Presenting at Agile on the Beach

After some reassurance from my friend Alan Kelly, I submitted my experience report on Continuous Delivery to this year’s Agile on the Beach.  To my surprise and delight I’ve been accepted!  This will be my first full scale conference as a speaker and I’m very excited and nervous – I hope I can finish the day having inspired at least one person.

Agile on the Beach is a two day business and technology conference taking place in Falmouth on the 5th and 6th of September.  It’s on the Cornish coast and from what I’ve been told the weather is great and there will be a fantastic beach party on Falmouth’s famous Gyllyngvase Beach.

The conference includes three strands of agile adoption – Software Craftsmanship, Business Strategy and Teams and I’ll be presenting in the Software Craftsmanship stream.  The full list of speakers and a schedule are up on the site.

I can also let you know about an offer of 10% off your ticket at Agile on the Beach using discount code SGUEST13 when booking in via Eventbrite – tell them I sent you 😀

Early bird tickets are available until the 31st of July at £265. Accommodation is also available to book on site at an additional cost.

To book tickets to Agile on the Beach visit http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/event/5135380060 and follow them on Twitter @Agileonthebeach / #agileotb.

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Presented at SyncIpswich

Following on from the success of SyncNorwich, Carl Farmer has set up SyncIpswich – a regular event for technologists, creatives, entrepreneurs and graduates to meet up and talk in with the aims of growing the community in Ipswich.  Paul Grenyer recommended me to Carl as a speaker and after letting Carl know that I’m not proficient at speaking (yet) I agreed to come up and give my presentation on Continuous Delivery at 7digital.

Despite fighting with the traffic in Ipswich town centre I made it just in time and spoke in front of a crowd of roughly 60 people.  As before, my slides were done in roughly 15 minutes and I fielded questions from the audience for about another 15 minutes more.

After a short break I was followed by Richard Astbury giving an introduction to the Azure platform where he deployed an empty MVC App from his laptop and then a simple Hello World node.js site from his Raspberry Pi at home, which was rather impressive and demonstrated how smooth it can be.

We then gathered at the nearby pub where we broke into a few discussions about the advantages and disadvantages of feature branches among other things and I admired the view of the boats in the marina before I left for the nearly 2 hour drive home.

I had a great evening and it was good to talk to people outside of London and once again be reminded that we don’t have the monopoly on smart, inquisitive, talented developers doing great things.  Thanks to Carl for arranging it and Paul for recommending me.

Team Transformation Presentation for London Continuous Delivery Group

On Tuesday 19th March I gave a short presentation on the steps 7digital took to transform our team in order to facilitate Continuous Delivery.  This was held at Skillsmatter for the London Continuous Delivery group.  I also managed to rope in a few of my colleagues for a discussion panel after my short set of slides

I’m really grateful to Hibri, Goncalo, Matt and Rob for coming along as I felt that having more than just my voice would add to the credibility of what I said and it would also be more interesting.

You can see the video on the Skillsmatter site and these are the slides.  James Betteley also posted a running commentary of the event where you can read some of the discussion which took place.

//speakerdeck.com/assets/embed.js

Questions from my Continuous Delivery Talk

My short talk on how we do Continuous Delivery at 7digital generated many questions from both the audiences at Devs in the ‘ditch and London ACCU.  Also, a couple more were asked on Twitter after the events.  Here are are the ones I can remember and my answers.  If anyone has any more questions please add them to the comments.

Can you choose which release version to deploy?

As we deliver web-based services, not products, we are always aiming to release the latest version which is almost always the of HEAD of the Master/main integration branch merged into a Release branch.

We rely heavily on TeamCity to trigger our deployments as well as our continuous integration.  It includes a feature called ‘pinning a build‘, which prevents it or it’s artifacts from being deleted in a clean-up policy.  It also allows us to reference these artifacts in another build, such as a deployment build.

Once the Release branch has been updated with the changes in the HEAD of the Master branch, and all of the tests have passed and we are happy, the build is ‘pinned’ in TeamCity and we kick off the Deploy to Live  build which picks up the pinned artifacts and deploys them to the production servers.

