Here is one the other talk I did at Øredev this year. The original pitch was going to be show a single character commit and walk it through to production. Which is in itself a pretty bold idea for 40 minutes, but… But that pitch was made 7 months ago with the belief we would have Continuous Delivery to production in place. We ended up not hitting that goal though so the talk became more of a experience report around things we (I) learned while doing it. I would guess they are still about a year away from achieving it given what I know about priorities etc.
Below is the video, and then the deck, and the original ‘script’ I wrote for the talk. Which in my usual manner deviated from on stage at pretty much every turn. But, stories were delivered, mistakes confessed to, and lots of hallways conversations generated so I’m calling it a win.
I’ll admit to have being off the speaking circuit and such for awhile and the landscape could have changed significantly, but when last I was really paying attention, most, if not all talks about Continuous Delivery focused on the ‘cool’ stack such as Rails, and Node, etc. Without any data to back up this claim at all, I would hazard a guess that there are however more .NET apps out there, especially behind the corporate firewall than those other stacks. Possibly combined. This means that there is a whole lot of people being ignored by the literature. Or at least the ones not being promoted by a tool vendor… This gap needs to be addressed; companies live and die based on these internal applications and there is no reason why they should have crappy process around them just because they are internal.
I’ve been working in a .NET shop for the last 19 months and we’re agonizingly close to having Continuous Delivery into production… but still not quite there yet. Frustrating … but great fodder for a talk about actually doing this in an existing application [‘legacy’] context.
Not surprisingly, the high level bullets are pretty much the same as with other stacks, but there of course variations of the themes that are at play in some cases.
Have a goal
Saying ‘we want to do Continuous Delivery’ is not an achievable business goal. You need to be able to articulate what success looks like. Previously, success as looked like ‘do an update when the CEO is giving an investor pitch’. What is yours?
Get ‘trunk’ deliverable
Could you drop ‘trunk’ [or whatever your version control setup calls it] into production at a moment’s notice? Likely not. While it seems easy, I think this is actually the hardest part about everything? Why? Simple … it takes discipline. And that is hard. Really hard. Especially when the pressure ramps up as people fall back to their training in those situations and if you aren’t training to be disciplined…
So what does disciplined mean to me, right now…
- feature flags (existence and removal of)
- externalized configuration
- non assumption of installation location
- stop branching!!
Figure out your database
This, I think, is actually the hardest part of a modern application. And is really kinda related to the previous point. You need to be able to deploy your application with, and without, database updates going out. That means…
- your tooling needs to support that
- your build chains needs to support that
- your application needs to support that (forwards and backwards compatible)
- your process needs to support that
This is not simple. Personally, I love the ‘migration’ approach. Unfortunately… our DBA didn’t.
Convention over Configuration FTW
I’m quite convinced of two things; this is why RoR and friends ‘won’ and why most talks deal with them rather than .NET. To really win at doing Continuous Delivery [or at least without going insane], you need to standardize your projects. The solution file goes here. Images go here. CSS goes here. Yes, the ‘default’ project layout does have some of that stuff already figured out, but it is waaaaay too easy to go of script in the name of ‘configurability’. Stop that! Every single one of our .NET builds is slightly different because of that at 360, which means that we have to spend time when wiring them up and dealing with their snowflake-ness. I should have been able to ‘just’ apply a [TeamCity] template to the job and give it some variables…
Make things small [and modular]
This is something that has started to affect us more and more. And something that doesn’t be default in the RoR community with their prevalence of gems. If something has utility, and is going to be across multiple projects, make it a Nuget package. The first candidate for this could be your logging infrastructure. Then your notifications infrastructure. I have seen so much duplicate code…
Not all flows are created equal
This is a recent realization, though having said that, is a pretty obvious one as well. Not all projects, not all teams, not all applications have the same process for achieving whatever your Continuous Delivery goal is. Build your chains accordingly.
Automate what should be automated
I get accused of splitting hairs for this one, but Continuous Delivery is not about ‘push a button, magic, production!’. It is all about automating what should be automated, and doing by hand what should be done by hand. But! Also being able to short circuit gates when necessary.
It is also about automating the right things with the right tools. Are they meant for .NET or was it an afterthought? Is it a flash in the pan or is it going to be around? Does its project assumptions align with yours?
For Continuous Delivery to really work, and this is why its often mentioned in the same breath as DevOps (we’ll ignore that who problem of ‘if you have devops you aren’t doing devops’…), the management of your infrastructure and environments needs to be fully automated as well. This is very much in the bucket of ‘what should be automated’. Thankfully, the tooling has caught up to Windows so you should be working on this right from the start. Likely in tandem with getting trunk deliverable.
But even still, there are going to have to be things that you need to drop down to the shell and do. We made a leap forward towards our goal when we let Octopus start to control IIS. But they don’t expose enough hooks for the particular needs of our application so we have to use the IIS cmdlets to do what we need afterwards. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach.
