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Why DevOps recommends Shift Left principles

Experiencing disruptions from production defects? You're not alone.

As organizations grapple with tighter budgets and an ever-increasing demand for high-quality applications delivered at a rapid pace, the quest for more effective testing and development methods intensifies.

DevOps, with its primary goal of establishing a sustainable infrastructure and facilitating highly scalable application delivery at increased velocities, streamlines the software development life cycle (SDLC).

However, the success of DevOps hinges on the adoption of effective testing principles. Without the right testing strategies, development projects may still encounter costly bugs and delays, which can be particularly problematic when operating under constrained budgets and increased demand for faster deliveries.

The Shift Left approach to testing emerged as a fundamental principle of enhancing software quality and efficiency. This concept is grounded in the belief that identifying and rectifying issues early in the SDLC is far more advantageous than dealing with them later in the process.

In this blog post, we explore Shift Left principles, why DevOps strongly recommends their adoption, and best practices for applying the approach to your project's unique needs.

The challenges of traditional testing models

In traditional software development models, testing is typically deferred to the later stages of the development cycle, often leading to two significant challenges.

Increased cost of fixing defects

A study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) revealed that resolving defects during the production phase can cost up to 30 times more than fixing them during the development phase.

This cost differential is staggering, and it underlines the critical importance of early defect detection and remediation.

Increased complexity of resolving defects and reduced product velocity

As defects are allowed to persist until the production phase, they tend to become more complex and intertwined with the existing codebase.

These larger and more intricate defects are challenging to resolve and result in reduced development velocity. In essence, the software delivery process is hindered, making delays inevitable.

What is the Shift Left approach?

The conventional model typically means any defects or bugs discovered are often found too late in the development process, making them costly and challenging to fix. But there's a solution that has been gaining traction and is highly recommended in the world of DevOps: Shift Left.

To understand Shift Left, envision the SDLC as a linear path extending from left to right. In a traditional model, testing primarily occurs at the extreme right end of this path.

However, the Shift Left approach advocates moving the start of testing as far to the left as possible to eliminate bottlenecks and enhance software quality. Compared to Secure Right, Shift Left prioritizes early defect detection, collaboration, and automation.

To effectively implement Shift Left in your DevOps practices, consider the following essential principles:

  • Automate all processes: Automation is pivotal in making the early testing phases more efficient and promptly identifying and addressing issues. The more you can automate testing, the easier it becomes to detect flaws rapidly.

  • Prioritize quality from the beginning: Prioritizing quality right from the outset is crucial in the Shift Left strategy. This involves practices like test-driven development and adhering to high-quality coding standards to prevent defects.

  • Test continuously: Testing should be an ongoing process that spans the entire software development cycle. Early detection and correction of flaws significantly contribute to reducing complications.

  • Share responsibility: The entire development team needs to be involved in the Shift Left approach — it's not just about testing. Quality should be a consideration from the project's inception, and everyone must take responsibility for delivering the highest-quality end product.

Why DevOps recommends Shift Left principles

The strategic approach of Shift Left aligns with DevOps' core objectives of fostering agility, efficiency, and reliability — all under the theme of shared responsibility. It offers a novel perspective on the SDLC, providing a series of advantages that can revolutionize your development and delivery processes.

Let’s explore the potential benefits that show why DevOps strongly recommends Shift Left principles.

Elevated software quality standards

The Shift Left approach places quality assurance at the forefront of the development process. It encourages practices such as comprehensive unit testing and timely code reviews, ensuring that your codebase maintains high quality throughout the development journey.

Thorough test coverage and code cleanliness

Embracing Shift Left principles motivates teams to aim for comprehensive test coverage. This approach empowers teams to uncover potential issues in various software components and cultivates the creation of clean and modular code. By automating unit tests for individual modules and functions during development, you can better ensure code integrity.

Cost reduction in development and testing

Addressing defects in the production phase often incurs significantly higher costs. Shift Left intervenes in this scenario by allowing you to detect and rectify issues at an early stage, significantly reducing the expenses associated with development, testing, and issue resolution.

Streamlined requirement management

Shift Left fosters close collaboration between development and testing teams, as well as other project stakeholders, from the project's inception. This collaborative environment leads to well-defined requirements, reducing the risk of costly rework due to misunderstandings and miscommunications. By involving testers and business analysts during the requirement-gathering phase, you can enhance requirement clarity and validation.

Enhanced collaboration and efficient workflow

Shift Left creates an environment that encourages collaboration and efficient coordination. It facilitates practices like pair programming and cross-functional team meetings, fostering knowledge sharing and expedited issue resolution.

Accelerated time to market

Shift Left accelerates the software development process by integrating quality assurance early in the SDLC. This speedy issue identification and resolution ensures smoother release cycles, ultimately leading to quicker product or feature delivery.

Improved customer satisfaction

Through Shift Left, software delivered at the end of the SDLC is more stable and of higher quality. Early bug detection and continuous product improvement translate to a seamless user experience, promoting trust and user loyalty.

Applying Shift Left best practices as part of DevOps

Transitioning to a Shift Left approach is an ongoing process, tailored to your project's unique needs and objectives.

Here are a few key steps to apply Shift Left best practices within a DevOps program effectively:

  • Define your route: Work with your engineering and security teams to set clear expectations and standards for Shift-Left testing. Define what Shift Left looks like for your organization and create a roadmap for gradual improvements.

  • Address testing automation challenges: Consider challenges related to automation, compliance certification, and security testing. Automated technologies can help streamline the testing process, but addressing these challenges is crucial.

  • Educate your team: Transitioning to a Shift Left perspective may require education and training for your teams. Make sure everyone understands their roles in the workflow and how new processes can affect product development.

Empowering agile development with DevOps and Shift Left

DevOps and Shift Left principles provide a powerful combination to address the challenges of software development in an environment characterized by budget constraints and a need for quicker deliveries.

Traditional testing models, with their late-stage testing, result in increased costs and complexity when resolving defects. Shift Left advocates for early defect detection, collaborative work, and automation to eliminate bottlenecks and enhance software quality.

By adopting Shift Left within DevOps, organizations can enjoy early issue identification, improved software quality, streamlined code, and cost savings. It also fosters efficient requirement management, collaboration, and accelerates time-to-market.

Transitioning to a Shift Left approach involves defining your path, addressing automation challenges, and educating your team to implement best practices effectively. Together, DevOps and Shift Left offer a reliable roadmap for navigating the dynamic world of software development.

Picture of Aaron Linskens

Written by Aaron Linskens

Aaron is a technical writer on Sonatype's Marketing team. He works at a crossroads of technical writing, developer advocacy, software development, and open source. He aims to get developers and non-technical collaborators to work well together via experimentation, feedback, and iteration so they can build the right software.