Lessons from 2020 for the Shifting Landscape of Software Delivery

By Dawn Parzych   •   January 21, 2021
LaunchDarkly

DevOps is all about the people, processes, and tools. In 2020, the focus was much more on the people and processes as organizations were challenged to quickly adapt to working during a pandemic. In this post, I’ll talk about some of the lessons learned over the past 12 months, and what they could mean for the year ahead. 

How to remote

Remote work is challenging. The added twist in 2020  was shifting to remote work, in a matter of days, if not hours, as companies and employees scrambled to adjust to this new way of working. As we learned, remote work during a pandemic is not the same as traditional remote work. The pandemic brought another layer of complexity, more stress, more uncertainty, more distractions. 

When working remotely, teams have to become skilled at working asynchronously. Many people were not just working from home, but they were also caring for children and family members. This led to people working split shifts or reduced hours. It also enabled some to work during their optimum creative times, without needing to align with work hours.

Getting used to async communication takes time. For asynchronous work to be effective, you need explicit communication processes and clear lines of what has happened, what changed, and who is responsible for actions. A few ways teams addressed this: 

  • At-mentioning specific people if a task or action was necessary. 
  • Publishing your work schedule and status. 
  • Recording all calls or providing notes in a centralized location for those unable to attend. 

These processes became especially important when it came to deploys and resolving incidents. People couldn’t all jump into a room to troubleshoot an incident or get sign off for deployments. Ensuring that everybody is aware of the processes to follow when deploying and putting the right safety mechanisms in place enables deploys and releases to move forward asynchronously. Having reliable processes around alerting, incident management, and feature flags is critical. 

Some organizations saw a decrease in deploys and releases, as a “pandemic tax” was implemented, where teams reduced their capacity on sprints. People didn’t have the same availability, productivity dropped, and features took longer to release. And all of that is, of course, ok and completely understandable given the circumstances. 

In 2021, we may see teams and organizations try to make up some of that lost ground, but until the pandemic has ended, the toll it’s taking is still very much alive.   

Rapid pivots

Not everything slowed down in 2020, though. Organizations had to pivot to figure out how to better serve customers. Even typically face-to-face industries—such as education and medicine—implemented software solutions for distance learning and telehealth sessions. This put pressure on organizations to maintain that ever-elusive five nines availability when they previously hadn’t needed to. 

Companies had to rapidly put processes and hardware in place to support the additional customer demand on their applications and keep up with a variety of regulations on what was open and what wasn’t. 

At LauchDarkly, our customers shared with us some unique ways they were using feature flags to display regional information and updates related to COVID-19 procedures or how feature flags rescued code erroneously deployed to production instead of test. For example, a food-delivery customer used feature flags and location targeting to change the options available in their store locator. Not all stores could offer takeout. These stores were added to a group. If a store was in that group, customers would not see ads or promotions related to the takeout option. 

Software companies that are all about connecting people remotely—such as businesses focused on video streaming, video conferencing, or the aforementioned food delivery—also saw significant boosts. They still needed to adjust rapidly, but for different reasons. These organizations needed to spin up new instances, deploy new hardware, or hire more employees to onboard and support new customers. And at the outset of 2021, there seems to be no major decrease in demand for these types of services. 

The disappearance of the network perimeter

With all of us working from home for the majority of 2020 (and into the new year), IT teams were forced to change their focus from securing their local network and the computers connected to it. Instead, they needed to support full connection to work resources from a variety of endpoints, networks, and strange cable modems. This shift led IT and security teams to get serious about least-privilege and other best security practices. 

And even if someone is working from home, companies still need to manage, track, and administer their resources remotely. Troubleshooting required technicians to connect with a computer remotely instead of walking over to a desk and asking a user to type in their password. 

Doing more with less

Add to that a new era of cost-consciousness. Companies concerned about revenue projections cut costs. In some instances, this meant furloughs and layoffs. In other areas, projects were put on hold indefinitely. Elsewhere, home-grown software solutions were collapsed into SaaS services. Instead of worrying about supporting the software, employees could focus on tasks that added to the company’s bottom line. Companies invested in tools and solutions to help their distributed workforce be more effective in their asynchronous work. 

Very few organizations had a plan for a long-lived pandemic. Some of the most prepared had readied themselves for a short-term or regional event, but even that was not enough. The current stability and success of software-oriented companies in 2020 through present day is a testament to our ability to change rapidly when it is required.

2020 reaffirmed for us that software powers the world. All organizations had to quickly pivot, adapt, and figure out a plan forward. Empathy and flexibility were needed as everyone adjusted and learned how to work in a new way. With many companies having already announced they will stay remote through the summer of 2021, I anticipate seeing more processes and shifts to empower the distributed workforce. 

If you’re interested in learning more about what’s on the horizon for DevOps, register for our upcoming webinar, “Fireside Chat: Gene Kim and Adam Zimman – The State of DevOps in 2021.” 

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