Upcoming DevOps & Agile Events

London Puppet User Group Meetup
London, Thursday May 21st, 2015

DevOps Exchange London – DevOps & DevOps
London, Tuesday May 26th, 2015

London Agile Discussion Group – Should DevOps be a person or a team-wide skill?
London, Tuesday May 26th, 2015

AWS User Group UK – meetup #15
London, Wed May 27th, 2015

Chef Users London – Microsoft Azure / Chef Taster Day
London, Friday May 29, 2015
9:00am to 5:00pm

DevOps Cardiff – Herding ELKs with consul.io
Cardiff, Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Agile Testing – Visual Creativity: Using Sketchnotes & Mindmaps to aid testing @ #ltgworkshops
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

ABC (Agile Book Club) London – Review Jeff Patton’s User Story Mapping
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

Agile Testing – Hooking Docker Into Selenium @ #ltgworkshops
London, Thursday June 4th, 2015

UK Azure User Group – Cloud Gaming Hackathon
London, Saturday June 6th, 2015

London DevOps – London DevOps Meetup #10
London, Thursday June 11th, 2015

Kanban Coaching Exchange – Continuous learning through communities of practice – Emily Webber
London, Thursday June 11th, 2015

Lean Agile Manchester
Manchester, Wednesday June 17th, 2015

London Lean Coffee – Holborn
London, Thursday, June 18th, 2015

UK Azure User Group – Chris Risner
London, Thursday June 18th, 2015

Jenkins User Conference – Europe (London)
London, Tuesday June 23rd – 24th, 2015
2 days

BDD London June Meetup
London, Thursday June 25th, 2015

Automated Database Deployment (Workshop – £300)
Belfast, Northern Ireland, Friday June 26th, 2015
1 day course

Database Continuous Integration (Workshop – £300)
London, July 8th, 2015
1 day course

Database Source Control (Workshop – £100)
London, July 8th, 2015
1 day course

London Lean Coffee – Holborn
London, Thursday, July 16, 2015

Agile Taster – a free introductory Agile training course
Cardiff, Saturday 18 July 2015
10am – 3pm

AWS User Group UK – meetup #16
London, Wed July 22nd, 2015

Stop Comparing Software Delivery With Manufacturing!

A couple of weeks ago I was at an Experience Devops event in London and I was talking about how software delivery, which is quite often compared to a manufacturing process, is actually more comparable to a professional sports team. I didn’t really get time to expand on this topic, so I thought I’d write something up about it here. It all started when I ran a cheap-and-nasty version of Deming’s Red Bead Experiment, using some coloured balls and an improvised scoop…

The Red Bead Experiment

I was first introduced to Deming’s Red Bead Experiment by a guy called Ben Mitchell (you can find his blog here). It’s good fun and helps to highlight how workers are basically constrained by the systems the work in. I’ll try to explain how the experiment works:

  • You have a box full of coloured beads
  • Some of the beads are red
  • You have a paddle with special indentations, which the beads collect in (or you could just use a scoop, like I did).
  • You devise a system whereby your “players” must try to collect exactly, let’s say, 10 red beads in each scoop.
  • You record the results

Now, given the number of red beads available, it’s unlikely the players will be able to collect exactly 10 beads in each scoop. In my especially tailored system I told the players to keep their eyes closed while they scooped up the balls. I also had about half as many red beads as any other colour (I was actually using balls rather than beads but that doesn’t matter!). The results from the first round showed that the players were unable to hit their targets. So here’s what I did:

  • Explain the rules again, very clearly. Write them down if necessary. Being as patronising as possible at this point!
  • Encourage the players individually
  • Encourage them as a team
  • Offer incentives if they can get the right number of red beads (free lunch, etc)
  • Record the results

Again, the results will be pretty much the same. So…

  • Threaten the individuals with sanctions if they perform badly
  • Pick out the “weakest performing” individual
  • Ask them to leave the game
  • Tell the others that the same will happen to them if they don’t start hitting the numbers.

In the end, we’ll hopefully realise that incentivising and threatening the players has absolutely zero impact on the results, and that the numbers we’re getting are entirely a result of the flawed system I had devised. Quite often, it’s the relationship between workers and management that gets the attention in this experiment (the encouragement, the threats, the singling out of individuals), but I prefer to focus on the effect of the constraining system. Basically, how the results are all down to the system, not the individual.

