7 ways to reduce costs with agile and devops

If you're struggling to find cost savings in complex workflows, agile and devops practices offer ways to find the best opportunities in uncertain times.

7 ways to reduce costs with agile and devops
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You don’t have to sell the value and virtues of agile methodologies and devops to many technology leaders today. Most don’t want to go back to the days of failed projects, command and control timelines, or manual infrastructure operations. But most tech leaders recognize that it takes time and investment to mature agile and scaled devops capabilities. At some point, business leaders may ask about the return on investment.

Now, if you’re a software-as-a-service company that builds and sells technology, then agile and devops can be linked to improved products, new customers, and revenue growth. Many companies can justify their investments by delivering better user experiences, improving customer satisfaction, and releasing capabilities faster.

Today, many IT departments will also have to show cost savings. The jury is still out on whether the world economy is in a recession or market correction, what the impact will be on IT budgets, and how long a financial downturn may last. Even short-lived economic uncertainty means tech leaders should be prepared to answer questions on how agile and devops practices can lead to efficiencies and direct cost savings. Here are some ways:

1. Improve speed to market by delivering minimally viable solutions

Andrew Davis, senior director at Copado, shares two fundamental objectives that agile and devops aim to address. He says, “In the book How to Measure Anything, the author Douglas Hubbard summarizes his extensive research to determine which factors play the greatest role in determining the overall ROI of a project. Sorting through scores of metrics, the only two factors that consistently predicted ROI were whether the project was canceled before going live and how quickly users adopted the product.”

Why this reduces costs: Davis suggests that you can demonstrate ROI via speed to market by releasing capabilities to users faster. You correlate cost savings by showing more frequent production releases, less overhead per release, and fewer defects or operational issues after a release.

2. Respond faster to priority changes

Tech organizations adopt agile because priorities change and they want to make course corrections easily. Roger Valade, senior vice president of engineering at G2, says leaders should demonstrate responsiveness as a financial benefit. “One of agile’s core benefits is ensuring we’re working on the most important work at all times,” he says. “It’s difficult to calculate that financial benefit concretely, but the opportunity to continuously focus on our sometimes shifting priorities and eliminating waste is critical.”

Why this reduces costs: What’s the financial impact of delays in planning new capabilities or long cycle times in releasing features to production? One way to calculate a cost savings is by showing a reduction in time and costs applied to administrative or non-value-added work. Another option is calculating a cost reduction from faster feature release cycles.

3. Speed up and improve decision-making

Making priority changes is one form of decision-making, and Peter Kreslins Jr, CTO and cofounder of Digibee, believes that enabling smarter and faster decision-making has a high ROI. “Agile practices can give teams more autonomy, reducing the hidden cost of centralized decisions. Agile practices can also be tapped to anticipate the decisions on the right products to build, instead of spending money developing them and then figuring out if they are useful.”

Why this reduces costs: The key is defining decision authorities (who can make what decisions) and empowering teams to make more decisions faster. Benchmark how defining these principles reduces the time and costs of holding meetings, sending emails, or delivering presentations.

4. Establish test-driven development and continuous testing

Investing in continuous testing and test-driven development (TDD) improves quality and can yield substantial cost savings.

Marko Anastasov, cofounder of Semaphore CI/CD, says, “Adopting TDD may seem like overhead, but in the long term it reduces cost, at least when compared with waterfall development. While waterfall costs rise linearly, TDD tends to flatten out. So for any sufficiently long-lived project, TDD will always pay out in the end.”

Why this reduces costs: For apps in production, benchmark the costs to resolve defects and operational issues found in production and calculate how more automated testing would reduce these occurrences. Test automation and TDD reduce the time and costs compared to manual testing and help ensure quality as devops teams increase release frequency.

5. Automate test data management and service virtualization

Automating testing may be only one part of the investment required to improve quality and reliability of larger-scale apps. Tests are only as good as the testing data, which can be difficult to create or manage in high-usage apps that support multistep workflows or collect complex data. Creating synthetic data sets, using tools to manage test data, and implementing service virtualization aim to address these challenges.

