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DevOps and the Agility of a Startup

DevOps and the Agility of a Startup

How DevOps is Different

We live in a world where technology-driven disruption can transform whole industries in an instant. The lucrative DVD rental business, for example, collapsed almost overnight when consumers switched to streaming video from services like Netflix.

Technology can present an existential challenge for business leaders: adapt or die. Unfortunately, many businesses simply don't have the capacity to change. The problem is the whole attitude to IT and development, based on aging methodologies.

One such methodology is having separate development and operations teams. Specifically, this means you have one group of software developers who build, test and deploy code. A separate operations team is then tasked with day-to-day maintenance of the resulting software. The issue with this approach is these two teams often fail to interact. This may have worked in the past, when development teams were pushing a small number of releases. 

DevOps, however, is an entirely different approach meant to meet the challenges of a world in which speed and agility are vital for success. The first distinction is the unification of development and operations teams into a single group. Together, the team handles writing and testing code, ensures application security, and assumes responsibility for addressing issues as they arise. 

The next difference is that instead of a few releases each year, DevOps teams may issue several releases per day. This kind of continuous deployment allows a rapid response to changing circumstances and business needs. 

This is made possible, in part, by changing the way people work through automation. Most of the testing process, for example, is automated in the DevOps model, as is integration and deployment. 

Though their resources may be more limited, startups typically have one advantage over established companies: they are so small, agile and enthusiastic they can rapidly pivot as their market dictates. Employing DevOps as an enterprise counters this advantage by helping your IT department effectively run like a startup, with developers empowered to make changes often and quickly.

How One Company Switched to DevOps

DevOps may sound great, but many business leaders feel their company is simply too set in its ways to make such a major change. Certainly, it requires not just new tools but a new way of thinking as well. 

If you feel that way, you might draw inspiration from the British Medical Journal (BMJ), which has become a shining example of DevOps 170 years after it was first founded.

BMJ hired a new CTO, Sharon Cooper, back in 2012. He found an IT team in a state like one might expect for a 170-year-old company—siloed, slow to react, and pushing one to two product releases per year.

Cooper transformed the team, first by introducing an Agile coach to teach Lean and Agile working practices, so individuals would have the understanding and methodologies to support the transition to DevOps. There was some pushback against her new methods but she swayed opinion by presenting the case for change: primarily, that the IT team wasn't creating enough value to justify its existence.

She also migrated all of their systems to cloud services, which removed some of the technical barriers they faced when adopting DevOps practices. This made it easier to introduce automation and continuous deployment. Of course, all of this didn't happen overnight.

For four years, the team at BMJ went through a tough and challenging period of change but emerged in a leadership position. Their IT team is consistently driving growth throughout the company. Until 2012, BMJ had only published one title since the early 18th Century; it now publishes over 60 and has a thriving online business generating healthy revenue.

Rather than live in fear of disruption, BMJ disrupted themselves. While their brand is still that of a venerable journal with centuries of history, behind the scenes they have developed working practices as smart and agile as any ambitious startup. Now, they're ready for whatever challenges and opportunities the future may hold.

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