One of the process goals that a disciplined agile team will want to address during construction is Move Closer to a Deployable Release. Ideally, in each construction iteration a team will move closer to having a version of their solution that provides sufficient functionality to its stakeholders. This implies that the solution is a minimally viable product (MVP) that adds greater business value than its cost to develop and deploy. Realistically it isn’t a perfect world and sometimes a team will run into a bit of trouble resulting in an iteration where they may not have moved closer to something deployable but hopefully they’ve at least learned from their experiences.
Move closer to a deployable release is an important process goal for several reasons. First, it encompasses the packaging aspects of solution development (other important development aspects are addressed by its sister goal Produce a Potentially Consumable Solution). This includes artifact/asset management options such as version control and configuration management as well as your team’s deployment strategy. Second, it provides deployment planning options, from not planning at all (yikes!) to planning late in the lifecycle to the more DevOps-friendly strategies of continuous planning and active stakeholder participation. Third, this goal covers critical validation and verification (V&V) strategies, many of which push testing and quality assurance “left in the lifecycle” so that they’re performed earlier and thereby reducing the average cost of fixing any defects.
The process goal diagram Move Closer to a Deployable Release is shown below. The rounded rectangle indicates the goal, the squared rectangles indicate issues or process factors that you may need to consider, and the lists in the right hand column represent potential strategies or practices that you may choose to adopt to address those issues. The lists with an arrow to the left are ordered, indicating that in general the options at the top of the list are more preferable from an agile point of view than the options towards the bottom. The highlighted options (bolded and italicized) indicate default starting points for teams looking for a good place to start but who don’t want to invest a lot of time in process tailoring right now. Each of these practices/strategies has advantages and disadvantages, and none are perfect in all situations, which is why it is important to understand the options you have available to you.
Let’s consider each process factor:
- Choose a Deployment Strategy. Deployment can be a struggle for teams new to agile. Many teams will start by aiming to deploy their solution into production more regularly, perhaps every few months instead of every six to twelve months. Then they will start deploying working builds internally at the end of each iteration, perhaps into demo or testing environments. Finally they will hopefully evolve into a continuous deployment (CD) strategy.
- Manage Assets. The issue here is how your team will manage the various artifacts, including code, which they use and create while building a solution. Sadly we’ve found that some teams still struggle with basic configuration management control. Although they may have their source code under fairly sophisticated control other artifacts such as supporting documentation often aren’t.
- Document. Supporting documentation, such as user guides and system overviews, are part of the overall solution that the team is working on. The DAD framework leverages strategies from Agile Modeling to address this process factor. Your team may choose to leave such documentation to the end of the lifecycle or to write documentation throughout the lifecycle.
- Plan Deployment. There are several techniques that you may want to consider for deployment planning, an important aspect of your overall DevOps strategy. Although some teams may begin such planning with their operations/release engineers late in the lifecycle, many will instead plan throughout the lifecycle. The DAD framework recognizes operations staff as key stakeholders, people whom you will actively work with to plan and then deploy your solution.
- Maintain Traceability. Traceability from requirements through your design to your code to your tests, or a subset thereof, may be required by your team. This is common for some, but not all, regulations. Traceability is often perceived as critical to enable impact analysis, although in practice this is questionable as manually maintained traceability matrices are rarely kept up to date.
- Validate. DAD captures the fact that there are many ways that you can choose to validate your work, including a range of agile quality techniques (TDD, CI, ATDD/BDD) and even a few that are not-so-agile (end-of-lifecycle testing, manual testing, parallel independent testing). The DAD framework purposely includes these not-so-agile strategies because in some situations, particularly at scale, they may in fact be your best options. Furthermore, your team may be in the early stages of becoming agile and as a result then not-so-agile strategies may be the best they are currently capable of doing.
- Verify. DAD also recommends that you consider verification strategies to help increase the quality of your work. These strategies include reviews, non-solo development strategies such as pair programming and modeling with others (which are effectively continuous reviews), and including code analysis tools in your CI strategy.
We want to share two important observations about this goal. First, this goal, along with Explore Initial Scope, Coordinate Activities, and Identify Initial Technical Strategy seem to take the brunt of your process tailoring efforts when working at scale. It really does seem to be one of those Pareto situations where 20% addresses 80% of the work, more on this in a future blog posting. As you saw in the discussion of the process issues, the process tailoring decisions that you make regarding this goal will vary greatly based on the various scaling factors. Second, as with all process goal diagrams, the one above doesn’t provide an exhaustive list of options although it does provide a pretty good start.
We’re firm believers that a team should tailor their strategy, including their team structure, their work environment, and their process, to reflect the situation that they find themselves in. When it comes to process tailoring, process goal diagrams not only help teams to identify the issues they need to consider they also summarize potential options available to them. Agile teams with a minimal bit of process guidance such as this are in a much better situation to tailor their approach that teams that are trying to figure it out on their own. The DAD process decision framework provides this guidance.