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Israel Gat ("agile_exec") is recognized as the architect of the agile transformation at BMC Software. Under his leadership, BMC software development increased Scrum users from zero to 1,000 in four years. Dr. Gat currently focuses on technical debt, large-scale implementations of lean software methods and devops. Israel is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 36 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Boundary Objects in DevOps

06.11.2011
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The following recommendation was given in the post How to Initiate a Devops Project:

For a DevOps project, start by establishing the technical debt of the software to be released to operations. By so doing you build the foundations for collaboration between development and operations through shared data. In the devops context, the technical debt data form the basis for the creation and grooming of a unified backlog which includes various user stories from operations.

I would like to augment this recommendation with a suggestion with respect to the mindset during the initiation phase. Chances are the IT folks feel outnumbered by the dev folks. It might or might not be a matter of optics, but recognizing and appreciating this mindset is will help a lot in getting the devops project on track.

Here is a simple example I heard from a participant in the June 25 devops day in Mountain View, CA. The participant with whom I talked is an IT ops person who tries to get ops aligned with  fairly proficient Agile development teams. She is, however, constrained with respect to the IT ops resources available to her. She simply does not have the resources required to attend each and every Scrum meeting as 25 such meetings take place every day. She strongly feels “outnumbered.”

Various schemes could be devised to enable meaningful participation of ops in the Agile process. The more important thing though is to be fully sensitized to the “outnumbered” feeling. The extension of Agile principles to ops will not succeed at the face of such a feeling.

Discussing the subject with my friend Andrew Shafer, he mentioned the effectiveness of boundary objects in such cross-organizational situations:

Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds. [Source: Wikipedia].

As an example, the boundary object for the situation described in this post could be a set of technical debt criteria that make the code eligible for deployment from a product life cycle perspective. By so doing, it shifts the dialog from the process to the outcome of the process. Instead of working on generating IT resources in an “outnumbered” mode, the energy shifts toward developing a working agreement on the intrinsic quality of the code to be deployed.

Some technical debt criteria that could form the core of a devops boundary object are mentioned in the post Technical Debt Meets Continuous Deployment. Corresponding criteria could be used in the boundary object to satisfy operational requirements which are critical to the proper functioning of the code. For example, a ceiling on configuration drift in IT could be established to ensure an adequate operating environment for the code. A boundary object that contains both technical debt criteria and configuration drift criteria satisfies different concerns – those of dev and those of ops – simultaneously.

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