Measuring DevOps success with DORA metrics

In the software development world, the benefits of DevOps in terms of improving velocity, reliability, and shared ownership among all stakeholders are well documented and established. Approaches such as those described under the CAMS model (Culture, Automation, Measurement, and Sharing), help organizations define their DevOps strategy. Following such approaches, many organizations have transformed their software development practices, improving the culture and technology elements. Still, DevOps implementations can differ significantly due to varying business, development, and compliance objectives. Further, different organizations, or at times even dispersed teams in the same organization, end up using different proprietary and open-source DevOps toolchains. Due to these variations, organizations often lack a standard to measure the success of their DevOps implementations. Eventually, measuring the success of DevOps implementations becomes a big question mark with no definite answers.

Needless to say, measurement is the secret sauce for the success of any business process. And, in the absence of a unified view of performance indicators or metrics across the DevOps lifecycle, gauging the health and progress of DevOps implementations becomes near impossible. By continuous tracking of DevOps metrics, teams can make small improvements to achieve large gains over a period. Further, DevOps metrics can help organizations get early warnings to make course corrections, prevent large scale failures, and avoid reputational and commercial losses. However, the world of metrics is ‘highly populated,’ and the information overload can make it difficult for delivery leaders to get actionable insights, quickly. Identifying which metrics are most critical, and how to analyze them isn’t straightforward. This is where DORA metrics offer a way forward to organizations.

What Are DORA Metrics?

DORA metrics are the set of metrics that are considered as the industry standard for tracking DevOps success. These metrics were finalized after around six years of surveys conducted by the DevOps Research and Assessment (DORA) group, which is now a part of Google Cloud. As per DORA’s research, there are four key metrics, viz. Mean Time To Recover (MTTR), Change Failure Rate (CFR), Mean Lead Time (MLT), and Deployment Frequency (DF), that can help delivery leaders measure and improve their DevOps pipelines. Using these metrics, DORA has classified organizations as low, medium, high, and elite performers. DORA’s survey reports, published every year since 2014, offer a quick understanding of industry trends and direction along with models that can help organizations improve the performance and productivity of their DevOps implementations.

DORA’s reports suggest that the proportion of elite performers, those who perform the best on the four key metrics, is increasing every year. According to the most recent report, elite performers have tripled to 20% of all teams, in just one year. These performers are also twice as likely to meet or exceed their own performance goals. The reports offer continued evidence that the four key metrics can be a critical guiding factor for organizations seeking improvements in their software delivery performance.

Why Should You Track DORA Metrics?

As discussed, DORA metrics can help you make important decisions to improve the software development and delivery processes. For instance, the deployment frequency tells how often and quickly teams are able to deploy new applications or features into live environments. With regular tracking of this metric, it is easy to define baselines and detect deviations from the normal. Further investigations can help in finding any bottlenecks in the process. With these findings, organizations can make informed adjustments in their process workflows, automation, team composition, tools, and more. A successful DevOps implementation should have a fairly stable or increasing deployment frequency. Similarly, other metrics also help in tracking the health and performance of your DevOps pipelines.

By limiting the number of things to monitor and guiding organizations to focus on specific metrics, DORA metrics provide a good start in the right direction. The metrics help organizations align their business goals with development capabilities closely. In other words, business teams can keep track of deployment frequencies and other metrics to get an understanding of how fast they can deliver and make requisite provisions to meet customer expectations. For project managers and delivery leaders directly engaged in the DevOps process, tracking DORA metrics is even more critical as the metrics make it easier to showcase or report improvements in the DevOps implementation to other business stakeholders. With these metrics, they can benchmark their team against peers for validation of their progress.

After identifying the key metrics, the next step is to get visibility for continuous tracking and reporting. You can find a wide range of dashboarding or visualization solutions in the market (both commercial and open-source) that can help you in effective monitoring of DORA metrics. However, the key is to select a tool that can seamlessly connect the dots across the DevOps lifecycle to provide a unified view of the overall performance, while allowing you to drill through and across various metrics.

Where to Get Started?

While it is true that DORA metrics have made it far less complex for organizations to start measuring the success of their DevOps processes, there are still various challenges in getting started and leveraging the metrics. The solutions to monitor the metrics offer limited flexibility to drill across or deeper into the failures.

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