Agile SCM: Basics for Small Teams

As much as software developers are stereotyped as solitary coders, software development is a collaborative activity. Communication among team members is essential in ensuring continuously working software. And working software is what makes communication with stakeholders easier. You can show the state of your application rather than explain progress in terms of more abstract concepts. Your SCM system (and processes) are an essential part of how you communicate both in and about code between developers and to stakeholders.

Communication is more complex with larger groups of people. Small teams have an advantage of being aware of what each person is doing and of sharing product vision. Small teams, being small, are also resource constrained, so it's important to maximize time spent delivering value and to also minimize the time spent on process overhead.

The Short Lists
Given the time constraints of small teams, we will be brief and group the general priorities of essential items for success with SCM in tools and processes.
Really Basic SCM
These items might seem too basic to mention, but we would be remiss not to mention them:

•    Use a version management system (SCM Repository) as the only way you share code. There is no excuse for sharing code any other way. An SCM system gives the ability to track changes and have a central place to backup and recover the business asset that is your code.

•    Create a process that enables one to get a workspace up and running quickly. A new person joining the team should be able to start with a set of tools, check out source code, run the application, and make a change on their first day. This will also make your deployment model more robust.

•    Use a continuous integration (CI) environment. Having your code in a repository is good, but only in the sense that it is usable by others when they check out the code. A CI environment gives a sanity check that your source code builds, which is the minimal criteria for it being usable. Also, enabling a CI environment means that you need to have a build process that is somewhat portable and consistent.

Keeping Things Working
This basic list will allow effective collaboration and quick delivery of features, but you may still find yourself stumbling unless some practices are added to eliminate distractions:

•    Create automated tests and run them as part of your build. Compiling, while necessary, is not sufficient for keeping code working. Automated testing adds time, but will pay off with added robustness of code and the ability to make changes reliably.

•    Work from a single code line to begin. Branch only once you have a delivered codeline to maintain that you expect is stable. Each branch is a parallel line of development and parallel work means a distraction from your main work.

•    Deploy often. The real test of whether your SCM process is helping to deliver your product is how effectively it can deploy. Don't wait until the end of a release to think about deployment practices. Start deploying your application on the first day, as this guards against problems being discovered late in the process.

•    Automate your deployments. The more automated your process is, the easier it is to deploy more frequently. This becomes a virtuous cycle (of positive feedback).

About the author

Brad Appleton's picture Brad Appleton

Brad Appleton is a software CM/ALM solution architect and lean/agile development champion at a large telecommunications company. Currently he helps projects and teams adopt and apply lean/agile development and CM/ALM practices and tools. He is coauthor of the bookSoftware Configuration Management Patterns, a columnist in The CM Journal and The Agile Journal at, and a former section editor for The C++ Report. You can read Brad's blog at

About the author

Steve Berczuk's picture Steve Berczuk

Steve Berczuk is a Principal Engineer and Scrum Master at Fitbit. The author of Software Configuration Management Patterns: Effective Teamwork, Practical Integration, he is a recognized expert in software configuration management and agile software development. Steve is passionate about helping teams work effectively to produce quality software. He has an M.S. in operations research from Stanford University and an S.B. in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and is a certified, practicing ScrumMaster. Contact Steve at or visit and follow his blog at

About the author

Robert Cowham's picture Robert Cowham

Robert Cowham has long been interested in software configuration management while retaining the attitude of a generalist with experience and skills in many aspects of software development. A regular presenter at conferences, he authored the Agile SCM column within the CM Journal together with Brad Appleton and Steve Berczuk. His day job is as Services Director for Square Mile Systems whose main focus is on skills and techniques for infrastructure configuration management and DCIM (Data Center Infrastructure Management) - applying configuration management principles to hardware documentation and implementation as well as mapping ITIL services to the underlying layers.

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