DevOps - You Need a Factory

A few months ago I listened Kelsey Hightower speak at a function in Toronto. During that talk he said something that has stuck with me, and that is that you need a factory.

DevOps Produces Artifacts

The definition and application of DevOps is oft-debated. However, the fact is that in as technologists we produce things–perhaps they are applications, ie. code, or systems that manage these applications (with automation now also code). Maybe the product is an IoS application or maybe it’s complex infrastructure–OpenStack, Kubernetes, large networks, what have you. Regardless, we create a product. Increasingly that product is generated or operated via the DevOps paradigm.

DevOps has, at this point, a relatively long history and is well documented in terms of its influences: W. Edward Deming, Agile, Toyota Kata, and Lean Manufacturing to name a few. Many of these theories and processes are designed for factories; for the creation of physical products. If we are doing “the DevOps”, and we are automating in the spirit of its influences, such as lean manufacturing, then…where is the factory?

CI/CD - The (Too) Easy Answer

The easy answer to the factory question is the use of continuous integration and delivery: CI/CD. Many organizations participating in DevOps know that CI/CD is important, but I’m not sure they know why. Often CI/CD is simply “cargo culted” into an organization. (You can usually tell because of the paralysis around selecting a CI/CD system.)

In my opinion, to truly participate in a DevOps model you need a factory, and your CI/CD pipeline is the floor of that factory. The CI/CD system takes input, resources, materials, and work from real live people and produces artifacts which can be evaluated in terms of quality. Like a factory, it can create overstock and has bottlenecks. Most importantly, it is the main system that can be improved over time as part of an ongoing, continuous process.

Build a (Virtual) Factory

I have talked to many organizations that say they are following the DevOps paradigm. They use small teams, have removed walls between groups, and cough use Slack. They might even do some CI/CD…but do they really have a factory? If not, that is something that should be striven for. Without a factory full of people there’s nowhere to continuously improve.