Its all predicated by people
Lastly, and most importantly, you need to have the right people in place. If you don’t, then it doesn’t matter how well you execute on the above items, you /will/ fail.
This is one of the talks I did at Øredev last week. As usual, my decks are generally useless without me in front of them. But lucky(?) for you, all the sessions were recorded.
But if you are too lazy to listen to me for 40 minutes, here is the deck and the content I was working from on stage. Of course, I don’t actually practice my talks so some content was added and others was removed at runtime, but…
WTF is a Delivery Manager?!?!
For about a year and a half I had to the title of ‘Delivery Manager’ which means a whole lot, and nothing at the same time. And therein lies it potency. Just as Andy Warhol famously said that ‘Art is anything you can get away with’, being a Delivery Manager is anything you make it. In my case it was essentially anything and everything to do with getting our application into the hands of the end users.
Tip: Don’t put yourself in a box
Before we landed on this title other ones we considered were ‘Doer of Stuff’, ‘Chaos Monkey’ (blantantly stolen from Netflix), and ‘Minister Without Portfolio.’ But we eventually went with the more business palatable of ‘Delivery Manager’. Since Delivery Manager is a made up title, it is useful to describe it in terms and titles people are used to seeing; Product Owner, Production Gatekeeper and Process Guardian are the three umbrella ones I most associated with. But even those could be sub-divided. And possibly sub-sub-divided. Its also important to recognize that the percentages of these roles are ever in flux. And just to keep things interesting, can sometimes be in conflict with each other.
Because of the mix of problems Delivery Managers will have to, erm, manage there is a certain skillset required to be effective at it. Or perhaps not a specific one, but a breadth of one. Testing, Development, Operations, Marketing, Systems, Accounting, etc.. And I would suggest that you have done a stint consulting as well. There is nothing like it in terms of being a crucible for problem identification and solving. That doesn’t mean of course that you have to be a perfect mix of all these things. It is inevitable that you will be more specialized in one over the other, and I would be suspicious of anyone who said they weren’t. I for instance come up through the testing ranks. Specifically the ‘context’ ranks. That, for me is my secret sauce.
And yes, there is a tonne of irony around the idea that I spent a decade saying ‘I am not a gatekeeper! I am a provider of information!’ to moving precisely into the gatekeeper role. But in that irony I learned a lot. Not just about being /a/ Delivery Manager, but about how /I/ am a Delivery Manager.
While everything is important in one degree or another, this is perhaps the one thing I leaned on every single day. When faced with a request, the default answer is always No. Well, it is more ‘No* (* but help me to say Yes)’. And don’t be subtle or selective about the application of this rule. At 360 there is an entire department I dealt with on a daily basis and they could tell you my default answer is going to be ‘No’ to any request. But that doesn’t stop them from asking since they know about the asterisk. What it does is force them to think about their request ahead of time beyond simplistic ‘because’ terms.
This is not a new idea that I ‘discovered’. I blatantly stole it from someone who was at one point the Product Owner for Firefox (I think… I can’t find the article now, if you find it please let me know). It all boils down to an economics problem around opportunity cost. If you say Yes to everything then the queues will over flow and nothing will get done. But if you say No to everything and selectively grant Yeses then there is order [rather than chaos] in the pipes.
Tip: Learn about economics; specifically Opportunity Cost (but Sunk Costs are also useful to understand when involved in No* discussions)
Tip: Unless you really understand the problem you are being asked to solve, you cannot say yes
Mature organizations understand this at their core. It might be you that levels them up to this understanding though.
Being the person who always says No won’t always make you friends. At first at any rate. You will become everyone’s enemy … and everyone’s friend. Welcome to the balancing act. I would argue that if you are everyone’s friend all the time then you are not doing your job properly. Part of the animosity can be dealt with though explaining the asterisk, but also by communicating who ‘your’ client is. Remember the hats that are being warn have words like ‘Owner’, ‘Guardian’ and ‘Gatekeeper’. Your client in this role may not being whom it is people think it is. In fact, it almost assuredly isn’t. Yours is the application and the [delivery] pipeline.
Tip: The Delivery Pipeline is a product
This will cause friction; and depending on how your company is structured it could be a non trivial amount. But as long as you are consistent in your application of No* and are transparent in the reasonings why, in my experience, it is easily overcomable.
Tip: Do you know what business you are in? Is that the business the business thinks it is in? It’s really hard to win that battle.
The role of ‘Delivery Manager’ can sometimes be a lone wolf one, but at other times you will have people working for you [as I did]. It is critical to remember is that as a ‘people’ manager your primary goal is to protect everyone under you. Physically, psychologically and work-ly. You need to be able to do their job but also to let /them/ do it. Just because you /could/ be the hero doesn’t mean that it is healthy for you or them. Like you would a child, let them work through it and be ready to catch them if they start to fall. [The existence of that metaphor does not mean of course that you should treat them like kids though…] Don’t hold them to higher standards than you hold yourself to. But also don’t inflict yourself on them as well. I’m a workaholic (thanks Dad!); its unfair to put than onto others. I also don’t believe in work-life balance (especially in startups) favouring harmony instead — but what is harmonious for me is likely not the same for someone else.