Thanks Kanban!

I think one of the reasons why the software industry is quite obsessed with traditional manufacturing systems is because of the Toyota effect. I’m a huge fan of the Toyota Production System (TPS), Just-in-time production (JIT) Lean manufacturing and Kanban – they’re all great ideas and their success in the manufacturing world is well documented. Another thing they all have in common is that various versions of these principles have been adopted into the software development world. I also happen to think that their application in the software development world has been a really good thing. However, the side-effect of all this cross-over has been that people have subconsciously started to equate software delivery processes with manufacturing processes. Just look at some of the terminology we use everyday:

  • Software engineering 
  • Software factories
  • Kanban
  • Lean
  • Quality Control (a term taken directly from assembly lines)

It’s easy to see how, with all these manufacturing terms around us, the lines can become blurred in people’s minds. Now, the problem I have with this is that software delivery is NOT the same as manufacturing, and applying a manufacturing mindset can be counter-productive when it comes to the ideal culture for software development. The crucial difference is the people and their skillsets. Professionals involved in software delivery are what’s termed as “knowledge workers”. This means that their knowledge is their key resource, it’s what sets them apart from the rest. You could say it’s their key skill. Manufacturing processes are designed around people with a very different skillset, often ones that involve doing largely repetitive tasks, or following a particular routine. These systems tend not to encourage innovation or “thinking outside of the box” – this sort of thing is usually assigned to management, or other people who tend not to be on the production line itself. Software delivery professionals, whether it be a UX person, a developer, QA, infrastructure engineer or whatever, are all directly involved in the so-called “production line”, but crucially, they are also expected to think outside of the box and innovate as part of their jobs. This is where the disconnect lies, in my opinion. The manufacturing/production line model does NOT work for people who are employed to think differently and to innovate.

If Not Manufacturing Then…

Ok, so if software delivery isn’t like manufacturing, then what is it like? There must be some analogous model we can endlessly compare against and draw parallels with, right? Well, maybe…


home sweet home

home sweet home

I’m from a very rural area of west Wales and when anyone local asks me what I do, I can’t start diving into the complexities of Agile or devops, because frankly it’s so very foreign to your average dairy farmer in Ceredigion. Instead, I try to compare it with something I know they’ll be familiar with, and if there’s one thing that all people in west Wales are familiar with, it’s sheep rugby.

It’s not as daft as it sounds, and I’ve started to believe there’s actually a very strong connection between professional team sports and Agile software development. Here’s why:

Software delivery is a team effort but also contains subject matter experts who need to be given the freedom to put their skills and knowledge to good use – they need to be able to improvise and innovate. Exactly the same can be said of a professional rugby or soccer (yes, I’m going to call it soccer) teams. Rugby and soccer are both team sports but both contain very specific roles within that team, and for the teams to be successful, they need to give their players the freedom and space to use their skills (or “showing off” as some people like to call it).

2008 World Player of the Year Shane Williams

2008 World Player of the Year Shane Williams

Now, within a rugby team you might have some exceptionally talented players – perhaps a winger like former World player of the year Shane Williams. But if you operate a system which restricts the amount of involvement he gets in a game, he’ll be rendered useless, and the team may very well fail. Even with my dislike of soccer, I still think I know enough about how restrictive formations and systems can be. The long ball game, for instance, might not benefit a Lionel Messi style player who thrives on a possession & passing game.

The same can be said of software delivery. If we try to impose a system that restricts our individual’s creativity and innovation, then we’re really not going to get the best out of those individuals or the team.


So Where Does Agile Fit Into All of This?

Agile is definitely the antidote to traditional software development models like Waterfall, but it’s not immune from the same side-effects as we witness when we do the red bead experiment. It seems to be that the more prescriptive a system is, the greater the risk is of that system being restrictive. Agile itself isn’t prescriptive, but Kanban, XP, Scrum etc, to varying degrees are (Scrum more prescriptive than Kanban for instance). The problem arises when teams adopt a system without understanding why the rules of that system are in place.

prescriptive = restrictive

For starters, if we don’t understand why some of the rules of Scrum (for instance) exist, then we have no business trying to impose them on the team. We must examine each rule on merit, understand why it exists, and adapt it as necessary to enable our team and individuals to thrive. This is why a top-down approach to adopting agile is quite often doomed to fail.

