Shifting Left and Moving Forward
The value of implementing a shift left approach to DevOps
June 01, 2023

Craig Cook
Catapult CX

In 1975, computer scientist Fred Brooks observed that during software project management, adding more developers to a project that's already behind schedule just adds to delays. This became known as Brooks' law. However, it's not people power that causes delays — delaying testing increases the chance of bugs and suboptimal code quality. Therefore, one solution must be pushing testing forward. This blog offers advice on implementing a shift left approach, and the benefits of doing so.

According to the Standish Group's Annual CHAOS 2020 report, 66% of technology projects (based on the analysis of 50,000 projects globally) end in partial or total failure. However, this isn't surprising when we think about how businesses are still managing their projects.

Many project management approaches to software engineering involve phases — each lasting months — before carrying out mostly manual testing right at the end of the project. Often, this occurs over a year since the initial project began. Even then, teams will repeat testing in cycles over several more months until all defects are eventually mitigated or accepted.

The Challenges

This conventional approach to project management is deeply flawed and often results in projects being late, over budget and not delivering the expected value. Why? The answer's simple.

Testing at the end means organizations are waiting months (sometimes years) to see if the software acts as expected. This creates a vastly delayed feedback loop, which gives software engineers little time to improve and update the product. Even if testing shows that the software is working as expected, there's no real way of knowing if it delivers on the customer's needs. This means more waiting before the engineers can even know that what they built is of any value.

Fast forward, it is now years after the customer first inquired. Not only have their needs probably changed, but so will the needs of the wider market. This means organizations risk a) missing out to a competitor that has developed a similar product, and b) delivering a software product that is no longer of use.

There are also logistical matters to consider. By the time the software reaches testing, the original developers may have left — rendering changes and maintenance even more challenging. Meanwhile, manual testing is time consuming and prone to human error, meaning bugs might be missed or incorrectly reported, and even small changes could take weeks to complete.

Why Shift Left?

Shifting left means bringing testing toward the early stages and putting it at the heart of the development process. Unlike the sequential model, testing early and often can help reduce the number of critical bugs during the deployment phase that require code patching.

This approach is best achieved by employing Test Driven Development (TDD) with CI/CD practices, where developers first write automated tests for the feature they are working on before writing the software to make the test work. Once teams have software that behaves exactly as they've defined, there are no surprises. Not only does this improve software testability, but it also means that the developer has a fully automated regression test pack developed at the same time. Therefore, the software is always fully tested and production-ready, the need for longer months-long test cycles is gone.

When developing large and complex software-reliant systems, software teams should break development down into many daily increments. With each increment, the software is automatically deployed by a pipeline to the customer, made possible by shifting testing to the left.

Getting Started

Implementing shift left testing means a huge culture change — businesses must encourage developers to take individual responsibility for their products and test what they build, meaning testing is no longer part of a separate team or role.

The biggest challenge in this process is management, because giving more time to developers to write tests is critical. Initially, it may seem that less work is being done and development is taking longer, but a holistic thinking is needed, requiring businesses to look at the software as a whole across development, operations, testing, support and so on. For instance, the test phase itself will be eliminated, meaning there is a chunk of newly created time available. Meanwhile, tests are automated and can be run repeatedly, giving even more time back. Ultimately, the result will be a software product of much higher quality than previously, so there are fewer issues and bugs to resolve, and clients will be happier with the results.

Shifting testing leftwards is an important step in mapping out a software development project. It ensures regular, early assessments that reduce the risk of critical bugs later, preventing damaging delays. Working with an experienced DevOps consultancy can help businesses implement an automated, effective testing regime, and keep their projects on track.

Craig Cook is Chief Engineer at Catapult CX
Share this

Industry News

September 21, 2023

Red Hat and Oracle announced the expansion of their alliance to offer customers a greater choice in deploying applications on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). As part of the expanded collaboration, Red Hat OpenShift, the industry’s leading hybrid cloud application platform powered by Kubernetes for architecting, building, and deploying cloud-native applications, will be supported and certified to run on OCI.

September 21, 2023

Harness announced the availability of Gitness™, a freely available, fully open source Git platform that brings a new era of collaboration, speed, security, and intelligence to software development.

September 20, 2023

Oracle announced new application development capabilities to enable developers to rapidly build and deploy applications on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI).

September 20, 2023

Sonar announced zero-configuration, automatic analysis for programming languages C and C++ within SonarCloud.

September 20, 2023

DataStax announced a new JSON API for Astra DB – the database-as-a-service built on the open source Apache Cassandra® – delivering on one of the most highly requested user features, and providing a seamless experience for Javascript developers building AI applications.

September 19, 2023

Oracle announced the availability of Java 21.

September 19, 2023

Mirantis launched Lens AppIQ, available directly in Lens Desktop and as (Software as a Service) SaaS.

September 19, 2023

Buildkite announced the company has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Packagecloud, a cloud-based software package management platform, in an all stock deal.

September 19, 2023

CrowdStrike has agreed to acquire Bionic, a provider of Application Security Posture Management (ASPM).

September 18, 2023

Perforce Software announces BlazeMeter's Test Data Pro, the latest addition to its continuous testing platform.

September 18, 2023

CloudBees announced a new cloud native DevSecOps platform that places platform engineers and developer experience front and center.

September 18, 2023

Akuity announced a new open source tool, Kargo, to implement change promotions across many application life cycle stages using GitOps principles.

September 14, 2023

CloudBees announced significant performance and scalability breakthroughs for Jenkins® with new updates to its CloudBees Continuous Integration (CI) software.