Automation is an important technique used by high-performing IT organizations. Yet medium-performing groups do more manual work than low-performing groups, according to the 6th annual State of DevOps Report released today at the DevOps Enterprise Summit in London.

The middle performers were doing less automation of  processes for change management, testing, deployment and change approval, explained Alanna Brown, senior product marketing manager at Puppet, which presented the report along with DORA (DevOps Research and Assessment).  “These groups have already begun automation, and are seeing benefits,” she said. “But that reveals technical debt that they didn’t realize before they started, which is a normal phase of the [DevOps] journey. It’s a J curve; the initial performance is high, but then it gets worse before it gets better again.”

Another measure of successful DevOps implementations is leadership. Transformational leaders have a clear understanding of the organization’s vision, communicate in a way that inspires and motivates, challenge their teams through intellectual stimulation, are supportive, thoughtful and caring of others, and are generous with praise, according to Nicole Forsgren, CEO and chief scientist at DORA. “It’s hard to measure the impact of leaders because they’re not doers or practitioners, but still they have a big influence over teams and architecture,” she said.

Looking at the impact of IT performance on overall organizational performance, the report found, not surprisingly, that high IT performance (as measured in throughput of code and stability of systems) results in organizational success in faster time to markets, improved experiences for the customer and the ability to respond quickly to changes in the market.

The report found that loosely coupled architectures and teams result in higher IT performance. The adoption of lean product management techniques also factors in.  “There is no longer a ‘done’ in software,” Puppet’s Brown said. “Teams are working in small batches, making their work visible and using feedback to inform design.”

Jez Humble, one of the founders of DORA, tied in the ways teams are set up with IT performance and organizational success. “Does allowing teams to make their own tool choices and change systems predict an ability to do continuous delivery? Can they do testing on demand, without relying on other teams or services? Do teams have the autonomy to get work done without fine-grained collaboration with other teams?” These factors, he said, impact whether or not an organization can ensure their software is always deployable.

As for system stability and resilience, Humble measures these by how long it takes to restore the system after an outage, or what proportion of changes lead to outages or degradation of quality of service.

To Humble, the important question in measuring success of a DevOps implementation is, “Can you deploy software on demand, during business hours, at any point of the life cycle?”