So What Should We Do?

My advice is to make sure everyone understands the “why” behind all of the rules that exist within your chosen system. Experiment with adapting those rules slightly, and see what impact that change has on your team and on your results. Hmmm, that sounds familiar…

The Deming Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act

The Deming Cycle: Plan, Do, Check, Act


Are “Ready For” Columns on Kanban Boards The Enemy of God?

This is going to be a quick rant post, hopefully. Today I saw another Kanban board which had a “Read for test” column on it, here’s the screenshot:

Not 1 but 2 "Ready for" columns!

Not 1 but 2 “Ready for” columns!


I Think “Ready For” Columns Are Baaaaad

With most Kanban boards you mark a card as done when it’s ready to be pulled into another column. If that means it has to be deployed before a card is ready for test then so be it. The last thing we want is cards just sitting around waiting – this is baaaaaad. “Ready for Test” usually means it’s either deployed (and yet to be tested) or waiting to be deployed. Either way, not much is happening to the work sitting in this column. Basically it’s waste (or “muda” as the Lean Kanban aficionados might call it), and remember, waste is baaaaad.


Seriously, I Think They’re Baaaaad

A result of using these “Ready For x” columns is that they tend to slightly move us away from the “stop the line” practice that good Lean/Kanban systems employ. Basically whenever there’s a problem, or a bottleneck is appearing, we want to stop the production line and address the issue. So, if we keep all these “Ready for QA” cards in our In Dev or Code Review Column (basically whatever column comes before your Ready for QA column) then we’ll very quickly reach our WIP (Work In Progress) limit and the line will be stopped. That’s a good thing! We want to catch that bottleneck as soon as we can, we don’t want to hide it by pushing our cards into another “buffer” column.


Did I Mention That I Think “Ready For” Columns in Kanban Are Baaaaaad?

Yet another problem with “Ready for x” columns is that they quite often tend to be push rather than pull columns. You can’t really pull into a Ready for QA column as it isn’t an actual “workflow” state, it’s a “wasteflow” state (see what I did there?). I mean, who’s going to pull stuff into that column anyway? I’ve yet to meet a “ready for test” team who just sit around pulling cards into their column before marking them as “ready” (presumably once they’ve verified that they are indeed ready for test). Ok, you might have a deployment team who are responsible for deploying stuff to your test environments and so forth. In this case, your workflow state still isn’t “Ready for test” it’s “In Deployment”.



“Ready for x” columns make baby Jesus cry.

SAFe – Command and Control Agile?

SAFe (the Scaled Agile Framework, with a random “e” at the end) seems to be the talk of the agile world at the moment, and as you’d expect, opinions are both strong and divided. On the one side you’ve got the likes of Ken Schwaber and David Anderson (the guys who brought us Scrum and Kanban respectively), while on the other side you’ve got, well, pretty much anyone who stands to make any money out of SAFe.


I’m working at a company in London who might be about to go down the SAFe route, so obviously I’ve had to do a bit of research into this new framework, as it could soon be directly impacting me in my capacity as an agile coach and devops ninja.

My initial questions were:

  1. What the hell is this and how come I’ve never heard of it?
  2. Why is there no mention of devops?
  3. Is it really as prescriptive as it sounds?
  4. Isn’t it a bit “anti-agile”? (recall “individuals and interactions over processes and tools”, part of the agile manifesto)

So I started looking into SAFe. There’s quite a bit of information on the SAFe website, and the “Big Picture” on the homepage is crammed with information, jargon and stuff. At first glance it seemed fairly sensible on the higher levels, but overly prescriptive on the team level. Then you start clicking on icons, and that’s when it gets interesting…

Story Sizing, Velocity and Estimating: They tell us that all teams should have the same velocity and the same sizing (i.e. 1 point in team A should be exactly the same as 1 point in team B). They also say that 1 point should equal 1 day. I find this quite interesting, as this time-based evaluation is flawed for a number of reasons. Velocity (in normal scrum) should be obtained by measurement, not by simply saying “right, there’s 5 people in the team, 5×8=40, therefore our velocity will be 40!” This pains me, because I firmly believe that each team should be allowed to work out their own sustainable velocity, based on observation and results (and applying the Deming cycle of making a change and seeing if it improves output). If we are all given a goal of x points to achieve in a sprint, all we will do as a team is fiddle our estimations so that we hit that target. That’s exactly why we don’t use velocity as a target. What am I missing here?

