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Shifting Left in DevOps: A Focus on Quality And Efficiency

March 14, 2024
Tim Donovan

We’ve all been there before: your software delivery project ran over budget and you missed the deadline. But when today’s business world demands rapid development of reliable applications, teams need to find a way to reduce delivery times while continuing to improve quality. That’s when the DevOps concept of “shifting left” enters the group chat. 

What Does It Mean to Shift Left in DevOps?

In the context of DevOps, shift left is a practice that encourages the integration of various development and operations activities earlier in the DevOps lifecycle. The idea behind shifting left is to catch and address issues, such as security vulnerabilities and operational concerns, as early as possible in the development process rather than dealing with them later during deployment or in the production environment.

Benefits of Shifting Left

Shifting left in DevOps embraces more agile ways of working and enables organizations to deliver software that meets user expectations in a timely and reliable manner. Here are some of the benefits that the practice offers:

  • Early Issue Identification: Shift left allows teams to identify and address issues earlier in the development process, reducing the likelihood of critical defects reaching the production stage.
  • Improved Product Quality: Teams pay greater attention to quality starting early in the process and carry that same level of focus with them all the way through to deployment and into production.
  • Faster Time-to-Market: By automating and optimizing processes, development teams can achieve faster and more frequent releases, meeting the demands of today's fast-paced business environment.

Key Concepts of Shift Left Explained

The more traditional software development lifecycle (SDLC) follows a linear path, with testing and security measures implemented towards the later stages of development. Shift left challenges this traditional approach by moving key activities and responsibilities up in the development process, encouraging a proactive approach to quality assurance and security. 

Here are some key aspects of shifting left in DevOps:

  • Shift Left Testing: This involves moving testing activities, including unit testing, integration testing, and security testing, earlier in the lifecycle. By identifying and fixing defects and security vulnerabilities during development, teams can reduce the cost and time associated with addressing issues later in the process.
  • Automation: Shifting left often involves automating various development and testing processes. Automated testing, continuous integration (CI), and continuous delivery (CD) pipelines are examples of automation that help ensure code quality and reliability from the beginning.
  • Collaboration: Shifting left encourages collaboration between development and operations teams throughout the lifecycle. This collaboration can lead to better communication, faster issue resolution, and a smoother deployment process.
  • Security: Security is a crucial aspect of shifting left. Security practices, such as code analysis and vulnerability scanning, are integrated into the development workflow to identify and address security issues early on, reducing the risk of security breaches in production.
  • Feedback Loops: Establishing feedback loops is essential for continuous improvement. By shifting left, teams can receive feedback on code quality, performance, and security sooner, allowing them to make necessary adjustments quickly.

A Thoughtful And Deliberate Approach to Software Development

Overall, shifting left in your lifecycle promotes a more proactive approach, all the way from development to deployment. The shift left paradigm aims to deliver high-quality, more secure, and reliable products with greater efficiency and reduced risk. While shifting left is not a magic formula for eliminating all your current and future defects, it can represent an important stride forward in achieving greater DevOps maturity. 

It’s also important to remember that defects and hiccups are inevitable. They will continue to surface, regardless of how early you place prevention controls within the process. This is why it’s important to prioritize traceability and observability best practices alongside trying to prevent potential problems earlier in the process.

The principles of shift left are best embraced through the lens of continued and vigilant end-to-end observability. This means maintaining adequate traceability related to the “where,” “when,” and “how” of any problems that may emerge and paying careful attention to individual work elements as they progress through the lifecycle. 

Prioritizing Quality & Service When Shifting Left in DevOps

Even though shift left enables you to add more checkpoints earlier in the development processes, you still must always be able to trace defects back to where they originated (i.e. from change and release to deploy, pipeline, commit, merge, and to each and any respective branch). By catching defects closer to their inception, development teams can prevent these issues from escalating into more complex and time-consuming challenges during later stages. 

Additionally, some DevOps organizations have adopted an approach where they focus too much on time-to-value, automation, and generating efficiencies. While these elements of building code are important, they should never be prioritized over ensuring service and product quality. So when practicing shift left, know that being able to quickly identify and examine where defects originated remains a crucial component for rapidly mitigating and resolving any related service impacts.  

Accelerate Your DevOps Journey with Praecipio

Shifting left in DevOps represents a paradigm shift that empowers development teams to build more robust, secure, and reliable software. By embracing this approach, organizations can align their development practices with Agile methodologies that focus on flexibility and speed. Ultimately, this way of working is key to delivering value faster to end-users.

As the software development landscape evolves, the concept of shifting left will continue to play an important role in building a DevOps culture that drives digital transformation. Whether you need support with choosing the right DevOps platform or streamlining your DevOps processes, Praecipio can help. 

We’ve guided companies from various industries through adopting DevOps practices, including a leading aerospace and defense company. Count on Praecipio's DevOps solutions to assist with the implementation of continuous delivery, automation, and collaboration between development teams and operations teams.

Contact us about building a DevOps culture that strikes the perfect balance between people, processes, and tools. 


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