has long been a worthwhile investment for organizations looking to improve efficiency. DevOps teams build workflow tools and set standards, so developers can confidently work with a complete and robust system—rather than navigate a patchwork of processes cobbled together with no long-term support.

Although DevOps involves many techniques and tools, there are fundamental best practices underpinning any successful DevOps team. Teams that understand and follow these four principles are better equipped to make a positive change:

  1. Concentrate on the product: Center the developer experience in your work
  2. Know when to stop: Avoid overengineering
  3. Acknowledge the critical nature of the work: Understand DevOps as a key point of failure
  4. Document, document, document (this one is self-explanatory!)

A team that's comfortable with these foundational best practices will find it easier to maintain the tools that support developers now, and to initiate specific workflow improvements in the future.

1. Wear your product hat

Strong DevOps teams operate like any other product-focused development orgs. Developers often base their workflows on the tools and processes that DevOps puts into place, and looking at the developer as the user and DevOps as the product is important for building a foundation of focus and understanding how the DevOps team's work impacts engineers. Workflow improvements aren't just minor positive changes in a person's workday; they can massively reduce friction and pain points. Encouraging DevOps teams to appreciate the impact of their work can help drive the improvements that users really benefit from.

User research is a simple way for DevOps teams to start centering the product in their work. By talking to developers about the places where they find friction in their day-to-day roles, DevOps can start noticing throughlines that they may not have noticed before. Some workflow improvements can be common sense, but the people on the ground actually using these tools will have more insight into what may or may not be useful to them in their everyday tasks. Having these conversations early in the process will also point out impractical or ineffective ideas before they fully take root.

2. Be pragmatic

It's easy to get overzealous and want to improve things for the sake of improving them, but overengineering can negatively impact development teams. Superfluous tools don't get used and pile up as extra software to maintain, and even the most well-intentioned processes can become pointless busywork for developers. To avoid needlessly increasing the quantity of tools users need to keep track of, DevOps can focus on the reliability and sustainability of their solutions. Instead of worrying about the next new shiny workflow tool or best practice, DevOps teams should consider shifting their gaze to maximizing the utility of the tools that have already been built.

Automating routine workflow steps can be a great way to add value to a tried and true set of tools. For example, by eliminating the need for manual provisioning or deployment, DevOps teams can reduce unnecessary menial tasks. Deploy pipelines and CI/CD pipelines are common places where automation can give developers more time for the things that matter to them. However, it's important to remember that automations need to be well-monitored and resilient, otherwise they might become a burden. A DevOps team can consider whether an off-the-shelf product can help automate a process without making more upkeep work for the team. For example, Scaffolder automates the process of spinning up a new microservice that meets customizable standards, and doesn't require a DevOps team to build and maintain their own tool to do the same.

3. Acknowledge the critical nature of the work

DevOps deals with workflow improvements and tools that can make or break a developer's ability to do their job. When a workflow tool goes down, it might be a momentary inconvenience for a developer to circumvent manually—or it might be the roadblock that halts all further work for the rest of the day. It's tempting to expect that putting in enough thought at the beginning of a DevOps project will make it invulnerable to the stresses of the real world, but that just isn't realistic. Reliable, useful tools require constant upkeep and oversight, and paying attention to maintenance needs will serve DevOps teams well in the long run.

Check if DevOps tools have monitoring and alerting systems as robust and reliable as those already in place for other production software. If they don't, now would be a good time to start implementing observability for DevOps, perhaps with a tool like Scorecards. Seeing health status at a glance for tools like deploy and build pipelines can help reveal vulnerabilities and instability before users are affected.

4. Document, document, document

One of the most useful tools a DevOps team can build is a good documentation library. Guides, workflow explainers, documentation of how tools came to be—these are all indispensable for developers. Users who are working with a tool for the very first time won't have as intimate a knowledge of it as the DevOps team that spent months getting it ready to launch. Even as developers gain comfort with new systems, questions still come up, and having documentation ready to go can make it easier for development teams to self-serve. Something as simple as a quick-start guide, or a frequently asked questions page, can mean the difference between being constantly on call for questions and having time to focus on improving operational efficiency in more meaningful ways.

Effective DevOps teams inspire efficiency and cohesion

Well-functioning DevOps teams support developers in a reliable, effective way, giving them more time to do what they do best. These teams tend to be product-driven, focused on real and meaningful tools, aware of their work as a critical point of failure for the company, and tenacious about thorough documentation.

Cortex can help your DevOps team build and monitor tools that will make worthwhile improvements for your developers. Book a demo today to see how Cortex can help you streamline the development process.

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