“Delivery focussed”, “Getting the job done”, “Results driven”, “The proof is in the pudding” – we are all familiar with these phrases and in Information Technology it means getting the solutions into operations through effective Release Management, quickly.
In the increasingly competitive market, where digital is enabling rapid change, time to market is king. Translated into IT terms – you must get your solution into production before the competition does, through an effective ability to do frequent releases. Doing frequent releases benefit teams as features can be validated earlier and bugs detected and resolved rapidly. The smaller iteration cycles provide flexibility, making adjustments to unforeseen scope changes easier and reducing the overall risk of change while rapidly enhancing stability and reliability in the production environment.
IT teams with well governed agile and robust release management practices have a significant competitive advantage. This advantage materialises through self-managed teams consisting of highly skilled technologist who collaborative work according to a team defined release management process enabled by continuous integration and continuous delivery (CICD), that continuously improves through constructive feedback loops and corrective actions.
The process of implementing such agile practices, can be challenging as building software becomes increasingly more complex due to factors such as technical debt, increasing legacy code, resource movements, globally distributed development teams, and the increasing number of platforms to be supported.
To realise this advantage, an organisation must first optimise its release management process and identify the most appropriate platform and release management tools.
Here are three well known trends that every technology team can use to optimise delivery:
1. Agile delivery practises – with automation at the core
So, you have adopted an agile delivery methodology and you’re having daily scrum meetings – but you know that is not enough. Sprint planning as well as review and retrospection are all essential elements for a successful release, but in order to gain substantial and meaningful deliverables within the time constraints of agile iterations, you need to invest in automation.
An automation ability brings measurable benefits to the delivery team as it reduces the pressure on people in minimising human error and increasing overall productivity and delivery quality into your production environment that shows in key metrics like team velocity. Another benefit automation introduces is consistent and repeatable process, enabling easily scalable teams while reducing errors and release times. Agile delivery practices (see “Executive Summary of 4 commonly used Agile Methodologies“) all embrace and promote the use of automation across the delivery lifecycle, especially in build, test and deployment automation. Proper automation support delivery teams in reducing overhead of time-consuming repetitive tasks in configuration and testing so them can focus on the core of customer centric product/service development with quality build in. Also read “How to Innovate to stay Relevant“; “Agile Software Development – What Business Executives need to know” for further insight in Agile methodologies…
Code Repository (version Control) –> Automated Integration –> Automated Deployment of changes to Test Environments –> Platform & Environment Changes automated build into Testbed –> Automated Build Acceptance Tests –> Automated Release
When a software developer commits changes to the version control, these changes automatically get integrated with the rest of the modules. Integrated assembles are then automatically deployed to a test environment – changes to the platform or the environment, gets automatically built and deployed on the test bed. Next, build acceptance tests are automatically kicked off, which would include capacity tests, performance, and reliability tests. Developers and/or leads are notified only when something fails. Therefore, the focus remains on core development and not just on other overhead activities. Of course, there will be some manual check points that the release management team will have to pass in order to trigger next the phase, but each activity within this deployment pipeline can be more or less automated. As your software passes all quality checkpoints, product version releases are automatically pushed to the release repository from which new versions can be pulled automatically by systems or downloaded by customers.
- Build Automation: Ant, Maven, Make
- Continuous Integration: Jenkins, Cruise Control, Bamboo
- Test Automation: Silk Test, EggPlant, Test Complete, Coded UI, Selenium, Postman
- Continuous Deployment: Jenkins, Bamboo, Prism, Microsoft DevOps
2. Cloud platforms and Virtualisation as development and test environments
Today, most software products are built to support multiple platforms, be it operating systems, application servers, databases, or Internet browsers. Software development teams need to test their products in all of these environments in-house prior to releasing them to the market.
This presents the challenge of creating all of these environments as well as maintaining them. These challenges increase in complexity as development and test teams become more geographically distributed. In these circumstances, the use of cloud platforms and virtualisation helps, especially as these platforms have recently been widely adopted in all industries.
Automation on cloud and virtualised platforms enables delivery teams to rapidly spin up/down environments optimising infrastructure utilisation aligned with demand while, similar to maintaining code and configuration version history for our products, also maintain the version history of all supported platforms. Automated cloud platforms and virtualisation introduces flexibility that optimises infrastructure utilisation and the delivery footprint as demand changes – bringing savings across the overall delivery life-cycle.
When a build and release engineer changes configurations for the target platform – the operating system, database, or application server settings – the whole platform can be built and a snapshot of it created and deployed to the relevant target platforms.
Virtualisation: The virtual machine (VM) is automatically provisioned from the snapshot of base operating system VM, appropriate configurations are deployed and the rest of the platform and application components are automatically deployed.
Cloud: Using a solution provider like Azure or AWS to deliver Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS), new configurations can be introduced in a new environment instance, instantiated, and configured as an environment for development, testing, staging or production hosting. This is crucial for flexibility and productivity, as it takes minutes instead of weeks to adapt to configuration changes. With automation, the process becomes repeatable, quick, and streamlines communication across different teams within the Tech-hub.
3. Distributed version control systems
Distributed version control systems (DVCS), for example GIT, Perforce or Mercurial, introduces flexibility for teams to collaborate at the code level. The fundamental design principle behind DVCS is that each user keeps a self-contained repository with complete version history on one’s local computer. There is no need for a privileged master repository, although most teams designate one as a best practice. DVCS allow developers to work offline and commit changes locally.
As developers complete their changes for an assigned story or feature set, they push their changes to the central repository as a release candidate. DVCS offers a fundamentally new way to collaborate, as developers can commit their changes frequently without disrupting the main codebase or trunk. This becomes useful when teams are exploring new ideas or experimenting as well as enabling rapid team scalability with reduced disruption.
DVCS is a powerful enabler for the team that utilise an agile-feature-based branching strategy. This encourages development teams to continue to work on their features (branches) as they get ready, having fully tested their changes locally, to load them into next release cycle. In this scenario, developers are able to work on and merge their feature branches to a local copy of the repository.After standard reviews and quality checks will the changes then be merged into the main repository.
Adopting these three major trends in the delivery life-cycle enables a organisation to imbed proper release management as a strategic competitive advantage. Implementing these best practices will obviously require strategic planning and an investment of time in the early phases of your project or team maturity journey – this will reduce the organisational and change management efforts to get to market quicker.