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Agile and DevOps are different in that Agile focuses more on the approach to software development and delivery, while DevOps is focused on the ongoing deployment of software. However, these two methodologies also have a lot in common, so let's explore them.

Agile versus DevOps comes up frequently, but the fundamental distinction lies in their focus areas and methodologies. Agile is a philosophy centered on the approach to software development and delivery, emphasizing iterative progress and collaboration. In contrast, DevOps is more about the ongoing deployment of software, utilizing modern tools and automated processes to streamline and enhance the efficiency of code deployment.

Growing demands for digitization amid increasing worries regarding data security have put burdens on software development teams across the globe. Customers and stakeholders expect development teams to do more with less, all the while shortening the time to market for technical products.

In this environment, choosing the right software development methodologies is critical to success. When faced with two leading methodologies, DevOps and Agile, CTOs may question whether championing one or the other will drive better business results. 

Similarities Between Agile Methodology and DevOps

Software development has grown exponentially in recent years. According to data published by IBISWorld, revenue increased by 3.1% between 2018 and 2023 — even as revenues in many other sectors struggled.

If you're trying to decide between an Agile approach or DevOps methodologies for your software development workflow, understanding where the Venn diagram of these two choices crosses is essential.

Understanding Agile Methodology

Agile practices are relevant to development and project management. When implemented appropriately, they can have overall positive benefits for technical teams, departments, and entire organizations.

Agile Principles Overview

Agile is built upon a series of key values and principles. The four fundamental values of Agile are:

  • Individuals and interactions. Agile prioritizes the people involved, including team members and customers, over processes and tools. It includes organic feedback loops, retrospectives, and standup meetings to address the needs of the individuals throughout the process.
  • Working software. The primary goal of Agile is to deliver working software quickly, and outcomes are prioritized over comprehensive documentation. 
  • Customer collaboration. By nature, Agile is a collaborative process. It works well for in-house teams and solid partnerships, in part because collaboration is prioritized over strict contract negotiation.
  • Responding to change. Agile teams are flexible. They're equipped to respond to change quickly rather than sticking to a roadmap or plan that may no longer be relevant.

On top of the four values, 12 principles from the Agile Manifesto help govern how this methodology works. These principles include:


Customer Satisfaction Through Early and Continuous Delivery
Prioritizing the continuous delivery of valuable software to satisfy the customer.
Welcoming ChangeEmbracing changes in requirements, even late in development, to provide the customer with a competitive advantage.
Delivering Working Software FrequentlyWorking software is delivered often, with a preference for a shorter timescale.
Collaboration Between Business Stakeholders and DevelopersEncouraging close daily cooperation between business people and developers
Motivating IndividualsBuilding projects around motivated individuals and trusting them to get the job done.
Face-to-Face ConversationValuing face-to-face conversation as the most efficient and effective method of conveying information.
Working Software as the Primary Measure of ProgressConsidering working software as the primary measure of progress.
Sustainable DevelopmentPromoting sustainable development and enabling the sponsors, developers, and users to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.
Continuous Attention to Technical ExcellenceContinuously paying attention to technical excellence and good design to enhance agility.
SimplicityMaximizing the amount of work not done and focusing on simplicity.
Self-Organizing TeamsEncouraging the best architectures, requirements, and designs to emerge from self-organizing teams.
Regular Reflection and AdjustmentAt regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
12 Principles of the Agile Manifesto

The principles of Agile support ongoing communication and quality within the process. They also include mandates for swift action, including delivering working software on short timescales and using retrospectives to reflect on the process and outcomes.

Agile for CTOs

Agile’s positive relationship with change, reliance on sprints and other fast-paced efforts, and eye on rapid software release as a goal support the flexible development required in today’s technology landscape.

 

Traditional technology calls for developing a roadmap periodically to align technical efforts with business goals. However, roadmap-centric organizations may not support new business needs. Agile provides a framework that governs technical efforts while removing the inflexibility of traditional approaches.

 

For example, a CTO in a healthcare environment may have been tasked with developing better patient portal solutions after business metrics identified patient communication as a challenge. In a traditional approach, this may become a tenant in the roadmap for technical development that year. However, if medical billing teams later identify a flaw in claims solutions, the tech team may be unable to suitably migrate efforts to work on this new need.

 

Agile teams don’t have this barrier. They can move quickly from one effort to another and even evolve a specific effort mid-course. For instance, perhaps the original requirement of the patient portal solution was to increase patients’ ability to message providers. If further customer feedback indicates invoicing is an equal concern, the tech team can pivot to adding in billing solutions, too.

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Demystifying DevOps

DevOps culture tends to use a lot of acronyms and technical terms, so on the surface, it can sound a lot more complex than Agile. While DevOps teams may go through processes and steps that Agile teams skip, the ultimate goals of both processes are to create new products, implement improvements, and collaborate well with cross-functional teams within the business.

The Core Concepts of DevOps

DevOps practices often follow the CALMS framework. CALMS stands for Culture, Automation, Lean, Measurement, and Sharing. These can be considered some of the core concepts of DevOps.

