Continuous everything?

I admit that I regard automation as a dull but vital part in the success of a project. Automation had evolved into Continuous Integration, a powerful toolset allowing frequent and regular building and testing of the code. I won’t get into what CI is (check the internets). Instead, I am going to explore a couple of aspects of CI that can be added to the artifacts of the development process and note some others that cannot.

Continuous performance
You wrote performance tests. You can run performance tests by firing a battery of tests from a client machine and targeted on an arbitrary environment where the application lives. The test results are collected on the client and you can publish them on a web server. Why not automating this completely then? To accomplish this, automate the execution, gathering and publishing of the performance results. Daily performance indicators not only increase visibility of the progress of the application but it becomes much easier to fix a performance degradation on a daily changeset than between two releases. There are a couple of factors that may add complexity to establishing performance tests:
Dealing with dependencies
The obvious rule of thumb is to minimize dependencies. However, if there still are dependencies on other (perhaps external) systems, use mocks and to isolate the system you’re testing for performance. We’re talking about nightly performance tests so don’t put unnecessary stress where you shouldn’t.
Finally, the main artifact of the final integration (done once per iteration) is a running environment where all components run together, in a production-like setup. Use this environment to run your system performance test where you measure the current performance against the baseline.
Measuring relative performance
The environment you’re using for the nightly PT cycle most likely will not be a perfect mirror of production (especially true when dealing with geographically distributed systems). Use common-sense to establish the ratio between the two environments then derive rough production performance numbers using it (assuming a linear CPU/Throughput relationship).

Continuous deployment
This is as simple as it sounds: automate the install. Make it dead easy to deploy the application in any environment by providing installation scripts. Simplify the configuration down to a single file that is self-documented and easily understood by non-programmers (read Operations Teams). The goal here is to unlock a powerful tool: making the application installable and upgradable with a click of a button. If all the other pieces of the continuum are in place then you could confidently deploy your application in production it on a much tighter release cycle, even on a daily basis. Deployment and integration become tasks in the background rather than first-class events.

More continuous
Since I am just fresh off the Agile Testing Days conference and I have learned a few more Cs from the distinguished speakers which I term as Soft Cs since they involve constant human engagement:
– Continuous learning (Declan Whelan)
– Continuous process improvement (Stuart Reid)
– Continuous acceptance testing (i.e. stakeholder signoff at the end of every sprint) – Anko Tijman
– Continuous customer involvement (Anko Tijman)

A project triumvirate

There are three forces that shape a project: domain, process and technology. Add the “-driven” suffix to any of them and you’ll perhaps recognize some of the methods used in projects you’ve been involved in and yet, as soon as one takes too much of a lead against the other two, failure will follow almost inevitably. At the intersection of these three forces we find familiar terms and concepts but first a word or two about each of them:

Technology
Back in the days of the tech bubble, tech was allmighty. Buzzwords like Java, EJBs, PHP defined entire projects. It was the time where software became accessible to a much larger audience. The new wave of enthusiastic geeks embraced everything from new languages to professional certifications to the then-nascent open source. I admit having my share of technology-driven projects back in the day…

Process
Process brings structure and pace to a project. The two complementary components of a project process are methodology and integration. We are all too familiar with methodology: waterfall, RUP or agile methods of software development are vastly documented and practiced; integration largely is defect management, testing, build, deployment and documentation. Today they all come together in what is called continuous integration where all these concepts become interrelated in a repetitive process that produces accountability and visibility into the progress of a project. Process is also the one force that tends to disappear first after a project is finished.

Domain
The domain captures entities and business logic, is driven by the business requirements and is in no way influenced by the two other forces. The most successful way to employ the domain is through Domain Driven Design where the main focus of software development is neither technology nor process but the business requirements.

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Process Journalism really is Agile Journalism

MediaThere’s an interesting story rippling the news stream these days: The New York Times is questioning the ways Techcrunch reports on news. The crux of the issue is product journalism v. process journalism, the act of producing news only after all facts have been verified versus just writing the story based on what the author best knows about an event at that moment then let the story evolve and provide rigorous updates and corrections once it does.
As I was reading, I got an epiphany. The “old media” is following the old methods, much like the waterfall process where the story (the requirements) has to be fully known before proceeding with actually breaking the story (the implementation). The new media follows a radical approach: it starts with a lead (or rumor) that is initially published in a somewhat crude form, then the story evolves based on field feedback and facts drawn from the actual reality, until it becomes accurate. Even the language of the aforementioned references use words like “iterative process”, “transparent” and “standards” the same way I’d use them when talking about developing software.

This method of early release followed by incremental improvements resembles so much the agile methods of software development, I’m calling it Agile Journalism.

A revolution is happening in the media. Old methods are swiftly pushed aside; the emergence of the Internet as the news dissemination medium is fundamentally changing the ways the reality is reported upon. Who wants to read a story that is already obsolete or wrong altogether and impossible to be corrected/evolved until a new paper edition is off the press? The new media not only breaks news faster (release early) but gets the stories right eventually, simply because the new rules (standards) are clearly stating that until confirmed, the product -otherwise useful- is still a beta representation of the reality and the consumers already know how to consume such product.

From blogs to real time news streams, the new media’s aspiration is to bring the most accurate information yet to the consumers. It can and will do it by revolutionizing the way the stories are iteratively discovered based on constant feedback, the same way agile methods are revolutionizing the software industry.

Image courtesy hirefrank