“Implementing effective test data management tools, including virtualization, is one of the major ways to reduce costs within the shift-left devops and agile frameworks,” says Roman Golod, CTO and cofounder of Accelario. “Not only does it reduce cloud deployment and storage costs, but it also accelerates test data management within devops, as no one needs to wait for the DBA to transfer the production database to the non-production environment. Additionally, using automated masking and synthetic data reduces the need to implement comprehensive data protection in the non-production databases.”

Why this reduces costs: Large-usage apps are often challenged by “needle in a haystack” problems, where just a few users experience functionality, performance, or other user experience issues. Calculate the customer or user support costs tied to resolving complex application issues and demonstrate where using richer test data or service virtualization can reduce them.

6. Analyze and optimize cloud consumption costs

Business executives have heard that moving to the cloud saves money, but that only comes to fruition when IT takes ownership and manages consumption.

David Williams, senior vice president of market strategy at Quali, describes what it means to take ownership. “Public cloud providers’ billing and utilization reports don’t provide context around cloud resource consumption,” he says. “Organizations need the ability to accurately tag environments by users, teams, and projects. With that context, they can plan future cloud costs more accurately and then manage, optimize, and reduce those costs.”

Why this reduces costs: Reducing cloud consumption requires identifying the opportunities to automate elasticity, shut down services, or rearchitect in the most optimal areas. Teams can find cost savings by moving to serverless architectures, shutting down environments during off-peak hours, archiving data to less-expensive storage options, and embracing other best practices.

6. Use automation to free devops teams from toil

How should devops teams prioritize their focus areas? I shared seven questions to prioritize a devops backlog, and cost savings should be one of the guiding principles.

Stanley Huang, cofounder and CTO at Moxo, says, “The fundamental way to reduce any human practice–related cost is by hiring the right people. In a competitive labor market and ever-evolving landscape of tools and architectures, automating CI/CD pipelines, manual operations, and other ecosystem elements is the best way to reduce costs and unleash human capability.”

Kreslins adds, “Devops practices can automate the complete software release life cycle, reducing manual effort, errors, and incidents which ultimately incur costs.”

Why this reduces costs: Savings come from the disciplines of estimating the costs of manual operations, prioritizing areas to focus on, and then measuring the impact. Trying to automate everything everywhere is unrealistic for many understaffed IT teams, so focusing on areas that reduce the most toil and then measuring the impact is a storyline devops leaders need to capture and share with business leaders.

7. Leverage feedback to make course corrections

G2’s Valade shares a story to help illustrate the importance of making agile course corrections. “One of my earliest agile trainers shared that on any plane trip the pilots are off course more than 90% of the flight time—constantly adjusting the route to ensure they land at the right destination,” he says. “I love this example because, in the same way, agile helps us constantly refine our path based on empirical data directly from our teams and our projects, ensuring that we hit our objectives and stay on course.

Why this reduces costs: Devops teams invest time to make apps observable and implement AIops to centralize monitoring and operational data. In addition, product managers working with agile teams review usage analytics, survey users, and interview key customers and stakeholders. The ROI from creating smart feedback loops should flow up to the overall business goals and outcomes of the product or application.

Keep devops simple: Focus on productivity, agility, and impact

Devops teams need a game plan to answer questions on cost savings but can’t lose sight of their organization’s overarching business goals, agile principles, and devops cultural benefits.

Dean MacNeil, global head of agile at scale practice at Valiantys, says, “It’s more about return on investment and productivity increase rather than cost reduction. Lean, agile, and devops are practices based on values and principles that work together to enable business agility.”

Huang adds, “Complexity is also the enemy to productivity and cost efficiency, so don’t overcomplicate processes that will hamper productivity and ruin the overall result.”

Review these seven recommendations, identify the low-hanging fruit, and use data to guide where to focus agile and devops practices.

Copyright © 2022 IDG Communications, Inc.

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