We can choose what build should be pinned and therefore what artifacts are released to Live.  We don’t necessarily version our releases because we never refer back to the versions and only a single version is ever live at one time.

How do you do a rollback?

We ‘un-pin’ the build and artifacts of the ‘bad’ release, ‘re-pin’ the build and artifacts of the previously known ‘good’ release and run the Deploy to Live step once again.  This effectively does a ‘roll forward’ with known good artifacts.

What role do QA have in the process and do they trust the automation?

QA are generally involved throughout the process.  Together with the Developers we will both fulfill the traditional role of a BA and analyse a piece of work, creating Acceptance Criteria which normally form the basis of the Automated Acceptance Tests.  Also, this means that QA are fully versed in the feature or change when it comes to UAT and explanatory testing and together we can make a judgement call as to whether a change actually needs QA manual testing or is sufficiently covered by the automated tests.  Being involved all the way through gives them confidence in the process.

A point to make is that we don’t have a QA Team as such, each development team includes a QA person and a Product Manager.  We all sit together and attend the daily stand-up so everyone is aware of what is taking place, the mood of a change and can jump in at any point.

How do you handle large features/pieces of work?

We hold an analysis session within the team, including the developers, QA and Product Manager to break down the work into as small a user story as possible, aiming for under a day.  Each story needs to be a single contained piece of the functionality which can be released on it’s own.  This is not always possible and in these times we employ Feature Toggles which will hide a feature until it is ready.

What we don’t do is have feature branches.  This is something that must be avoided to ensure that we are always integrating all changes and any problems are highlighted as early as possible in the development cycle.

What about database schema changes?

We use a tool we developed internally, but have since Open Sourced: DBMigraine.  There are a couple of blog posts on the 7digital Dev Blog here and here which explain it in more detail, but in essence it builds databases from a set of creation scripts applies migration scripts, and performs consistency checks between databases.

Using this tool we build a database from the scripts and migrations at the beginning of each Integration test suite and run the tests against the new schema.  This should hopefully flag up any major problems before these migrations are also applied to the Systest and UAT databases which are integration points for all of our apps sharing the same database.

It’s worth noting that we try to avoid destructive migrations, but this process has allowed us to gradually delete unused tables in a tested manner.

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Edit – new Question from @AgileSteveSmith

What cycle time reductions have you seen?

In my reply, I linked Steve to the following two posts on the 7digital Developers’ Blog related to productivity at 7digital: “Productivity = Throughput and Cycle Time” & “Development Team Productivity at 7digital“.

The posts illustrate, with data tracked from our own work items, that there was an incredible reduction of Cycle Time in over the course of 2009 to 2011 – you can even see the massive spike at one point where things got worse before they got better, as I mentioned in my presentation!

A full report was put together, with even more charts and graphs, which can be downloaded from the second blog post.

Continuous Delivery at 7digital

It began with an off-hand comment on the ACCU General mailing list that at 7digital we release on average 50 times per week, across all of our products.  I thought nothing of it, virtually all of our products are web-based, which makes it relatively easy to deploy on a regular basis, but it seemed that others were interested in how we do it and so I was cajoled into giving my first presentation.

I began by explaining what we understand as Continuous Delivery – a set of repeatable, reliable steps which a change must go through before being released.  In our case most of these steps are automated.

I described where we came from and how we approached the change, in both a technical and business manner, and where we would like to see ourselves going.  I then included a flowchart of  A Day in the Life of a Change at 7digital, which Prezi allows me to ‘bounce’ around as we hit different stages in the pipeline.

I answered many questions clarifying how we handle rolling back a bad release (we actually ‘roll-forward’ with artifacts of the previous ‘good’ release), whether our QA team are comfortable with the process (yes, they help write the criteria),  and how large pieces of work are tackled (we try to break them down into deployable pieces no bigger than a day).

Here are the slides:

http://prezi.com/bin/preziloader.swf