ScrumXP: SAFe seems to suggest that you MUST do 2 week sprints. You have no option in this. Doesn’t seem to matter if you want to have a kanban system based around a weekly release schedule. SAFe seems largely ignorant of this. Is SAFe suggesting that Kanban doesn’t work? Has anyone told David Anderson?

SAFe prescribes Hardening Sprints: These are sprints set aside at the end of every release (one every 5th Sprint), to allow you to do such things as User Acceptance Testing and Performance Testing. In Continuous Delivery we work towards making these activities happen as early as possible in the release pipeline, in order to shorten the feedback loop. We really don’t want to be finding out that our product isn’t performant a day before we expect to release it! I certainly wouldn’t encourage the use of hardening sprints in the SAFe way, instead I would encourage people to build these activities into their pipelines as early as possible. I think of hardening Sprints as a bad smell, isn’t it just a way of confessing that you don’t expect to catch certain things until the end? So rather than try to fix that situation and reduce that feedback loop, you’re kind of just saying “hey, s**t happens, we’ll catch it in the hardening sprint”.

Innovation Sprints: These happen at the same time as the hardening sprint. SAFe is suggesting that during a normal sprint we don’t have time for innovation. And that is quite often the case – but wouldn’t it be better if we actually did have sufficient time for continuous innovation, rather than actually have a dedicated half-sprint for innovation? The book “Slack” by Tom DeMarco talks about the myth of total efficiency, and suggests that by slowing down and building in some slack time, we get greater returns. This is better achieved as part of everyday practice rather than working at some mythical “total efficiency” level and then having an “innovation sprint”. The SAFe approach seems to be an easy option. Rather than taking the time to determine a team’s sustainable velocity which includes sufficient time for innovation, it suggests just saving it up for a sprint at the end of every release. Don’t forget that at the same point, the team will apparently be doing “hardening” activities, gearing up for a release, and planning the next one. For some reason I feel uncomfortable with the idea that innovation is something that should be scheduled once every 10 weeks, rather than something that should be encouraged and nurtured as part of normal practice.

The Scrum Master: SAFe has this to say about the Scrum Master:

In SAFe, we assume that the Scrum Master is also a developer, tester, project manager or other skilled individual (though not the team’s manager) who fulfills his Scrum Master role on a part time basis.

Wow, that’s some assumption. They seem to suggest that you can just take any developer, tester etc and send them on a scrum course, and hey presto, you have a scrum master. And yes, you could do this, but what sort of scrum master are you getting? They also say:

responsibilities can generally be accomplished in about 25% of the time for that team member

which I again find surprising. A Scrum Master is just one quarter of a person’s time?? Seriously? Mentoring a team, coaching individuals, removing impediments, applying the principles of Scrum, helping the team work towards a goal, leading a team towards continuous improvement – all of these things are expected of the Scrum Master in SAFe, and yet they can all be achieved in “about 25%” of a person’s time, apparently. And where does an agile coach come into this? Well, they don’t exist in SAFe. In SAFe you have SAFe consultants instead.

The Product Manager and The product Owner: These are 2 very separate, very different roles in SAFe. A Product Owner works with the Scrum Team, but doesn’t have contact with the customer. The Product Manager has contact with the customer but deals with the scrum team through the Product Owner. Also the product owner doesn’t own the product vision – that responsibility belongs to the product manager – this seems strange to me, I would have naturally thought that the product “owner” would own the product vision. So essentially we’re adding yet another link in the chain between the customer and the team.  I’m struggling to see this as a good thing, when in my experience a close relationship between the business and the team has always been of great benefit.

