When we start up, the first goal is to get a decent product out to the users. Once the first iteration of the product is out, the next priority is to build it up into the vision, with multiple features, and polished UI. And the pursuit never ends. It’s when the product hits PMF and sees scale, we notice the tech debt of the product, and we address it as well. However, we don’t even talk about the DevOps debt, or the DevOps backlog, until it becomes a bottleneck for business progress.

According to the HashiCorp 2023 State of Cloud Strategy Survey, 94% of companies are still wasting money in the cloud.

Understanding the DevOps Backlog

Every skilled product manager knows the importance of prioritizing the most crucial stories from the extensive and seemingly endless list of product ideas. In the constant inflow of requests for new features, upgrades, additional modules, and improved functionality, the emphasis often shifts towards completing the final product rather than focusing on the development process itself.

This shift in focus results in the neglect of the development process, leading to an accumulation of unfinished tasks, commonly referred to as the DevOps backlog. This backlog is a collection of user stories, bug fixes, technical tasks, and other essential work needed for the ongoing support and maintenance of a product. It's a dynamic list, constantly evolving with the addition of new tasks and tickets.

Why DevOps Backlogs Grow

The reasons for an expanding DevOps backlog are multifaceted:

  1. Limited DevOps Resources: Often, large development teams depend on a small group of DevOps specialists, leading to bottlenecks.
  2. Evolving Architectures: Continuous introduction of new services and tools results in an ever-growing backlog.
  3. Changing Business Requirements: Adjustments in business needs, especially in sectors like SaaS or healthcare, introduce complexities in maintaining and complying with various regional or industry-specific environments.
  4. Ticket Overflow: A lack of direct access to DevOps toolchains for developers often results in an overwhelming number of tickets, further straining the DevOps team.

The Overlooked DevOps Stories

In reality, most companies don't formally capture DevOps stories with the same level of diligence that's followed to capture feature stories. This became evident to us when we talked to over 200 companies.

We wondered if it was just a short-term problem, but to our surprise, even late-stage product companies have a large DevOps backlog! As the business needs grow, complex architectures come in, and regulations change, the backlog keeps growing.

But what exactly are DevOps stories? They are essential narratives that track deployments, application data, and key performance indicators (KPIs). These stories might include:

  1. Resource Provisioning and Configuration: Managing the setup and adjustment of necessary resources and infrastructure.
  2. Application Lifecycle Management: Utilizing tools and metrics to oversee the application lifecycle, often involving the creation of toolchains for automation.
  3. Release Management and Strategies: Planning and executing software releases with minimal downtime and robust rollback strategies.
  4. Observability: Setting up alerts, capturing metrics, and configuring dashboards to monitor application performance and resource utilization.
  5. Database Management: Handling database upgrades, migrations, backups, and restoration policies.
  6. Access and Permissions: Ensuring secure developer access to environments, maintaining audit trails, and preventing permission leakages.
  7. Environment Management: Creating and managing various environments like Development, QA, Pre-Production, and Production, ensuring consistency and efficiency.
  8. Security and Compliance: Adhering to standards and regulations specific to the deployment regions.
  9. Cloud Cost Visibility and Optimization: Managing and optimizing cloud-related expenses.
  10. Exploring New Tools and Frameworks: Investigating technologies like zero-trust networks and network segmentation.

And the list goes on! Verifying if you have essential stories covered in your backlog is a good starting point. You can read this article to learn more about how to spot issues in your DevOps implementation.

Addressing the DevOps Backlog

Addressing DevOps backlog challenges needs a shift in mindset, it's important to change the way we think and take action early. It doesn't matter if your backlog is just starting to grow or has already become complicated; the best time to deal with it is now.

Prioritizing product features over process improvements can lead to complex issues in the DevOps realm. A balanced approach, giving due importance to both product development and essential process enhancements, is key to long-term success and scalability.

Because much like the Lannisters, DevOps never forget their debts.