Shift-Left Approach in DevOps

Shift-Left Approach in DevOps

DevOps is not just a technology but a culture that offers remarkable opportunities and benefits to organizations adopting it. Due to this, over the years, it has become the most sought-after technology, responsible for faster and continuous development, deployment, automation, and monitoring. However, the factors and principles that make this technology what it is today are numerous. 

The Shift-Left approach is one of these integral components of the DevOps that allows the teams to build and deliver high-quality applications and features rapidly and consistently, without affecting its performance and functionality.

Since the Shift-Left approach has such significance in DevOps and its successful operations, it is critical that we understand its concepts and the role it plays in DevOps development processes. 

Therefore, we are here with a detailed discussion on the Shift-Left Approach, highlighting its concepts, advantages, and more. 

What is the Shift-Left Approach?

Coined by Larry Smith in 2001, the Shift-Left approach, or as it is commonly known, Shift-Left Testing is an important software testing approach, where testing is performed early in the development lifecycle. Its main objective is to test software early and often to make it better and faster by ensuring quick, early, and efficient debugging.

Over the years, the Shift-Left approach has become crucial because it enables developers to concentrate on software quality and security early in the SDLC, rather than after the errors and bugs are detected. This allows the team to deliver quality and reliable software and features every time. Moreover, with the help of this approach, teams can perform necessary tasks daily, like:

  • Quality assurance and testing.
  • Providing feedback.
  • Reviewing changes and progress.

It further helps the team to handle the changing expectations and requirements, control increased cost and time-to-market, and tackle unexpected errors effectively earlier in the development pipeline. 

Shift-Left Approach Activities:

Some common activities performed by the team with shift-left approach include:

  • Testers help developers implement unit testing.
  • Involves planning, creating, and automating integration tests. 
  • Plan, create and employ virtualized services at every stage and component level.
  • Gather, prioritize, and process feedback. 
  • Analyze quality as the development progresses.

Shift-Left Approach in DevOps:

One of the major reasons that enable DevOps to improve software application delivery quality, speed, and efficiency is the Shift-Left approach. DevOps, with the shift-left approach, empowers individual team members to focus on quality development, from the very beginning of the development pipeline. 

Hence, by implementing the shift-left approach, teams can bring down the failure rate and minimize the wasted efforts, time, etc. associated with software development. This is made possible because the shift-left approach shortens the feedback loop and reduces the time taken to move along the release pipeline.

In short, the main objective of this approach is to perform a process earlier in the development cycle to detect and fix problems easily and avoid any higher risks and failures in the future. Moreover, since the shift-left approach can be applied to any type of process within the delivery chain, like software monitoring, security, data management, etc. it has become the most efficient and sought-after practice in DevOps that helps get quality results.

Role of Shift-Left in DevOps:

Shift-Left in DevOps relies on three important practices for it to achieve its goal of creating applications with better quality code, shorter testing cycle and deployment time, and an error-free production environment. These three practices are:

  • Continuous Testing: This involves automating tests and executing them as early and often as possible while implementing service virtualization to imitate unavailable systems.
  • Continuous Deployment: Whereas, continuous deployment is used to automate new builds provisioning and deployment for quick and efficient continuous testing. 
  • Continuous Security: Often a part of DevSecOps, it makes security a part of the CI/CD process and helps ensure the underlying infrastructure and applications don't have vulnerabilities and risks associated with them. Here, security is ensured at every step of DevOps, along with continuous testing.

Types of Shift-Left Testing:

There are four major types of Shift-left testing that help teams identify bottlenecks in the system faster and early. These are:

  • Traditional Shift-Left Testing: The first type of shift-left testing, in traditional shift-left testing the focus is on the unit and integration testing, using API testing and modern testing tools.
  • Incremental Shift-Left Testing: Incremental shift-left testing is a widely adopted testing where complex development is broken down into smaller pieces to be tested in smaller segments that are built upon each other. This type of testing is popular when developing large and complex systems that incorporate significant amounts of hardware.
  • Agile/DevOps Shift-Left Testing: This type of shift-left testing is used to perform testing in numerous sprints. It is typically restricted to developmental testing and does not include operational testing, which occurs once the system is placed into operation. 
  • Model-based Shift-Left Testing: The newest trend in the shift-left testing paradigm, model-based shift-left testing includes executable requirements, architecture, and design models for eliminating 45-65 percent of errors introduced in the early stages. Unlike the previous forms of shift-left testing that are concentrated on beginning the testing of software earlier in the development cycle, model-based shift-left testing enables the testing to begin almost immediately, instead of waiting a long time (traditional), medium time (incremental), or a short time (Agile/DevOps).

How does Shift-Left Approach Work?

There are two ways of implementing the shift-left approach in DevOps:

  • Shifting operation to the left by working side-by-side with the development and creating the deployment and testing processes. This will help the development and operations team to take the ownership of building standard deployment procedures and validating it in the test environment before it reaches the production. 
  • Reducing the failure rate by making all environments in the pipeline mimic the production, with the help of Cloud of pattern capabilities. This helps eliminate failures that occur due to configuration inconsistencies. Here, again, the development and operations team work together to create the provisioning process.

Benefits of Shift-Left Approach:

As we stated earlier, the Shift-Left approach/testing has become one of the most beneficial practices today that not only impacts the software development process but also how organizations meet their business goals. Therefore, the following are the numerous benefits of the shift-left approach:

  • Reduces development and testing costs. 
  • Early bug detection and resolution help build better and quality code and product.
  • Helps perform effective resolution of bugs. 
  • Aids in creating products with improved design. 
  • Offers enhanced test coverage. 
  • Enables effective use of time and resources. 
  • Allows teams to deliver products within stringent timelines. 
  • Saves time, cost, and effort. 
  • Quickly test code through continuous integration (CI) and test automation, which enables the team to mature their SDLC toward continuous testing and the CI/CD pipeline.
  • Allows teams to better structure the entire testing scope.
  • Results in a higher quality product, increased customer satisfaction, and improved business results.

Shift-Left Approach Best Practices:

To get the most out of any practice, it is important for the team involved to adopt its best practices. Hence, here are some best practices for the shift-left approach:

  • Make automation a priority. 
  • Keep a track of everything through measurements and pass-fail criteria.
  • Get the right continuous testing tools. 
  • Identify and plan testing life cycle.
  • Define quality standards and controls for all stages of the SDLC. 
  • Integrate testing with development and project management.
  • Define continuous feedback mechanism. 
  • Induce developers to code with testability in mind. 
  • Develop a system to display results. 

Why Shift-Left Approach is Not Happening?

Though the shift-left approach is becoming more and more popular, organizations worldwide are still apprehensive about its implementation. This can be due to various reasons like:

  • Lack of alignment within the organization and their existing processes.
  • Limited testing resources is another major reason for organizations to not implement the shift-left approach, as it can increase workload. 
  • Existing culture can also become a hindrance for organizations in adopting the shift-left approach. 
  • Lack of tester engagement during the early stages of discussion and development can make teams apprehensive about shifting testing to left. 
  • Incompatibility between testing scope and build cycle or lack of well-defined testing scope can also hold teams back from implementing the shift-left approach successfully.


For organizations dealing with the ever-increasing consumer demand for quality, with speed, the Shift-Left approach for DevOps is a blessing in disguise. This rapidly growing software testing approach is not only enabling test-driven development (TDD) but also helping both the development and operations team to be accountable for the entire software development, testing, deployment, and delivery. 

In short, organizations wishing to stay ahead of the competition must adopt the shift-left approach with DevOps to engineer quality and security into their products through faster error detection at a lower cost.