How SMBs Win with Agile and DevOps: Differently than Large Enterprises and Tech Companies

Tech companies often have the people and skills to fully operationalize DevOps practices (CI/CD, IaC, AIOps, etc.). They generate revenue from technology services, so there’s a strong cultural motivation for dev and ops to collaborate, while automation often has direct financial benefits. They are also less likely to struggle with legacy systems, tech debt, and outdated data centers.

Practicing Agile and DevOps in SMB

Large enterprises with thousands of developers and applications are more likely to focus on scaling agile – getting multiple agile teams to follow scrum processes consistently, develop rigorous KPIs, and prioritize practices that lower team interdependencies.

But small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) often have different agile and devops challenges and opportunities. With fewer people, they are less likely to have all the DevOps skills than a tech company or need to address the prescriptive processes associated with scaling agile. They focus more on defining agile cultures and ways of working across the org – not just in tech – and must prioritize which DevOps practices yield benefits.

What SMB problems and opportunities shape their agile and DevOps?

Dan Waddell, Chief Growth Officer of XOR Security, shares a perspective on agile in SMBs. “As a small business, we have to run our internal operations and system development with an agile mindset,” he says. “With limited resources, we have no choice but to be really smart in how we operate within our engineering lifecycle.”

And what does being really smart entail? Dan continues, “Waterfall and its linear processes just don’t work for us – we need to be able to collaborate in near real-time and make very quick decisions. We truly practice what we preach and share that ethos with our customers as we help introduce a more DevSecOps-focused approach to application development.”

Collaborating in real-time, quick decision-making, and shifting-left security practices are all key to nimble SMBs that must work efficiently and deliver frequent customer benefits.

And what about managing cloud infrastructure, especially in medium-sized businesses that might be in hybrid clouds with mission-critical apps running?

Lior Koriat, CEO of Quali, says, “It’s important that SMBs plan for scale early to better manage their infrastructure and processes. Think about the control and scalability of your DevOps processes and teams and invest in tools that will simplify developers’ access to infrastructure while helping infrastructure and operations teams manage costs, enforce governance, and establish predictability to scale their DevOps efforts intelligently.”

Enabling developers to spend more time working on customer opportunities and managing costs are two attributes I pick from Lior’s comments that should be important to most SMBs.

How can SMBs succeed with agile and DevOps

I work with many SMBs that want the culture, customer experience, employee innovation, and operational benefits of agile without the overhead of SAFe and other agile scaling frameworks. They want easy-to-implement DevOps, even if it means that some processes aren’t fully automated.

Here are some of the best practices I work with them on during my center of excellence programs:

On developing an agile way of working in SMBs:

On establishing DevOps practices in SMBs:

  • StarCIO DevOps Culture
    Let the pain points dictate the priorities, and don’t follow a boilerplate best practice playbook. For example, orgs facing outages may implement observability, monitoring, or AIOps before CI/CD because they require improved reliability before increasing deployment frequency.
  • Automate highly repetitive tasks without committing to 100 percent automation. For example, if an app’s code changes frequently but the database structure doesn’t, it’s ok to focus CI/CD on code deployments and implement a manual and documented standard operating procedure to support database changes.
  • Define and prioritize your operational and cultural non-negotiables and choose specific language around the expectation and its importance. For example, a small B2C company might state, “We fix production defects first before working on new features because …” as a guiding principle connecting ops to dev priorities.

SMBs have more choices about why, what, how, and when they implement agile and devops best practices. Reach out to me with your questions.

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