Beyond Continuous Build: Shortening the Development and Test Feedback Loop

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tested in a test environment to move seamlessly to the production environment. Generally this is achieved by having environment-specific configuration files that are separate from the build artifacts. The configuration files are part of the environment and are parsed at runtime to initialize environment-specific configuration variables.

If your project uses a database, the next thing you will need to consider is how to automate your schema changes and database migrations. First, consider including the schema definition in the source code repository to keep the database definition in sync with the code that relies on that definition. The next thing to consider is aligning the granularity of the schema definition with the migration points. The goal is to be able to start with any schema version and go to some other version of the schema and migrate any existing data in the process. Obviously, this should work to go to forward, but it should also work backwards to allow for easy reverting of schema changes should they be necessary. Even if you aren't using Ruby on Rails, you should understand their migration conventions and consider how those concepts might fit into your project.

By automating the deployment and migration phases or the installation phase, the team will get instant feedback when a code-level change breaks anything related to deployment or install. Without this level of automation, typically deployment issues are found very late in the process as final code moves into staging or even production environment. I know many people in configuration management who have the ugly job of tracking down code-level changes that broke the applications ability to deploy or install. Finding these issues late in the process is terribly inefficient.

Manual GUI and Regression Testing
Now that you have all the necessary infrastructure to automatically deploy or install into arbitrary environments in a way that accounts for migrating data to new schemas, you can focus on automated functional testing. This is a deep subject area with many alternatives. There are many commercial tools for automated testing and a few good open source tools. If you are developing a web-based application, Selenium [ http://selenium.openqa.org/] is a powerful tool especially when driven with RSpec [ http://rspec.info/].

The final piece of the puzzle is the ability for any one on the team to deploy or install any build into any environment in a fully automated way. This gives the team the control to pull ready work, which is a key aspect of Lean's pull-based scheduling. First, you will need a repository of build artifacts. This can be as simple as using the file server, or can be as feature-rich as using a directory or web-based repository. The goal is to make every build available and provide the user interface to allow for any installer to be downloaded or any build to be deployed into specific environments.

I would encourage you to find one thing you want to improve in your automation infrastructure and bring it to your next retrospective or iteration planning meeting. Try to establish a cadence where the team can address automation work within the iteration. As you focus on reasonable levels of automation, you will be able to improve your quality by having the feedback loops to understand what check-ins are negatively affecting quality, and go faster by fixing those issues while the team is still in context.  


About the Author:  As VP of Products for Rally Software, Zach Nies brings close to 20 years of engineering and product development experience to Rally's Agile lifecycle management solutions. Prior to joining Rally, Zach served as Principal Architect and

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