Let’s clear up one of the biggest myths about Agile. Many executives and CEOs who are seeking to implement Agile have the false sense that it will ensure their software engineering teams code faster. That’s just not the case.
The misconception is that Agile makes one activity, the actual programming effort, faster. What Agile does do is focus on the entire process, ensuring the right solutions reach your customers more quickly. Sorry folks, there’s no magic Agile pill that will decrease your software engineer’s estimate from 10 hours to 5 overnight. That’s wishful thinking.
The focus needs to be on your organization as a whole. Agile transformations are successful when you follow software engineering best practices (such as code reviews, for example,) while also having the right tools and infrastructure to support CI/CD. Each of these components will reduce development time.
Now you know the truth about this Agile myth, you may be wondering how you can enable your software engineers to code faster. Do this by integrating several practices that are complementary to Agile. They include continuous integration and continuous deployment (CI/CD), DevOps, multiple environments, and automation tools which we will discuss below. First, let’s clarify an important concept.
Shortening the Cycle
Think about software engineering as an end-to-end process, from the initial idea to the time it is deployed to production and finally, into the customer’s hands. Agile reduces this end-to-end time by solving the customer’s problem with the right solution in a much shorter time frame.
If we look at the multiple components within the end-to-end cycle, software engineering is probably the most important step, as well as the largest cost factor. There are plenty of tools that can be implemented for software engineers to code faster and as a result, be more productive.
Most of the time it’s not the engineers we need to look to when we’re thinking about changes. What it almost always comes down to is the health of the infrastructure and environments that support your software engineers.
It’s not just about the timing of the cycle but what happens within the lifecycle. Are you still with me?
Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD)
To fully reap the benefits of Agile, you need your software engineering infrastructure to be designed and built to support CI/CD with the right tools to enable it.
CI is “the process of automating the build and testing of code every time a team member commits changes to version control. CI encourages software engineers to frequently share their code and unit tests by merging their changes into a shared version control repository after every small task completion. Committing code triggers an automated build system,” says Sam Guckenheimer. CD is the automated, consistent method of pushing that integrated code into production.
CI/CD provides a consistent, repeatable, and automated pipeline for integrating, building, testing, and deploying applications all the way through production in a controlled and safe manner. It enables and shortens the feedback loop between product architects and software engineers, code and testing, and ideas to customers.
It is the lifeblood of an Agile organization that’s able to deliver quality software predictably at a faster speed. Failure to enhance CI/CD, in addition to lacking the right tools within your organization, will ensure your developers never have the opportunity to increase their efficiency.
DevOps is the practice of operations and development engineers participating together in the entire service lifecycle, from design through the development process to production support. This practice fits perfectly into the Agile approach.
In traditional development environments, there’s a handoff with work: code is written by software engineers, tested by QA, packaged up, and handed off to operations, which deploys and runs it despite having little to no investment in, knowledge of, or influence on the end result.
This frustrates software engineers and operations personnel and also leads to slowness, communications problems, poor design and implementation. Ultimately, it negatively affects customer satisfaction.
DevOps seeks to rectify this by integrating the two teams, therefore increasing collaboration, transparency, and productivity. DevOps, implemented correctly, results in that ultimate customer user experience by improving the “run”.
Similar to DevOps, having multiple environments provides flexibility for the software engineering organization and drives greater efficiencies. A company needs to have a set of environments that allows the pipeline of engineering work to easily flow from a software engineer’s laptop to production.
When software engineers are working on different features, they often operate in isolation from each other, typically on their own laptop with an environment that is like, but not the same as the production environment. As mentioned earlier, the work gets migrated throughout the environments running through a multitude of tests until it hits production.
Taking it a step further, having environments capable of being provisioned on-demand, often via the cloud, for any purpose (such as running multiple tests at one time) is even better. It allows a multitude of work to occur concurrently, making sure everyone’s staying productive. It also fosters innovation and eliminates lags and downtime in making updates to the software.
There are a number of tools that help initiate and oversee the CI/CD aspects that will promote and aid iterative deployment. Automation platforms that can help with configuration management are also powerful tools for organizations moving toward an agile approach. Additionally, there are automation tools that provide oversight of the source code, facilitating the management, tracking, changes, and merging of the code. All of these applications, together, are able to reduce the manual and highly error-prone grunt work in the pipeline, leaving engineers free to do what they do best: create.
Putting it all Together
So, how can you construct this smooth-flowing pipeline for your organization?
Let’s recap. Agile can offer your company quicker, more predictable, high-quality software along with its ancillary benefits, such as a happier, more productive workplace and a fully satisfied customer. Agile accomplishes all of this because it optimizes the entire process rather than just focusing on one step.
Remember that Agile doesn’t make your software engineers more efficient, tools do. Investing in CI/CD, DevOps, multiple environments, and automation will support your investment in Agile, making the end-to-end process faster.
Enabling software engineers to code faster will not work by merely focusing on Agile processes and ceremonies. Having automated tools in place and multiple environments, ensuring the CI/CD pipeline is effective and attended to, and committing to the dev ops practice are four major steps your organization needs to take to create an infrastructure the agile process can love.