There is no Business Analyst role in SAFe, which I find quite interesting. This role seems to have been split out into the Product Owner and Product manager roles. For instance, the PO is meant to do the Just-In-Time analysis on the backlog stories.

in SAFe, the UX Designer is NOT part of the agile team. Rather, they work “at the Program Level” (whatever the hell that means, possibly on a different floor, maybe) yet they still do the following:

  • Provide Agile Teams with the next increment of UI design, UX guidelines, and design elements in a just-in-time fashion
  • Attend sprint planning, backlog grooming, iteration demos
  • Work in an extremely incremental way
  • Rely on fast and frequent feedback via rapid code implementation
  • Are highly collaborative, and…
  • The UI criteria are included in the “Definition of Done” and User Story acceptance criteria

But I must remind you that according to SAFe they are NOT part of the agile team 🙂 Is it just me or does this come across as a bit, I don’t know, pedantic?

Pretty much the same rule applies to devops (which was included in a later version of SAFe) – devops people aren’t in the team BUT, you can simply achieve “devops” in part by:

 integrating personnel from the operations team with the Agile teams

Er, ok. So they’re not part of the team but they’re integrated with the team. Riiiiight. On a plus note – it does mention “designing for deployability”, which can never be overstated in my opinion.

These are just my initial observations and I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say on the subject as we embark on our SAFe journey. I’m hoping it’s not as prescriptive as it sounds, as I honestly don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all solution to adopting Agile. I very much believe that every organisation needs to go on their own journey with agile, and find out what works best for them. It’s my opinion that the lessons you learn on this journey are more important than the end result. In my experience, most organisations will have invariably witnessed a fantastic cultural shift during their gradual transition to agile, and I find it very difficult to see how a prescribed framework such as SAFe can facilitate this cultural shift.

The Agile Silver Bullet

agile_silver_bulletSo is SAFe really an agile silver bullet? I doubt it, but time will tell. I certainly don’t disagree with the majority of the contents of the “Big Picture” but where I do disagree, I feel very concerned, as I seem to disagree on a very fundamental level.

I would be much happier if SAFe was a lot less prescriptive-sounding. I can see SAFe being popular with larger-scale organisations with a penchant for job-titles and an unhealthy affinity for bureaucracy, I mean, it’s a framework, and they lap that stuff up! I can also see it being quite effective in those situations, after all, pretty much anything’s better than Waterfall!

I can see SAFe appealing to people who aren’t prepared to go on the agile journey, because they fear it. They fear they will fail, and they fear a lack of clarity. This framework puts nice titles everywhere, tickboxes to be ticked and nice clear processes to blindly follow. I can imagine it would be hard not to look like you’re making progress! I don’t yet trust the framework, but that could still change, but for the time being I’ve got the impression that it’s command-and-control agile, more of a tick-box exercise than a vessel for personal and organisational development.

Retrospective of Retrospectives

I started running scrum of scrums sessions a few months ago where I work, with the intention of getting the teams to collaborate and communicate effectively, particularly in relation to any areas of overlap between the teams. There are quite a few teams who work on the same project/solution, and so their effective communication is essential.

As it turns out, in most cases the comms between the teams was good, and these meetings ended up being more of a knowledge sharing session. We discussed any new ideas, tools, practices which we’ve been using, and whether they’ve worked or not. We also discuss what isn’t going so well for each team and we collectively make useful suggestions and try to help out.

So basically it’s not so much a “scrum of scrums”, but more like a “retrospective of retrospectives” 🙂

Agile ITOps: Day 1

Today we started day 1 of our first ever ITOps sprint. This all came about because we needed a way of working out our productivity on “project tasks”, as well as learning how to triage our interruptions a bit better. None of the IT Ops team had tried any form of agile before, so there’s a mix of excitement and apprehension at the moment! I’ve opted for the old skool cards and sprint board (we’re using scrum by the way – more on this in a bit) rather than using an IT based system like Jira. This is mainly because everyone’s co-located, but also because I think it’s a good way to advertise what we’re doing within the office, and it’s an easy way to introduce a team to scrum.

