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PHOTO: Tine Ivanič

When it comes to DevOps, communication is everything. 

While its definition is often debated or confused, DevOps really comes down to a very simple idea: that agility and cross-functional inclusivity results in greater efficiency and higher quality results — the basic philosophy is about committing to company-wide process improvement. 

For DevOps to succeed, however, software developers, testers, IT operations teams, and any relevant stakeholders (such as clients or project managers) must be transparent and honest about their work, while also sharing, receiving and acting on valuable feedback. 

In our experience, there’s no doubt this approach leads to greater agility and performance, which has benefitted everyone involved. 

Even so, while solid communications practices are helpful, you cannot benefit from improved processes without applying feedback loops throughout the entire organization. Feedback loops help to remove operational boundaries between teams and lock everyone into a continuous cycle of improvement, which leads to constant improvement on a cultural level.  

Despite this reality, a few myths about DevOps feedback loops are altering how the industry understands them. Let’s have a go at debunking some of them.  

Myth 1: 'Feedback Loops Are Just for Technical Teams'

The term “feedback loops,” as it relates to DevOps, is often confused with the process of giving feedback to developers, testers or operations. While this is true to some extent, the “loop” part is commonly overlooked and feedback is not reciprocated or bounced back. 

True DevOps feedback loops require feedback to move in all directions. All teams should receive feedback on their work, allowing them to learn from it and improve their processes accordingly. The act of identifying and amplifying the most important feedback loops is another skill that takes time to develop. 

Business leaders and other stakeholders are not exempt from this process. Their feedback is essential to ensuring that teams don’t stray too far from the corresponding business goals. They can also benefit from a dose of feedback from their technical teams, as they might sometimes forget the importance of autonomy and experimentation in the development process. 

Process improvement in DevOps comes down to the entire team’s ability to correct errors or fix problems as soon as they arise, not just on the technical side. Without this understanding, the true value of amplified feedback loops can never be obtained. 

Related Article: DevOps and the Culture of Inclusion

Myth 2: Automated Notifications = Feedback Loops

With the robust suite of DevOps tools available on the market today, a common misconception has arisen in the IT community: that notifications from these tools equate to acceptable feedback loops. 

Automated alerting systems are very useful for DevOps professionals, as they help keep us on top of unexpected errors or issues with new builds — they can also get highly overwhelming and counter-productive if not managed correctly (but that’s a topic for another post).  

While these systems are essential for getting ahead of technical errors, they do not alert us to any organizational problems or blockades that other teams may be facing. Successful DevOps feedback loops require human communication and interaction outside of automated systems. This approach is vital for things like improving code or clearing a backlog of longstanding issues. 

Related Article: Developer Collaboration Tools Beyond Slack

Myth 3: 'There Are More Important Things to Focus On'

In any software development project, it’s understandable that the focus might shift towards lower costs, faster delivery times, or immediate customer satisfaction. However, these urgent situations can, more often than not, be rectified (or even prevented) when the right amount of priority is given to feedback loops. 

A sufficient focus on feedback loops helps to uncover problems that were previously difficult to detect. All teams will benefit from allocating ample time to this, as it will enable them to reflect on the current state of the project and recognize potential areas for improvement. 

DevOps feedback loops can align technical teams with user experiences, ensure that knowledge is shared across the whole organization, encourage ownership, instill a greater sense of responsibility, and make sure problems or requests are dealt with much faster. Cultural changes like this can drastically reduce those urgent situations, showing the level of attention that feedback loops require.

Related Article: Where Culture and Quality Fits Into Agile Environments

A Few Takeaways

DevOps feedback loops help software development teams enforce priorities and realign with business goals, as the agile nature of the practice can sometimes lead people down the wrong path. When used correctly, they are a means of optimizing the software development process at every touchpoint, resulting in faster delivery, better products, and a higher chance of achieving business goals. 

Feedback from any source — whether it’s from project managers, users, your own server logs or fellow team members — should be acknowledged, prioritized, acted upon when necessary, and reported back to the source to close the loop. This process will lead to continuous improvement across the entire organization, fundamentally changing the company's culture for the better.