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Balancing Innovation And Reliability In Product Development

Nowadays, the competition among companies to develop novel products has increased. Companies undertake continuous integration of existing products with new features. To maintain advances, teams practice continuous deployment and continuous delivery of new versions or iterations of products. Product development is a lengthy process and requires brainstorming and integrations by multiple teams to make the product most successful. The software development team, or the DEV, is responsible for bringing innovation to the product, whereas the operations team, or the OPS, maintains the service reliability of the product.

Importance of Reliability in Product Development

Reliability shows the consistency of the product. Unreliable products quickly reduce the user’s confidence. It may lead to product failure. Here, the risk analysis is important to understand the durability of the product’s success. Though the cost does not increase linearly with increased reliability, it is associated with redundant equipment and opportunity. Companies typically allocate engineering resources to build products or systems that decrease risk rather than focusing on innovative features.

Site Reliability Engineering primarily manages risks by managing service reliability. It continuously figures out the ways to achieve greater reliability into systems. Additionally, it keeps identifying tolerance levels to allow services to run. It helps determine the benefit and cost analysis of the product through continuous integration and continuous delivery with added innovations. For example, when a system has 99.99% availability to its users, a slight increment, let’s say 99.991%, does not significantly improve the availability. In such cases, it would be a waste of opportunities to add features to the system, reduce operational costs or clean up technical debt.

Service-level Objectives

The correct management of service is impossible without understanding the important behaviors that matter for the service. This next step includes clarifying how to measure and evaluate those behaviors. Service level objectives (SLOs), indicators (SLIs), and agreements (SLAs) measurements represent basic metric properties.

Service level objectives refer to the target range of values associated with service levels, which are measured by an SLI. SLOs have a natural structure. A common formula typically used is = SLI ≤ target or lower bound ≤ SLI ≤ upper bound.

It is complex to choose appropriate service level objectives. The queries per second metric by users determine the user’s desire to use your service. The SRE team can not really set a service level objective for that. Instead, it can set the average latency per request to be under the set target time. It can help in achieving the low-latency behavior of the product.

service level objective published to users sets service performance expectations. It may help the SRE team to reduce groundless complaints about the service or product. The DEV and OPS team can clearly understand the difference between the actual service/product performance and the users’ beliefs about the desired performance of the same service/product. If users expect more from a single service, it leads to over-reliance on the service. On the other hand, if users think that a system is less reliable or unreliable than it is, it leads to under-reliance.

Challenges in balancing Innovation and Reliability in Product Development

The DEV and the OPS teams need to balance product reliability at the time of continuous delivery and continuous deployment of innovations. Some of the challenges in balancing both are discussed below.

. Service risk tolerance

SREs must set business goals into clear engineering objectives. This directly impacts the reliability and performance of a product or service offerings. Practically, the process of translating concepts into reality is challenging.

. Failures

The service offered by the company should have sufficient resiliency when the service has downtime. The business gets impacted from often full-site outages or repetitive low rate of failures. At such times, though teams are continuously delivering better product/service quality and features, it becomes challenging to balance reliability while providing innovations.

. Cost

When teams have to determine the exact service availability target, the cost is the crucial factor. The request’s success and failure directly translated into the business revenue gained or lost. It is challenging for teams to set targets when they do not have translation functions between revenue and reliability. It is more about managing risk that can be costly.

Error Budget to balance Innovation and Reliability in Product Development

Though users want 100% reliable and available services, it is impossible to achieve. Teams should define the business risk they are willing to accept while achieving such targets. Risks such as unplanned downtime may lead to user dissatisfaction, loss of trust, brand reputation, direct or indirect revenue loss. To reduce such unwanted inconsistency in systems, risk analysis of downtime is critical in product development.

The shared observability of technical teams helps monitor the managed services and products. It combines all the performance data to visualize the connections between the components and services, quickly identify performance issues and collaborate with real-time data. Shared observability systems can help teams reduce the challenges in balancing the innovation and reliability in product development and up-gradation.

The error budget balances the preferences of the time engineering teams between reliability improvements and feature development. It is assumed that the exhausted error budget results in high latency, low availability, and less reliable services. It determines how unreliable service is acceptable within a specified period.

Simultaneously, an error budget enables multiple teams to achieve the same decision about product risk without disputes. Error budgets remove risk negotiation politics between the DEV and the OPS teams by setting out clear and objective metrics.

Benefits of Error Budgets

  • Error budgets highlight the joint ownership between product development and SRE.
  • They are used as control loops to decide the rate of continuous deployment and continuous delivery of services/ products.
  • If the error budget is expended frequently, new releases are temporarily ceased. At the same time, additional resources in system development and testing are focused on improving their performance, resilience, and availability. It provides subtle approaches in the product development teams.
  • Error budgets teams guide the DEV team to take risks in product development. When the budget is large, product developers may take more risks and delay the launch. Whereas, if the budget is not sufficient, they will prefer to test and push the launch of their product.

To sum it up

The product development collaborates with the DEV and OPS teams to integrate the innovation and reliability of the product. Though it is difficult to balance between the two, rigorous risk analysis and an in-depth error budget can help to achieve decisions suitable for the business. To know more, click here.