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DevOps researchers shine light on toll that outsourcing takes on productivity of software developers

DevOps teams that use cloud and open source software tend to be higher performers, while organisations that outsource portions of their software development processes tend to be less productive, 2018 Accelerate State of DevOps report suggests

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The negative impact that outsourcing can have on the productivity of enterprise software development teams is laid bare in the 2018 Accelerate: State of DevOps report.

The report features responses from 1,900 technical professionals from across the globe, whose feedback is benchmarked against the 30,000 or so individuals who have taken part in previous versions of the study over the past five years.

The report aims to identify the characteristics and habits that define whether DevOps teams can be considered to be high, medium or low performers, in terms of how productive their software development and delivery processes are, based on the amount and stability of the code they produce.

For example, high-performing teams tend to deliver software changes multiple times a day, whereas low performers tend to do so between “once every month and once every six months”, according to the report.  

“The proportion of high performers has grown year-over-year, showing that the industry is continuing to improve,” it states. “We still see the highest performers developing and delivering software at the highest levels, just as we’ve observed in years past. We also see low performers are struggling to keep up, widening the gap.”

Within the high-performing group, the report’s authors – who include DevOps Research and Assessment (Dora) co-founders Nicole Forsgren, Jez Humble and Gene Kim – have pinpointed the emergence of an “elite” category of DevOps practitioner in this year’s report.

“This new category exists for two reasons,” they state in the report. “The first is that we see the high-performing group growing and expanding, suggesting the overall industry is improving its software development and delivery practices.

“The second is that the elite group demonstrates that the bar for excellence is evolving across the industry, with the highest performers still optimising for throughput and stability.”

In this year’s report, the authors decided to analyse the impact that outsourcing has on the performance of DevOps teams, on the basis that it is often talked about as being a barrier to software development and delivery productivity.

Its findings reveal that low-performing teams are nearly four times more likely to follow the “functional outsourcing” model – whereby parts of the software development and delivery process are outsourced to external parties – than those in the elite category.

Part of the reason for this is that outsourcing tends to result in portions of work being batched together, which means it takes longer to complete and get the resultant code into production.

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“When work is batched into projects or releases, high-value and low-value features get lumped together into each release, meaning that all of the work – whether high or low value – is delivered at the same speed,” the report says.

“Important and critical features are forced to wait for low-value work because they are all grouped together into a single release. The cost of delaying these high-value features because all features are released together is often significant. And in many cases, this cost of delay is likely to exceed the amount saved through outsourcing.”

Apart from outsourcing, the report also looks at how the use of cloud and open source software affect the output of DevOps teams.

The research reveals that enterprises whose use of cloud falls broadly into line with the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s five essential characteristics of cloud computing are 23 times more likely to be classified as elite performers than low performers.

Meanwhile, open source software is 1.75 times more likely to be “extensively used” by the highest performers, who are also shown in the research to be 1.5 times more likely to expand their use of open source technologies in future.

According to Forsgren, this revelation is one of the standout findings of the 2018 report. “Our research provides compelling evidence that smart investments in technology, process and culture drive profit, quality and customer outcomes that are important for organisations to stay competitive and relevant – both today and as we look to the future,” she says.

“A stunning finding in the data this year is the compelling case of doing cloud right. Adopting essential cloud characteristics drives high performance and differentiates the highest performers from those who may say they are in the cloud but are unable to realise performance gains because their technology and processes aren’t executed correctly.”

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