The team already had a backlog of projects, so it was quite an easy job to break these down into cards. First of all we prioritised the projects and then sized up a bunch of tasks. We’re guessing, for this first sprint, that we’ll probably be around 40% to 50% productive on these project tasks, while the rest of our time will be taken up by interruptions (IT requests, responding to inquiries, dealing with unexpected issues etc).

Sprint 1 – planned, or “committed” tasks are on green cards, while interruptions go on those lovely pinky-reddish ones.

I’m using a points system which is roughly equivalent to 1 point = 1 hour’s effort. This is a bit more granular than you might expect in a dev sprint, but since we’re dealing with a very high number of smaller tasks, I’ve opted for this slightly more granular scale.

As well as project work, there was also an existing list of IT requests which were in the queue waiting to be done. I wanted to “commit” to getting some of these done, so we planned them in to the sprint. I had originally thought of setting a goal of reducing the IT request queue by 30 tickets, and having that as a card, but I decided against this because I don’t feel it really represents a single task in it’s own right. I might change my mind about this at a later date though! So instead of doing that, we just chose the highest priority IT requests, and then arranged them by logical groupings (for instance, 3 IT requests to rebuild laptops would be grouped together). At the end of our planning session we had committed to achieving approximately 40% productivity.

Managing Interruptions

We expect at least 50% of our time to be taken up by interruptions – this is based on a best-guess estimate, and will be refined from one sprint to the next as we progress on our agile journey. Whenever we get an interruption, let’s say someone comes over and says his laptop is broken, or we get an email saying a printer has mysteriously stopped working, then we scribble down a very brief summary of this issue on a red/pink card and make a quick call on whether it’s a higher priority that our current “in progress” tasks. If it is, then it goes straight into “in progress”, and we might have to move something out of “in progress” if the interruption means we need to park it for a while. Otherwise, the interruption will go in the backlog or in the “to do” list, depending on urgency.

At the end of the sprint we’re expecting to see a whole lot more red cards than green ones in the “Done” column. Indeed, we’re only a couple of hours into the first sprint an already the interruption cards contribute more than a 4:1 ratio in terms of hours actually worked today!

Interruptions already outweigh “committed” tasks by 4:1 in terms of hours worked – looks like my 40% guess was a bit optimistic!

Triage and Priorities

One of the goals of this agile style of working is to get us to think a bit smarter when it comes to prioritising interruptions. It’s been felt in the past that interruptions always get given higher priority over our project work, when perhaps they shouldn’t have been. I suspect that in reality there’s a combination of reasons why the interruptions got done over project work: they’re usually smaller tasks, someone is usually telling you it’s urgent, it’s nice to help people out, and sometimes it’s not very easy to tell someone that you aren’t going to do their request because it’s not high enough priority. By writing the interruptions down on a card, and being able to look at the board and see a list of tasks we have committed to deliver, I’m hoping that we will be able to make better judgement calls on the priority, and also make it easier to show people that their requests are competing with a large number of other tasks which we’ve promised to get done.

Why Scrum?

I don’t actually see this as the perfect solution by any means, and as you might be able to tell already, there’s a slight leaning towards Kanban. I eventually want to go full-kanban, so to speak, but I feel that our scrum based approach provides a much easier introduction to agile concepts. Kanban seems to be much more geared towards an Ops style environment, with it’s continuous additions of tasks to the backlog and its rolling process. I think the pull based system and the focus on “Work In Progress” will provide some good tools for the ITOps team to manage their work flow. For now though, they’re getting down with a bit of scrum to get used to the terms and the ideas, and to understand what the hell the devs are talking about!

Retrospectives, burn-downs and Continuous Improvement

We’ll stick with scrum for a while and at the end of our sprint we’ll demo what project work we actually got through, as well as advertise the amount of IT requests we did, and the number of “interruptions” we successfully handled (although I don’t think I’ll keep calling them “interruptions” :-)). I’m also looking forward to our first retrospective, which we’ll be doing at the end of each sprint as a learning task – we want to see what we did well and what we did badly, as well as take a good look at our original estimations!

I’ll keep track of our burndown, and as the weeks go by I’ll try to give the team as much supporting metrics/information as I can, such as the number of hours since an interruption, the number of project tasks that are stuck in “In Progress” etc. But most important of all, we’re looking at this as a learning experience, an opportunity for us to improve the way we manage projects and a chance for everyone to get better at prioritising and estimating.

