DevOps in Scaled Agile Models – Which one is best?

DevOps in ScaledAgileI have already written about the importance of DevOps practices (or for that matter Agile technical practices) for Agile adoption and I don’t think there are many people arguing for the contrary. Ultimately, you want those two things to go hand in hand to maximise the outcome for your organisation. In this post I want to have a closer look at popular scaling frameworks to see whether these models explicitly or implicitly include DevOps. One could of course argue that the Agile models should really focus on just the Agile methodology and associated processes and practices. However, given that often the technical side is the inhibitor of achieving the benefits of Agile, I think DevOps should be reflected in these models to remind everyone that Software is being created first and foremost by developers.

Let’s look at a few of the more well known models:

SAFE (Scaled Agile Framework) – This one is probably the easiest as it has DevOps being called out in the big picture. I would however consider two aspects of SAFe as relevant for the wider discussion, the DevOps team and the System Team. While the DevOps team talks about the aspects that have to do with deployment into production and the automation of the process, the System Team focuses more on the development side activities like Continuous Integration and Test automation. For me there is a problem here as it feels a lot like the DevOps team is the Operations team and the System Team is the Build team. I’d rather have them in one System/DevOps team with joint responsibilities. If you consider both of them as just concepts in the model and you have them working closely together then I feel you start getting somewhere. This is how I do this on my projects.

DAD (Disciplined Agile Delivery) – In DAD, DevOps is weaved into the fabric of the methodology but not as nicely spelled out as I would like. DAD is a lot more focused on the processes (perhaps an inheritance from RUP as both are influenced/created by IBM folks). There is however a blog post by “creator” Scott Ambler that draws all the elements together. I still feel that a bit more focus on the technical aspects of delivery in the construction phase would have been better. That being said, there are few good references if you go down to the detailed level. The Integrator role has an explicit responsibility to integrate all aspects of the solution and the Produce a Potentially Consumable Solution and Improve Quality processes call out many technical practices related to DevOps.

LESS (Large Scale Scrum) – In LESS DevOps is not explicitly called out, but is well covered under Technical Excellence. Here it talks about all the important practices and principles and the descriptions for each of them is really good. LESS has a lot less focus on telling you exactly how to put these practices in place, so it will be up to you to define which team or who in your team should be responsible for this (or in true Agile fashion perhaps it is everyone…).

In conclusion, I have to say that I like the idea of combining the explicit structure of SAFE with the principles and ideas of LESS to create my own meta-framework. I will certainly use both as reference going forward.

What do you think? Is it important to reflect DevOps techniques in a Scaled Agile Model? And if so, which one is your favourite representation?

3 thoughts on “DevOps in Scaled Agile Models – Which one is best?

  1. bradapp

    FYI – SAFe is pretty careful to refer to DevOps in its “big picture” *without* calling it a team. Wheareas the system-team is explicitly called a “team”. I think it creates a great deal of confusion (even misdirection) to have DevOps and System-Team called out separately, rather than clarifying the role/responsibility of the system-team w.r.t DevOps practices & pipeline.

    In reality, the System-team was originally more like an “Agile” A(D)LM team, where A(D)LM is an acronym for “Application (Development) Lifecycle Management”, but really meant (software) configuration+change management across the lifecycle and of all lifecycle artifacts (code, tests, reqts/stories, docs/content, binaries, etc.) back when so called A(D)LM vendors tool-suites started including separates tools offerings for CI and release/deploy mgmt+automation. Even the early SAFe training materials loosely described the system-team as being responsible for CM (more than just build) and technical environment.

    I regarded it as more of an “ecosystem team” (as opposed to a system-team) regarding the technical ecosystem of interdependent process/practices & tools/technology to manage a successful “pipeline” from checkin/commit to release (including CI+CD).


  2. Craig Williams

    I agree that SAFe confuses the System Team and DevOps. The additon of the DevOps infrastructure piece (e.g., containerization, APM) makes for a better result. I like the Ecosystem team name. We are a small (but billion dollar) company and we are at the point where one ecosystem team to support all of our scrum teams would really help us.



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