From Agile to DevOps to DevSecOps: The Next Evolution


As the workforce shifts to remote locations, networks are becoming more diffuse as the edge gets farther away. At the same time, the number of devices and applications on those networks continues to rise. Some estimates suggest that, by 2030, there will be 15 connected devices for every person on the planet.

The rapid expansion of the remote workforce and their associated application needs has created a significant challenge for both application developers and the IT professionals tasked with deployment and maintenance of applications. Finding the right balance between speed of release and stability and reliability of applications – never an easy task – is paramount for the success of any organization.

Agile and DevOps evolved to help organizations strike this balance, providing the best possible customer experience in the shortest realistic time frame. But have Agile and DevOps fulfilled that promise?

The Promise of the Agile Manifesto
While Agile as a methodology has been known and followed for nearly two decades, the ways in which organizations have applied Agile have been as varied as the organizations themselves.

The Agile manifesto set out four basic values when it was first written in 2001:

Individuals and interactions take precedence over processes and tools.
Working software takes precedence over comprehensive documentation.
Customer collaboration takes precedence over contract negotiation.
Response to change takes precedence over mindlessly following plans.
Agile processes are applied across a range of development activities, from development of standalone applications to development of cloud-native business applications. The Agile Manifesto also contains several more principles that further explain what the values mean when put in practice.

These Agile principles can be condensed into a few areas of focus:

Prioritize the customer over the product
Agile development requires continuous customer engagement throughout the entire development process, with the end goal being frequent product delivery based on specific customer feedback. While this can present challenges for an Agile team, particularly when customers demand changes late in the development cycle, Agile maintains that the best way to elevate customer experience is to make the customer part of the development process.

Trust Agile Teams to Self-Organize and Self-Manage
Agile focuses on smaller teams that remain in constant communication with customers, as well as with each other. These teams should include both developers and those with knowledge of the larger business requirements being met through development. For these teams to work effectively, trust is key. Agile posits that self-organized teams, given leeway to pursue their projects in the way they see fit, result in the shortest development cycles.

Keep it Simple
Agile teams require simplicity. This correlates with Agile’s disdain for overuse of process. Agile seeks to minimize the total amount of work required, thus minimizing overall development time.

Agility Leads to Agility
Just as Agile teams continuously improve their product and the customer experience, they also constantly improve themselves. Constant evolution of teams and the processes they employ (remember, teams before processes) improves team agility itself.

While the Agile values and principles seem simple, effective application of the values and principles is another story entirely. Indeed, at times, the implementation of Agile development has violated the very first value of the manifesto by focusing on which tools and processes should be used. But, in an environment where more users are clamoring for more products and services, implementation of Agile methodologies is not just important, it is imperative.

Building on Agile with DevOps
The precise meaning of the term itself and the scope of DevOps remain a source of debate. At a high level, DevOps is the marriage of the development cycle with post-development activities, such as deployment and maintenance.

According to open source contributor Barbara Ericson of Cloud Defense, “Instead of IT operations and software development being siloed off from each other, DevOps breaks down the traditional boundaries that previously existed between them in order to achieve continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) of quality software features and applications to end users.”

Just as with Agile, the effective implementation of DevOps requires cultivating a DevOps culture within the organization. However, Agile and DevOps are also not mutually exclusive. That is to say, DevOps is not merely a replacement for or an evolution of Agile. Although Agile and DevOps differ in their structures and approaches, they can work in unison to achieve the ultimate goals of speedy deployment and enhanced customer experience.

While Agile and DevOps share common goals, they have not always agreed on how to achieve those goals. DevOps differs in many respects from Agile, but, at its best, DevOps applies Agile methodologies, along with lean manufacturing principles, to speed up software deployment.

One area of particular tension between Agile and DevOps is that the latter relies heavily on tools; in particular, when it comes to the automation of testing and deployment processes. But DevOps can overcome the resistance of Agile developers to tool usage simply by applying Agile principles themselves.

Effectively, DevOps proponents must convince Agile teams that dogmatic adherence to the underlying principles of Agile is actually inconsistent with Agile in the first place. Ironically, Agile developers who insist that the process is always bad actually violate Agile principles by refusing to acknowledge the benefits offered through change, another Agile principle.

The challenge is to have the Agile development teams trust in the automation efforts of DevOps, while at the same time encouraging the DevOps team to consider the business goals of deployment rather than pursuing speed of deployment for its own sake.

With constant communication between the Agile team and DevOps team (another Agile principle), development can achieve a degree of comfort with DevOps tasks and processes. This means that testing and deployment automation can proceed quickly, resulting in a decreased time to market, overall.

Ultimately, Agile and DevOps can work together most effectively when they recall their shared goals: smaller change increments based on feedback resulting in faster delivery cycles.

Continued Evolution: DevSecOps
As networks expand and businesses continue to integrate cloud-based services (in many cases, building multi-cloud environments), security issues become more and more complex. One area in which Agile is lacking is in integrating security into the development process. Unfortunately, in an Agile environment, application security is often an issue addressed after development, rather than as part of the process. Enter the next iteration of DevOps: DevSecOps.

DevSecOps revolves around three basic principles: ensuring data security while minimizing inconvenience for users in accessing data, using development tools that identify risks as early as possible in the development process and ensuring data encryption using technologies such as secure sockets layer (SSL) and virtual private networks (VPNs).

While DevSecOps and Agile may also disagree about the priority of tools, security must become an integral part of any development project. This is why Agile, DevOps and DevSecOps must all work together to ensure not only rapid deployment but secure deployment.

The Next Evolution
Agile and DevOps were both important evolutions of the software development process, but DevSecOps is the next evolutionary step. Despite a few disparate characteristics, Agile, DevOps and DevSecOps can and should work in unison to achieve their shared goal: the best possible customer experience and short deployment cycles.

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