I’ll keep the posts coming whenever I get the chance!

Continuous Delivery with a Difference: They’re Using Windows!


Last night I was taken to the London premier of Warren Miller’s latest film called “Flow State”. Free beers, a free goodie bag and an hour and a half of the best snowboarders and skiers in the world doing tricks which in my head I can also do, but in reality are about 10000000% better than anything I can manage. Good times. Anyway, on my way home I was thinking about “flow” and how it applies to DevOps. It’s a tricky thing to maintain in an Ops capacity. It reminded me of a talk I went to last week where the speakers talked of the importance of “Flow” in their project, and it’s inspired me to write it up:

Thoughtworkers Pat and Aleksander have been working at a top secret location* for a top secret company** on a top secret mission to implement continuous delivery in a corporate Windows world***
* Ok, I actually forgot to ask where it was located

** It’s probably not a secret, but they weren’t telling me

*** It’s obviously not a secret mission seeing as how: a) it was the title of their talk and b) I just said what it was

Pat and Aleksander put their collective Powerpoint skills to good use and made a presentation on the stuff they’d done and learned during their time working on this top secret project, but rather than call their presentation “Stuff We Learned Doing a Project” (that’s what I would have named it) they decided to call it “Experience Report: Continuous Delivery in a Corporate Windows World”, which is probably why nobody ever asks me to come up with names for their presentations.

This talk was at Skills Matter in London, and on my way over there I compiled a list of questions which I was keen to hear their answers to. The questions were as follows:

  1. What tools did they use for infrastructure deployments? What VM technology did they use?
  2. How did they do db deployments?
  3. What development tools did they use? TFS?? And what were their good/bad points?
  4. Did they use a front-end tool to manage deployments (i.e. did they manage them via a C.I. system)?
  5. Was the company already bought-in to Continuous Delivery before they started?
  6. What breed of agile did they follow? Scrum, Kanban, TDD etc.
  7. What format were the built artifacts? Did they produce .msi installers?
  8. What C.I. system did they use (and why did they decide on that one)?
  9. Did they use a repository tool like Nexus/Artifactory?
  10. If they could do it all again, what would they do differently?

During the evening (mainly in the pub afterwards) Pat and Aleksander answered almost all of the questions above, but before I list them, I’ll give a brief summary of their talk. Disclaimer: I’m probably paraphrasing where I’m quoting them, and most of the content is actually my opinion, sorry about that. And apologies also for the completely unrelated snowboarding pictures.

Cultural Aspects of Continuous Delivery

Although CD is commonly associated with tools and processes, Pat and Aleksander were very keen to push the cultural aspects as well. I couldn’t agree more with this – for me, Continuous Delivery is more than just a development practice, it’s something which fundamentally changes the way we deliver software. We need to have an extremely efficient and reliable automated deployment system, a very high degree of automated testing, small consumable sized stories to work from, very reliable environment management, and a simplified release management process which doesn’t create problems than it solves. Getting these things right is essential to doing Continuous Delivery successfully. As you can imagine, implementing these things can be a significant departure from the traditional software delivery systems (which tend to rely heavily on manual deployments and testing, as well as having quite restrictive project and release management processes). This is where the cultural change comes into effect. Developers, testers, release managers, BAs, PMs and Ops engineers all need to embrace Continuous Delivery and significantly change the traditional software delivery model.

FACT BOMB: Some snowboarders are called Pat. Some are called Aleksander.


When Aleksander and Pat started out on this project, the dev teams were already using TFS as a build system and for source control. They eventually moved to using TeamCity as a Continuous Integration system, and  Git-TFS as the devs primary interface to the source control system.

The most important tool for a snowboarder is a snowboard. Here’s the one I’ve got!

  • Builds were done using msbuild
  • They used TeamCity to store the build artifacts
  • They opted for Nunit for unit testing
  • Their build created zip files rather than .msi installers
  • They chose Specflow for stories/spec/acceptance criteria etc
  • Used Powershell to do deployments
  • Sites were hosted on IIS



“Work in Progress” and “Flow” were the important metrics in this project by the sounds of things (suffice to say they used Kanban). I neglected to ask them if they actually measured their flow against quality. If I find out I’ll make a note here. Anyway, back to the project… because of the importance of Work in Progress and Flow they chose to use Kanban (as mentioned earlier) – but they still used iterations and weekly showcases. These were more for show than anything else: they continued to work off a backlog and any tasks that were unfinished at the end of one “iteration” just rolled over to the next.

