Sunday, February 24, 2013

So it took a year.

When we first started building our continuous delivery pipe I had no idea that the biggest challenges would be non technical. Well I did expect that we would run into a lot of dev vs ops related issues and that the rest would be just technical issues. I was so naive.

We seriously underestimated how continuous delivery changes the every day work of each individual involved in the delivery of a software service. It affects everyone Developer, Tester, PM, CM, DBA and Operations professionals. Really it shouldn't be a big shocker since it changes the process of how we deliver software. So yes everyone gets affected.

The transition for our developers took about a year. Just over a year ago we scaled up our development and added give or take 15-20 developers. All these developers have been of a very high quality and very responsible individuals. Though none of them had worked in a continuous delivery process before and all where more or less new to our business domain.

When introducing them everyone got the run down of the continuous delivery process, how it works, why we have it and that they need to make sure to check in quality code. So off you go make code, check in tested stuff and if something still breaks you fix it. How hard can it be?

Much much harder then we thought. As I said all our developers are very responsible individuals. Still it was a change for them. What once was considered responsible like if it "compiles and unit tests check it in so that it doesn't get lost" leads broken builds. Doing this before leaving early on Friday becomes a huge issue because others have to fix the build pipe. But it goes for a lot of things like having to ensure that database scripts work all the time, everything with the database is versioned, roll backs work, ect, ect. So everyone has had to step up their game a  notch or two.

Continuous delivery really forces the developer to test much more before he/she checks in the code. Even for the developers that like to work test driven with their junit tests this is a step up. For many its a change of behavior. Changing a behavior that has become second nature  doesnt happen over night.

We had a few highly responsible developers that took on this change seamlessly. These individuals had to carry a huge load during this first year. When responsibility was dropped by one individual it was these who always ensured that the pipe was green. This has been the biggest source of frustration. I get angry, frustrated and mad when the lack of responsibility by one individual affects another individual. They get angry and frustrated as well because they don't want to lave it in a bad state and their responsibility prevents them from going home to their families. I'm so happy that we didn't loose any of these individuals during this period.

Now after about a year things have actually changed everyone takes much more responsibility and fixing the build pipe is much more of a shared effort. Which is soo nice. But why did it take such a long time? Id really like to figure out if this transition could have been made smoother and faster.

Key things why it took so much time.

A change to behavior.
Developers need to test much more, not just now and then but all the time. No matter how much you talk about "test before check in" , "test", "test", "test" the day the feature pressure increases a developer will fall back on second nature behavior and check in what he/she believes is done. We can talk lean, kanban, queues, push and pull all we want but fact is still there will always be situations of stress. Its not before a behavior change has become second nature we do it under pressure.

Immature process.
Visibility, portability and scale ability issues have made it hard to take responsibility. Knowing when, where and how to take responsibility is super important. Realizing that lack of responsibility is tied to these took us quite some time to figure out. If its hard to debug a testcase its going to a lot of time to figure out why things are failing and its going to require more senior developers to figure it out. Its also hard to be proactive with testing if the portability between development environment and test environment is bad.

Lot of new things at once
When you tell a developer about a new system, domain and a new process Im quite sure the developer will always listen more to the system and domain specific talks.
Developer has head full of this system communicates with that system and its that type of interface. Then I start going on about "Jira, bla bla bla, test bla, checkin bla bla, Jenkins bla, deploy, bla, fitnesse, test bla, bla" and developer goes "Yeah yeah yeah Ill check in and it gets tested I hear you, sweet!".

I defiantly think its much easier for a developer to make the transition if the process is more mature, has optimized feedback loops, scales and is portable. Honestly I think its easily going to take 3-6 months of the learning curve. But its still going to take a lot of time in range of months if we don´t become better at understanding behavioral changes.

Today we go straight from intro session (slides or whiteboard) to live scenario in one step. Here is the info now go and use it. At least now we are becoming better at mentoring. So there is help to get so that you can be talked through the process and the new developer is usually not working alone, which they where a year ago. Still I dont think its enough.

Continuous Delivery Training Dojos

I think we really need to start thinking about having training dojos where we learn the process from start to finish. I also think this is extremely important when transitioning to acceptance test driven development. But just for the reason of getting a feeling for the process. What is tested where, how and what happens when I change this and that. How should I test things before comiting and what should be done in which order.

I think if we practiced this and worked on how to break and unbreak the process in a non live scenario the transition would go much faster. In fact I dont think these dojos should be just to train new team members but they would also be a extremely effective way of sharing information and consequences of process change over time.


  1. It took a year..!! Then would like to appreciate your struggle.

  2. Congratulation for reaching closer to the holy grail Tomas

    Hugely is a matter of behaviour and change of perspective when people arrive from companies where even unit testing was considered a 'waste of effort'.

    For anyone else who's trying to implement CD, you might want to educate people around better estimations(or even no estimations) and make sure that they are not overcommited. Feature devotion is also a sign that people will leave testing as a last-moment priority. Generally, if you have some form of an agile process you want to account in each iteration\sprint the 'black work' and that is test fixing, test hardening and test integration. Having these aspects done and nailed right ensures that your team's velocity will remain scale up rather than down overtime.

    At the end of the day this is how you ensure that you stay customer-driven rather than feature driven in my opinion.