In order to do that you need to constantly be running defence for your charges; human and software. Invite yourself to meetings, constantly be vigilant for conversations that will affect them. Which unfortunately means you miss out of plugging in your headphones and listening to music all day.
Tip: Ensure grief from No* comes back to you, not your people
Tip: People, not resources
Tip: Ask the people who work for you if they feel you have their back. If not, you’re doing something wrong.
You Will Screw Up
I tend not to speak in terms of absolutes, but here is a truth; You will screw up, potentially largely, in this role. You are making decisions that require a crazy amount of information to be assimilated quickly and if it is not perfectly done or you are missing any [maliciously or innocently] then you are hooped. And that’s ok. Pick yourself up, and go forward. That is the only way you can go. We no longer have the luxury of going back. Remember, tough calls are your job.
Bending to go forward is not a new thing. I’m sure I heard it a couple times before it really stuck, but I credit Brian Marick’s talk at Agile 2008 for that sticking. I can’t find a video of it [though didn’t try hard] but the text of it can be found a http://www.exampler.com/blog/2008/11/14/agile-development-practices-keynote-text.
Tip: Be careful though; screw up too much and Impostor Syndrome can set in. And it sucks. A lot. Get help. See Open Sourcing Mental Illness and Mental Health First Aid
Tip: Make sure your boss is onboard with the ‘go forward’ approach
Tip: Confidence is infectious, be patient zero
Know and be true to yourself
One of the biggest things I’ve learned in the last bit is around how /I/ function. Some people find the MBTI as hand-wavy and hokey, but I think its useful not in terms of how I choose to interact with people but in understanding how I am. I’m ENTP. Hilariously so. That’s not going to jive well with organizations that are ‘typed’ differently. That’s been a huge insight for me.
Tip: For a lark, take an MBTI test. Its heuristic, but still interesting
Being a geek I also think of things in terms of the classing AD&D alignment scale. I lean towards the Chaotic Good. We have a goal; there are no rules here. Especially ‘stupid’, ‘artificial’ ones.
And that has got me into trouble more than once. I don’t doubt that it will again in the future.
But I also have a strongly defined set of ethics and philosophy around how things should be done. Entrepreneurs don’t necessarily make good employees…
Putting a bow on it
Being a ‘Delivery Manager’ is great fun. Challenging as heck, but great fun and super rewarding. As someone who cares deeply about quality and the customer experience and has experience backed opinions on how to achieve them I don’t see myself going back to a ‘Just X’ role.
(P.S. I’m now available for hire if your organization needs a Delivery Manager)
I’ve had this conversation a couple times in the last week, which usually means I should be writing about it. (Also, because its been ~ 15 months since there was one…)
There seems to be this myth that just because an application is not installed on the client’s premises that it must be SaaS. Ummm… no. Or at least not exactly. See, its a lot more subtle than that. Here is how I am currently distinguishing between the two in my head.
- Delivery – This is easy. If you host it for your customers, you can be SaaS-y. If you have to ship something to your customers they need to install, then you cannot.
- Tiering – At the heart of SaaS is the differentiating of customers based on service levels or other customers. And charging differently for them.
- Onboarding – Customer should be able to sign up for your service without you knowing about it. Ideally you should regularly look at your customer list and be surprised by who you see on it.
- Self-service – That thing your service does likely needs to have some sort of interaction from your customer be it periodic configuration or scheduling or whatever. They need to be able to do it. All. Without your involvement — unless you are charging a higher tier rate for that…
- No touch billing – You know you have figured out the whole SaaS thing when you can hook a vacuum up to your customer’s wallet. If you are dealing with smaller businesses, then this is relatively easy by hooking up to a corporate credit card. But even at the ‘enterprise’ level you can do it by integrating with your financial and invoicing systems
- Offloading – This is more ‘open source anarchist’ maybe than anything else, but your customers should also be able to leave your service without you knowing [hint: have a notification for when someone leaves and then follow up to see if you could have prevented it]. This includes getting their data out.
- Crazy uptime – Remember the first bullet? Your service is hosted… so if its down because you are offline because you are deploying an update, your customers are dead in the water. 100% uptime. That’s your goal, not ‘5 9s’ or whatever.
- Paranoia – Because you are hosted, and can be easily onboarded and offloaded you need to be constantly paranoid that someone will build a better ‘thing’. This paranoia is a good thing as it drives innovation.
This is still evolving, but having played in and paid attention to the SaaS-y space for a number of years now, I’m fairly comfortable with this list of attributes and is how I’m mentally evaluating all companies that call themselves SaaS.