Speed Up Project Delivery with Repeatability
Automate high-friction, unpredictable tasks in your environment to regain sanity and achieve a rapid, sustainable pace. Every environment has them: The dreaded manual tasks that drain productivity from the team and adds instability to the processes. We usually only dedicate half our brain power and never enough time to deal with them, which only compounds the problem. What if you could easily automate out the most painful tasks and gain a huge boost in productivity and speed of delivery?
Anyone who has worked on a large project, especially one with multiple developers, knows the pain of dealing with code change conflicts, “works on my machine!” syndrome, “magic” builds, and other process and procedure anti-patterns. Developers hate having to deal with these things, nonetheless we always get stuck having to do them. In this article, I’ll walk you through, step-by-step, how you can make some simple changes to your environment to eliminate the non-code related headaches. By producing reliable, quality builds every time and easing the pain of deployment to multiple environments you’ll be able to get back to doing what you really love: Coding!
Keep Your Tools Sharp
Everyone raise your hand if you love preparing a release build for production development or release-to-customer? If you didn’t raise your hand, you’re like most people involved in software projects. Sure, you know that there are many new and old tools that help you automate these things, but it takes time to get up to speed on them and use them correctly. It’s an old problem. Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People uses a really great tree-chopping analogy for this concept: “I don’t have time to sharpen the saw, I’m busy sawing!” If you don’t take the time to sharpen your saw, eventually the growing inefficiency of dull tools and over-work will choke your productivity. Time invested in keeping your tools sharp can pay back handsomely.
Remove Friction and Surprises
Repeatability is a virtue. That is, something you strive for and a goal to be achieved. Identify friction/pain points and try to automate them as soon as possible. One fact I have observed in my projects is that automating a frequently-repeated task is always worth it. Whatever time it takes to automate it is usually recaptured after the 3rd or 4th time the task is repeated. So the ROI is extremely quick. The key to automating these tasks, however, is to have the right tools and know how to use them.
In summary, you should strive to eliminate all “magic” in your software process. If you can do it on one developer’s box, you should be able to do it on any developer’s box. You should be able to eliminate all surprises as quickly as possible. You should automate all manual tasks in the critical path in order to mitigate risk to the maximum extent possible.
Key Aspects of Repeatability
I’ll cover five key aspects of a repeatable environment in this article.
- Source control
- Automated build
- Automated testing
- Automated deployment
- Continuous integration
Previous issues of CoDe Magazine have covered many of these topics. Wherever possible, I’ll mention these articles so that you can look them up and go deeper on that particular subject.
By: Chad Myers
Chad Myers is the Director of Development at Dovetail Software, Inc. in Austin, TX. He has over 10 years of software development experience creating elegant, functional, and durable Web-based enterprise software systems in Java and .NET/C#. Chad spends most of his professional time practicing Agile development techniques as well as object-oriented principles. He tries to spread as much knowledge has he has received by giving user group and conference talks, writing articles, and maintaining an active blog at http://chadmyers.lostechies.com.
All of the tools used in this article are free and most are open source. You can try out these techniques with no startup cost other than your time.