How to explain DevOps in plain English

How to explain DevOps in plain English

Having trouble boiling DevOps and all it encompasses down to a sound bite? Here are a few simple definitions and analogies that will help explain DevOps, even to non-techies

144 readers like this

DevOps got its name 10 years ago, and what started as a hashtag has grown into a cultural movement in IT. This philosophy encourages developers to move fast, experiment, and iterate. DevOps has become intrinsically connected with digital transformation. But when it comes to IT terminology, a decade is plenty of time to accrue varying definitions, interpretations, and confusion around what DevOps actually means.

Is DevOps the same as agile? Is it a methodology? Is it just another way to say collaboration?

[ Some people get confused about Agile vs. DevOps. We break it down: Read Agile vs. DevOps: What’s the difference? ]

Because DevOps encompasses many different concepts (continuous delivery, continuous integration, automation, etc), it can be hard – especially for those who are most passionate about it – to try to boil DevOps down into a sound bite. But, let’s remember, sound bites can be helpful, whether you are trying to sell the idea up the chain or explain what you do to someone at a party. So, for now, let’s put aside the nuance around specific DevOps terms and focus on the big picture.

What is DevOps? 6 definitions and analogies 

We asked DevOps experts how they explain DevOps in the shortest, simplest words so that anyone could understand its value, regardless of their technical background. See below for a few punchy definitions and some helpful analogies to help you tell your DevOps story.

1. DevOps is a cultural movement

“DevOps is a cultural movement where both key stakeholder groups (software developers and IT operations) agree that software is not really adding any value until it is used by somebody – customers, clients, employees, etc,” says Eveline Oehrlich, chief research analyst at DevOps Institute. “Due to this, both teams are ensuring together that software is delivered with speed and quality.”

[ Some common DevOps wisdom falls flat. Read 7 pieces of contrarian DevOps advice. ]

2. DevOps empowers developers

"DevOps empowers developers to own, run, and manage the end-to-end delivery of an application."

“It’s commonly stated that DevOps allows for faster delivery to production by implementing and leveraging automated processes. To me, it’s far more fundamental,” says Jai Schniepp, director of secure DevOps platforms at Liberty Mutual. “DevOps empowers developers to own, run, and manage the end-to-end delivery of an application or piece of software. It eliminates the confusion around ownership and drives team toward an automated, developer-managed infrastructure.”

3. DevOps is a collaborative approach to building and delivering software

“Simply stated, DevOps is an approach to building and delivering computer software in which everyone works together,” says Gur Steif, president, digital business automation at BMC.

4. DevOps is like an assembly line

"For an assembly line to work, components must be designed to combine seamlessly."

“I would compare DevOps to a manufacturing assembly line,” says Steif. “The idea is to design and build all the parts up front, in a way that allows all the pieces to fit together. For an assembly line to work, components must be designed to combine seamlessly. The folks who design and build engines must think about the chassis and motor mounts. The folks who build brakes must think about the rims and tires, and so forth. That’s how it needs to be in software. The developers who write the business logic or the user interface must think about the database that stores customer information, the security that protects user data, and how it all operates when the service is exposed to what may be millions of users.”

“Getting people to collaborate and think about work being done by others rather than focusing on their individual task(s) is the biggest obstacle to overcome. If you manage to achieve that, you stand an excellent chance of achieving digital transformation,” Steif adds.


Carla Rudder is a writer and content manager on The Enterprisers Project.

7 New CIO Rules of Road

CIOs: We welcome you to join the conversation

Related Topics

Submitted By Abel Sanchez
July 10, 2020

At a time when technologies and market conditions can change on a dime, it doesn’t make sense for companies to craft five-year strategic plans. Here’s what they should do instead

Submitted By Pete Sosnowski
July 10, 2020

DevOps engineers and managers are in high demand. To land a role, showcase curiosity and past achievements

Submitted By Kevin Casey
July 09, 2020

Just because you automate a process doesn’t mean you’ve secured it. If you're considering RPA, make sure you understand the security implications


Email Capture

Keep up with the latest thoughts, strategies, and insights from CIOs & IT leaders.