Continuous testing and continuous feedback are necessary to empower your DevOps processes. Tools can help you achieve feedback loops, but teams must focus on what’s important and continually measure success.
The DevOps infinity loop shows code creation, testing, delivery, deployment and feedback that completes the cycle and allows you start the cycle anew. DevOps success depends on the implementation of CI/CD and CI/CD in turn thrives on a cycle of continuous feedback.
However, as you can see in the DevOps infinity loop diagram, continuous feedback is not an end-of-the-cycle activity. It needs team coordination throughout development, deployment and support.
Why do DevOps teams need continuous feedback? It enables them to inform the next steps and enhancements. Yet, all this communication and notification can add to the noise and make implementation tricky.
To resolve this, one needs to fine-tune the CI/CD pipeline and then design a strategy to overcome the inherent challenges of feedback loops.
CI/CD processes and feedback
Most DevOps companies implement either all or some aspects of CI/CD. The ideal approach varies from team to team and project to project.
Continuous Integration requires smaller and incremental code changes that lead to rapid code iteration and testing. Typically, the process works as such.
The developer commits a change to a version control system, And as soon as that is done, testers along with other tools are notified.
Moving forward the pipeline then triggers the tools to compile or package the code. This build is also pushed on to the testing environment. As soon as this is done, concerned team members that includes testers are notified about it.
Next, testers verify whether the build succeeded. Here is where the continuous feedback plays a crucial role. Once testers start testing and logs results, the dev team or the concerned developer gets mail notification or in tool notification about the result of his code.
If the test cases have failed, based on the automatic feedback, developer starts rectifying immediately, thus saving time and efforts. This is the true essence of the Shift Left Approach.
Based on the Continuous feedback coming in, the dev team decides next steps based on whether the build succeeded or failed.
Next, the tested code is delivered for packaging and deployment. CD or continuous delivery means that the executable code is built and ready as soon as CI completes.
The same monitoring process is repeated for the deployment stage too. Build is pushed to the deployment stage and if the feedback loop throws an error, the DevOps engineer can instantly look into it and correct it.
Achieving continuous feedback in CD is the toughest
CD requires that DevOps teams carry out a set of automated steps to make the code live. It is one of the most challenging practices to achieve feedback on. Even if the code is successfully deployed in production, the automation and monitoring setup may not be able to give actual feedback on the impact of each release on end users.
Managing DevOps feedback efficiently
As mentioned earlier, the feedback generated by various systems in the DevOps environment (such as server metrics or application performance metrics) is challenging for businesses to understand and manage.
Sometimes incorrect or incomplete information waste teams’ precious time on troubleshooting.
Here are some recommendations to achieving continuous feedback in DevOps environments:
Instead of using email, use collaboration tools, messaging services or chat clients that provide an instant messaging experience that suits the pace of DevOps. Most of these apps and chat systems can integrate into CI/CD tools that enable sending status messages and feedback.
Set clear guidelines and expectations on what your DevOps teams require in the feedback message and how soon it needs to have the feedback about an event like success or failure or automated action. Cut down on redundant and unnecessary messaging by including them in summary.
Monitoring is an important part of DevOps deployment. Monitored metrics can provide valuable feedback to developers and monitoring can be the success or failure benchmark for updated code at the end of the CI/CD process. It can help complete the DevOps feedback loop before the next iteration begins.
Monitoring tools play an important role in continuous feedback that extend to production. A monitoring tool can be configured to set an alert for variations in CPU and memory usage. As QAs and developers get this information on resource consumption, they can address the problems with build or optimize the code.
Importance of manual steps
Manual testing and feedback have its own place in the highly automation-led world of DevOps. Automation is not a catch-all cure that will work in all instances. Exploratory and ad-hoc testing are still relevant and add critical value to the project’s success.
Measuring the success of your feedback loops
Using DevOps metrics to verify whether feedback is saving time and increasing productivity or adding unnecessary complexity is important. You can use metrics like mean time to resolution and dev, fix and full cycle time.
Another important metric is full sprint cycle time. It is also known as commit-to-deploy time and informs about the health of the CI/CD pipeline. DevOps teams that predominantly use Agile approaches often use sprints and these tend to put strict time limits on the CI/CD cycles. Feedback loops have valuable information about the blockers within the sprint cycle that cause it to slow down.
For teams that are new to CI/CD, measuring everything possible about deployment and development systems allows teams to enhance and fine-tune the processes to save time and increase efficiency.
However, don’t rely blindly on metrics as they can tell you important things but the most important feedback about your product and teams come from other communication channels.