Another point that Pat and Aleksander stressed was the importance of having good Business Analysts. They were essential in carving up stories into manageable chunks, avoiding “analysis paralysis”, shielding the devs from “fluctuating functionality” and ensuring stories never got stuck for too long. Some other random notes on their processes/practices:

  • Used TDD with pairing
  • Testers were embedded in the team
  • Maintained a single branch of code
  • Regression testing was automated
  • They still had to raise a release request with Ops to get stuff deployed!
  • The same artifact was deployed to every environment*
  • The same deploy script was used on every environment*

* I mention these two points because they’re oh-so important principles of Continuous Delivery.

Obviously I approve of the whole TDD thing, testers embedded in the team, automated regression testing and so on, but not so impressed with the idea of having to raise a release request (manually) with Ops whenever they want to get stuff deployed, it’s not very “devops” 🙂 I’d seek to automate that request/approval process. As for the “single branch of code”, well, it’s nice work if you can get it. I’m sure we’d all like to have a single branch to work from but in my experience it’s rarely possible. And please don’t say “feature toggling” at me.

One area the guys struggled with was performance testing. Firstly, it kept getting de-prioritised, so by the time they got round to doing it, it was a little late in the day, and I assume this meant that any design re-considerations they might have hoped to make could have been ruled out. Secondly, they had trouble actually setting up the load testing in Visual Studio – settings hidden all over the place etc.


Speaking with Pat, he was clearly very impressed with the wonders of Powershell scripting! He said they used it very extensively for installing components on top of the OS. I’ve just started using it myself (I’m working with Windows servers again) and I’m very glad it exists! However, Aleksander and Pat did reveal that the procedure for deploying a new test environment wasn’t fully automated, and they had to actually work off a checklist of things to do. Unfortunately, the reality was that every machine in every environment required some degree of manual intervention. I wish I had a bit more detail about this, I’d like to understand what the actual blockers were (before I run into them myself), and I hate to think that Windows can be a real blocker for environment automation.

Anyway, that’s enough of the detail, let’s get to the answers to the questions (I’ve added scores to the answers because I’m silly like that):

  1. What tools did they use for infrastructure deployments? What VM technology did they use? – Powershell! They didn’t provision the actual VMs themselves, the Ops team did that. They weren’t sure what tools they used.  1
  2. How did they do db deployments? – Pass 0
  3. What development tools did they use? TFS?? And what were their good/bad points? – TFS. Source Control and C.I. were bad so they moved to TeamCity and Git-TFS 2
  4. Did they use a C.I. tool to manage deployments? – Nope 0
  5. Was the company already bought-in to Continuous Delivery before they started? – They hired ThoughtWorks so I guess they must have been at least partly sold on the idea! Agile adoption was on their roadmap 1
  6. What breed of agile did they follow? Scrum, Kanban, TDD etc. – TDD with Kanban 2
  7. What format were the built artifacts? Did they produce .msi installers? – Negatory, they used zip files like any normal person would. 2
  8. What C.I. system did they use (and why did they decide on that one)? – TeamCity, which is interesting seeing as how ThoughtWorks Studios produce their own C.I. system called “Go”. I’ve used Go before and it’s pretty good conceptually, but it’s also expensive and hard to manage once you’re running over 50 builds and 100 test agents. The UI is buggy too. However, it has great features, but the Open Source competitors are catching up fast. 2
  9. Did they use a repository tool like Nexus/Artifactory? – They used TeamCity’s own internal repo, a bit like with Jenkins where you can store a build artifact. 1
  10. If they could do it all again, what would they do differently? – They wouldn’t push so hard for the Git TFS integration, it was probably not worth the considerable effort at the end of the day. 1


What does this total mean? Absolutely nothing at all.

What significance do all the snowboard pictures have in this article? None. Absolutely none whatsoever.