DevOps and Information Development – Beating to the Same Heartbeat

By, Vidhya V Kumar

Modern organizations need lean thinking, practices and approaches to increase their capacity to deliver fast. Teams need to work together more smoothly, communicate more quickly and effectively. DevOps is a ‘culture’ in which development and operations teams work together as a single team. To establish this culture you need to adopt a mindset that is aware of software operations very early in the development process. The DevOps processes and tools facilitate smooth well-oiled collaboration between teams. DevOps helps apply agile and lean principles across the entire software supply chain.

Information development specialists need to be nimble and adapt to this new work style as DevOps requires the entire delivery machinery to beat to a common pulse – and information development is very much part of that machinery.

A Common Heartbeat

Getting the entire delivery machinery to work together in tandem is essential for delivering a firm’s competitive strategy. Modern firms recognize the competitive advantage in being able to convert customer feedback into product features or new services in ‘real time’. Instituting a DevOps culture helps the firm sustain this responsiveness.

When customer requirements come in at a canter, and customers expect to see their feedback translated to product features instantly, the entire delivery machinery needs to beat furiously to a common rhythm. Such a culture needs Developers who are willing to add or remove pieces of code quickly. It requires Testers to be in a state of perpetually testing different versions of an application. It demands that Operations be able to handle multiple versions of the same application without crashing the systems or their own work-life balance. It requires Information Developers to be able to churn out bite-sized pieces of documentation.

That is, all delivery components – Developers, Testers, Information Developers, and Deployment Staff must work together as a single machine to crank out product features at frequent intervals. This is what DevOps is all about. It ensures that all team members work and run together without tripping on each other.

Information Development is Integral

Information Development (ID) is part of this machinery – despite the name ‘DevOps’. This is because updates to product features must be accompanied by updates to all related ID artifacts (Online Help, Context Sensitive Help, Videos, and Tutorials). The general trend to be more responsive to customers also applies to ID. Customers need to understand product changes as they happen. What are the new features? Which features have been modified? This nimbleness demands the same level of flexibility and productivity from Information Developers as is expected from Development and Operations.

‘Tool’ Up

What makes DevOps a reality today is the availability of new management and automation tools. While Developers have got used to continuous development and integration cycles over the last two decades, it is only relatively recently that sophisticated life cycle management, configuration management, testing and environment provisioning tools have enabled other teams to display the same speed.

Information Developers (ID) need to use sophisticated tools and processes to make DevOps a part of their work styles. Tools are necessary to keep the lines connecting a product version and its related ID artifacts – Demos, Online Help, Tutorials, and Reference Articles – always updated. What makes this possible is a version control and ‘snapshot’ mechanism that links product versions to the appropriate ID artifact versions. Configuration management and continuous integration are tools of prime importance. For every product version change, the ID teams must make sure that all related documentation is updated, correct version number applied, and merged.

Get Granular

In continuous delivery cycles (followed by most firms) all software delivered must be ‘release-ready’.

Which product components are pulled out of the delivery pool and released is often a decision that depends on market dynamics, to which product designers, developers, and information developers are not always privy.

Needless to say, this principle of release readiness affects product design across the board and also applies to Online Help and other ID artifacts. Information Architects must design information structures that allow documentation to be granular. DITA-based architecture and tools are ideal for implementing such granularity and flexibility.

Shorten Communication Chains

Product and marketing teams that interact with customers often pass on customer feedback to product designers and developers about new requirements. It is usually only after a new feature is developed and tested that it comes to the Information Developer (ID) for documentation. This workflow must change.

Information Developers need to know about approved and impending changes as early as possible, if they need to keep pace with developers and the rest of the DevOps machinery. To do so ID must maintain real time connections with product, design, and development teams. They must know when a new requirement has been approved for delivery so that they can get in touch with the required technical specialist and understand the feature well enough to document it. Regular contact ensures that ID plans are in sync with the overall product delivery plan. In fact, given that quick responses are critical, some organizations even connect ID with customers directly to minimize the layers in the customer response chain.

About the Author

Vidhya V Kumar is an Advisory Software Engineer at Persistent Systems Ltd. She is an evangelist and practitioner of Agile Methodologies, Continuous Delivery and Documentation. She has about 10 years of experience in the industry. She is a subject matter expert in DevOps, Application Lifecycle Management and Search Methodologies.