Archive for the ‘Agile’ tag
Often the most painful and time consuming part of a software project is the Last Mile, getting it deployed and working in production. Why is this the case? To understand this, it is useful to look at the underlying issues such as not having decent source control, lack of automated tests, excessive branching (and eventual merging), dedicated teams and infrequent releases. These impede our productivity on a daily basis and when left unresolved, become magnified during the Last Mile.
Without shortening the Last Mile, our deployments are delayed and unpredictable events. As a result, we are unable to quickly respond to changing business needs.
So how do we shorten the Last Mile? Enter continuous integration. The beauty of continuous integration is that it is the cornerstone for resolving these issues - it forces us to get source control under control, brings visibility to the health of our code base, challenges us to think of multiple environments and configurations and encourages us to automate repetitive tasks. True to it’s name, it encourages us to integrate early and often. With CI, we’re already resolving integration issues from day 1 thereby making deployment to production thankfully, a non-event.
Troy Gould and I presented The Last Mile at the Agile Vancouver 2009 Conference this week. The presentation looks at the problems faced by teams trying to get software released, recommends good CI practices, introduces build pipelining with Cruise as an overall structure to manage the build-deploy-test-release process and encourages us not to stop with CI as a build server, but leverage it to automate deployments to environments including production. Thanks to those who attended. It was exciting to see all those actively using CI on their projects. The slides can be downloaded here (17MB).
Release early and often. On projects, we strive for small incremental changes deployed frequently to production. To achieve this, we do things such as:
- test-drive our code, build, check-in, repeat
- run continuous integration
- automate deployments
However, despite our best intentions, it all comes to a grinding halt if the business doesn’t want the code in production just yet.
Fear and Freeze
Often called a ‘code-freeze’, the reason for not deploying to production usually boils down to fear that the new code will introduce bugs and that any potential downtime is intolerable.
Delaying deployment out of fear causes problems and increases risk.
- End-users suffer: requested bug fixes/features are not seen for months.
- Ceremonious process: deployment to production becomes a “one-shot” deal.
- Golden window: developers, analysts and end-users feel the pressure to make this deployment perfect.
- Loss of focus: by the time deployment rolls around, developers may be working on other features or get pulled into other projects.
- Assumptions change: over time, requirements may change - your undeployed code is already obsolete. Or, perhaps the production infrastructure has changed.
- Loss ROI: why not capitalize on your software investment sooner and reap the value?
- Big bang: with infrequent deployments, the team will tend to adjust by accumulating code changes into larger deployments.
Deployment and the break fix
Ironically, after deployment to production finally occurs, if something goes awry, the business needs to fix it immediately. Usually this will be achieved by a last minute “break fix”, where the earlier qualms to deployment are temporarily forgotten. The business demands a quick code turnaround, the justification being that it is a “fixing a bug” and “not adding functionality.” It would make sense if this type of responsive mentality was the norm throughout the development cycle and not adopted only for emergencies.
Easing business qualms
As developers we take pride in iterative, well tested code and automated deployments. However, we also need to work with the business and understand why code can’t be pushed frequently into production, and minimize the delays where possible. Sure, there are applications where the nature is truly mission critical or it’s a legacy application where granular deployments are far from trivial. However, for all the other scenarios (which I suspect are the norm) where business fear is the driving force, we can work with the business to ease these qualms.
Quick and predictable
To do so, we need to demonstrate to the business that deployments to production can be a pleasant experience for both project managers and end users. Deployments should be:
- quick and predictable
- a graceful and seamless upgrade to the end user
- responsive and understanding to any errors/oversights that arise
The more frequently we deploy, the better we become at making it a good experience for the business.
In the end, if doesn’t matter if you can go from dev to staging in 60 seconds, if your code is left sitting in the garage.
Three years ago today, a group of eager new ThoughtWorkers from six countries embarked on a four-month journey in Bangalore, India - the inaugural ThoughtWorks University.
As I sit here and reflect, it’s hard to believe that three years have passed. The name may have changed from ThoughtWorks Global Boot Camp to ThoughtWorks University (TWU), but the fond memories of being part of this technically, culturally and socially engaging experience have not.
The foundation for the practices and principles that I utilize daily on software projects today, were set, strengthened and molded through this experience. Some of these concepts, which I view as indispensable today, include TDD, pair programming, continuous integration, short iterations, stand ups, story cards with stickies, retrospectives and refactoring. TWU was also socially and culturally rewarding, spawning a wonderful network of colleagues and friends and getting immersed in the colorful Indian culture.
Throughout TWU, I kept a blog to keep track of my learnings and experiences. Below is an excerpt from the final blog entry I wrote back in 2005, recapping my TWU experience:
Bangalore was amazing - the paradoxical skyscraper next to a hut serving chai, women wearing sarees talking on cell-phones in rickshaws and business men grabbing a bite at the local darshini. It was a city in transition and I am awed by the potential that lies in India - it’s population coupled with the number of bright graduates per year is astounding. I will miss the sights and sounds of India - the hustle and bustle (with some honking) of a big city and the simplicity and serenity of cows wandering the streets.
Us ThoughtWorks Boot Campers quickly bonded and became a close unit. Together, we learned, worked, ate and travelled - I am impressed how well we gelled and synergized as a group. We all left with a global spanning network of connections and friends. We met so many ThoughtWorkers from different countries in the process - this will go a long way in establishing relationships and recognizing familiar faces on future projects.
I learned a wealth of knowledge about Agile methodologies, XP, consulting and software development during the boot camp. The subsequent project work was extremely helpful in putting a practical perspective to the lessons we learned in class. True to the old TW slogan “it’s like college with money,” it was truly an enlightening experience. I am amazed and thankful for the amount of effort that went into preparing the boot camp and the hospitality of the hosting ThoughtWorks India office. With this new knowledge and knowing that there’s always more to learn, I am looking forward to contributing to a project at home.
Since TWU, I have continued the learning trend, growing and evolving as a software developer. ThoughtWorks continues to offer ThoughtWorks University twice a year - if this piques your interest, let us know. We’re always looking for the next graduating class.
A big shout goes out to my fellow TWU’ers, trainers, and the TW Indian office!
While working on a piece of code, we’ve all come across the situation where we feel that the code should be refactored because in the back of our minds, we know that the code will soon need to do more. The conversation with your pair may go something like this - “..the system will eventually need to do XYZ and since we’re dabbling in the area, let’s refactor the code such that it is easier to incorporate feature XYZ in the future…”
At first, it may seem that to code with such foresight is not only courteous to your teammates but downright responsible programming. Moreover, the programmer in us loves to massage and improve code. However, despite these good intentions, premature refactoring of code can be a dangerous trap.
One of the problems of premature code restructuring is that it convolutes the intent and introduces complexities into the code base before they are truly necessary. Symptoms of up-front design begin to creep in, code is abstracted in overly generic and complex ways. Furthermore, we all know that like the weather, requirements change. When change happens, we sadly discover that the premature refactoring of code in anticipation of that no longer imminent feature was done under wrong assumptions and motivations. Our prefactored code has suddenly become obsolete before it was given a chance to shine.
Refactoring is improving the design of existing code and an incredibly worthtwhile practice. Perhaps prefactoring (premature refactoring) could be refactoring’s untimely evil cousin, improving the design in anticipation of non-existent code.