  • Culture – Applying DevOps tools without buy-in and an eye for change in technology processes does little good. For DevOps to work, operational changes in IT processes must become the default, and stakeholders from across the business must understand how these changes can improve technical outcomes.
  • Automation – Automation reduces tedious and repetitive work and leaves technical resources free to develop creative solutions.
  • Lean – DevOps teams seek continuous improvement opportunities across all processes and tasks. They accept that failure is part of the process, and they can learn from unsatisfactory outcomes to improve future results.
  • Measurement – Continuous improvement requires data you can review. DevOps teams are concerned with key performance indicators and other metrics, which help inform their ongoing work decisions.
  • Sharing – A Strong DevOps culture involves sharing accountability and responsibility for solutions with the business. Often, in these structures, developers also service the product going forward.

The Role of DevOps in Operations and Infrastructure

DevOps works to streamline processes and support continuous integration and delivery. In theory, these are the same goals as Agile. However, DevOps acts within a more structured approach that operations teams within larger enterprises may be able to better predict and understand. 

Example

Consider Netflix as an example. The popular streaming service has leveraged DevOps culture and tools for over a decade — ever since it made the unprecedented switch from shipping borrowed DVDs to streaming digital content. Netflix is a massive enterprise with thousands of moving parts. In tandem with partners like Amazon Web Solutions, it also supports an enormous amount of server and digital activity.

 

DevOps methodology is key to Netflix’s success. The streaming service buys into the CALMS concepts so thoroughly that it automated failure to ensure it was constantly learning and improving to prevent failure that end users can recognize. This is one reason your Netflix account operates with such consistency.

Agile vs. DevOps: What’s the Difference?

While the overall goals may be the same, Agile teams and DevOps teams don't operate the same. There are critical differences in how these development teams are managed and work within business organizations.

Approach to Software Development

Perhaps the most significant difference is Agile’s iterative development vs. DevOps continuous delivery.

Agile’s Iterative Approach

The sprint-based approach and flexibility of Agile software development prioritizes customer feedback and supports shorter overall development times. Agile developers iterate repeatedly to improve offerings over time. Every sprint in this approach potentially results in a shippable product increment, which can help support ongoing customer or stakeholder satisfaction and engagement. 

One example of Agile success comes from CISCO – they use a "team of teams" to support tiered Agile releases. CISCO uses Agile methodology to manage projects, create new capabilities, and launch fixes for defects.  

DevOpsContinuous Delivery

DevOps teams work via continuous integration and continuous delivery to shorten the system or software development life cycle without impacting the quality of deliveries. They automatically merge code into the main product without waiting for significant release dates. This allows for continued updates while reducing integration challenges experienced with major updates.

Continuous delivery tools follow this process, deploying code automatically into the appropriate testing and production environments. Delivery may be on a set schedule, such as weekly. In many organizations, continuous delivery is accomplished during nightly system updates. Continuous deployment can further streamline integrations. Here, updates are released to customers or end-users immediately after automated testing.

Amazon Web Services leverages this type of delivery model to support an extensive service and client base. The ability to deliver real-time updates to hundreds of thousands of customers that use AWS is critical to the digital giant's success, and it's often up to complex automated testing processes to stop deployment if there's a critical failure. Only then do human tech resources step in to solve problems.

Team Structure and Collaboration

How teams are structured — and how they work with others in the business — differ depending on which model you choose.

Agile Team Dynamics

Agile teams tend to comprise developers, scrum masters, and product owners. They work via constant standups and regular meetings and may use tools such as kanban boards to manage tasks. Typically, Agile teams are small and cross-functional; they're often self-managed within the context of their roles and mandates. Each team member or the group may make project decisions or shift focus without specific recommendations from leadership.

Each Agile team may be responsible for a specific project or even a particular focus within a larger product. They may also move from one effort to another, sometimes acting as a technical fire team, without seeing an entire software life cycle.

DevOps Team Focus

In contrast, DevOps teams are often responsible for the entire software development life cycle. They may continue to support products after they are deployed. Teams comprise development, QA, IT operations, and security resources, with much more collaboration across teams and departments than in Agile.

Whereas Agile teams measure success in delivering working software, DevOps teams use performance metrics, such as change lead time and deployment frequency, to measure success.

Agile and DevOps: Complementary or Conflicting?

Often, the optimization of software development processes and the use of team members requires a hybrid approach. In such cases, CTOs may want to leverage DevOps as an overarching practice and use Agile methods within that framework to address rapid development needs or changes in focus.

For example, you might operate with a DevOps culture, but within that, you have a special Agile project team. You can use this team to address changing or special needs that arise throughout the year that aren't in keeping with a DevOps roadmap.

Where to Go Next

There are many noteworthy software development resources available for you to learn more. For CTOs and tech leaders at the forefront of development, join our newsletter for expert advice about Agile and DevOps success and challenges.

By Katie Sanders

As a data-driven content strategist, editor, writer, and community steward, Katie helps technical leaders win at work. Her 14 years of experience in the tech space makes her well-rounded to provide technical audiences with expert insights and practical advice through Q&As, Thought Leadership, Ebooks, etc.