Jun 24 2021

Agile vs. DevOps: What's the Difference Between These Methodologies?

While the differences between the agile and DevOps methodologies are few, their true potential lies in the details.

Collaboration is crucial for higher education leaders striving to better understand the technical processes that run their institutions’ development operations.

That collaboration can take on many shapes, and for the uninitiated, approaches such as agile development and DevOps can be difficult to understand at a high level. They often seem like the same approach. While they achieve similar goals, there are some key differences between agile and DevOps — and their greatest benefits emerge when they come together as one.

What Is DevOps Software Methodology?

DevOps is a software methodology that formed around 2009 (although, its roots go back years earlier). DevOps merges IT operations with software development by applying continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) approaches to traditional software development.

While not limited to the cloud or the server room, DevOps is often connected to those technologies. DevSecOps — a good example of DevOps in action — extends the approach to address security needs while minimizing response times. DevSecOps also allows IT departments to detect vulnerabilities more quickly.

Expert Q&A: Learn how to avoid violating HEERF requirements.

What Is the Agile Development Methodology?

First created in 2001 at a ski resort in Utah, the agile development methodology is an approach built around four values and twelve principles that emphasize collaborative responses and quick changes. The Agile Manifesto that rose from that meeting spelled out why user-driven approaches are important to development, prioritizing the individual over the process.

“We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it,” the manifesto begins.

Since then, agile development has expanded rapidly into a full practice that’s widely used in the business world, and it holds significant potential for higher education. According to one 2019 study, 97 percent of organizations use agile in some way, shape or form. But there is room for further uptake, as 48 percent of respondents say that less than half of their teams are agile.

While there were components that predated the standardizing of modern development processes, says Tara Hernandez, a senior engineering manager at Google, many DevOps concepts evolved from agile’s faster development cycles and closer collaboration features.

The Key Principles of the Agile Manifesto

The Agile Manifesto’s 12 principles, as described by the Agile Alliance, include these essential components:

  • User satisfaction: The highest priority of an agile development approach is to satisfy users through continuous delivery of software.
  • Frequent release cycles: Agile development relies on release cycles of a few weeks to a few months.
  • Close collaboration: University staff should work closely with developers on the project to ensure it meets the institution’s unique goals.
  • Sustainable development: The approach should allow for a constant pace that can continue indefinitely.

There are different types of agile development methodology — most notably, scrum, a sprint-driven approach that is most common among agile proponents. Ultimately, the goals of agile methodology focus on continuous software development that considers the needs of students, faculty and staff. It can adapt to changes as they happen.

DIVE DEEPER: Learn more about DevOps and how it can work for your institution.

What’s the Difference Between Agile and DevOps?

DevOps, in many ways, is the expansion of the agile development approach, as both are a reaction to the waterfall style of development. One concept that applies to both disciplines is the idea of “shifting left,” which explores the later pieces of the waterfall process much earlier in a DevOps or agile environment.

But DevOps has a different target audience and moves more quickly. As a blog post from the tech education platform Guru99 notes, there are significant differences in team structure, audience and scale. Agile development tends to enable problem-solving for smaller teams, while DevOps by nature tends to work across departments to achieve larger goals quickly.

In essence, DevOps “brings two large siloed teams together to allow for quicker software releases while Agile is focused on getting smaller teams to collaborate with each other so it can react quickly to the ever-changing [user] needs,” wrote Kaya Ismail in a 2018 comparison of the technologies for CMS Wire.

The role of interaction also differs in each approach. For example, DevOps leans heavily on process automation tools such as Infrastructure as Code, while agile focuses on a collaborative approach to problem-solving.

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How Can Agile and DevOps Be Used Together?

When developers understand how DevOps and Agile work, they can determine compatibility between the processes. Taking an Agile development approach within a broader DevOps culture allows individual teams to effectively combine the processes.

A guide on the subject from Microsoft Azure advises that you do not need to choose between DevOps or agile; you can use both. Agile is strong on methods that organize work, such as Scrum or Kanban, while DevOps drives a broader cultural shift for development and operations teams as they deliver faster and more reliable software.

LISTEN: Explore DevOps further by listening to the Simplifying DevOps podcast.

In many ways, DevOps and agile development are extremely compatible. Hernandez notes that the evolution of DevOps formalized many agile ideas. As a result, both work at a cultural level, rather than as purely technical approaches.

“The key thing is, what do you need to do, both from a cultural standpoint and a technology standpoint, to enable fast, high-quality velocity of delivery? And it has to be cultural, because technology all by itself — no matter what some vendors will tell you — never solves these types of problems,” she says.

How Can Universities Implement an Agile Approach to DevOps?

Ultimately, agile and DevOps can work well together, but there must be an understanding of the relationship between speed and quality, Hernandez says, noting that this may be different for every institution.

“Really understand what problem you are trying to solve, then tailor your efforts to that problem,” she says. “Otherwise, you’re likely not going to get what you want.”

Working with a strong partner, such as CDW Amplified™ Services, can help get you there. Only your institution will know what the perfect balance is between your agile team and a DevOps-friendly culture, but having a helping hand to do the cultural shift can maximize your technical capabilities.

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