by Leon Rosenshein

Are we there yet?

No, I’m not channeling my kids on a 20 hour car ride (although that has happened multiple times). If you’ve ever made the drive from New York to Miami you know what I’m talking about. You drive for hours. All day in fact. A long day. A very long day. You finally get to Florida. Yay. We’re almost there. Then you realize you still have 6 hours to go. You’re only 2/3 of the way there. Getting to Florida is a significant milestone, but you’re not done yet.

In many ways development in large, complex systems and environments is like that. You spend time figuring out where you want to go (identifying the requirements and sequencing them). You start out heading down the best route you’ve found (getting a tool/service/library working in your local or test environment). You make some side trips, either because you need more supplies (modify an upstream service) or something looks relevant (understanding a dependency). There can be detours along the way (pop-up tasks, outages, etc.), and sometimes you take a wrong turn (incorrect architecture and algorithm choices). And you have some intermediate stops planned along the way (milestones). Eventually you get to where you’re going (your customer is happy with the results).

Getting to Florida on the trip from NYC to Miami is like getting it to work in your local environment. It’s a key milestone, and you should celebrate it, but it’s not the then of the journey. You still need to get the work you’ve done into your customer’s hands. You have to deploy it. Until then, the journey isn’t finished.

Sometimes that’s easy. The change is small, or additive. Or the thing you’re deploying has no state. So after some testing in various environments you deploy it. Other times though, deploying it can be as (more?) complicated than writing it. Test environments can be hard to work with. There might not be enough automation. There might be stateful services that need careful coordination to replace. All of the above. And the final deploy to production, to your customers, can be all that and more.

So two bits of advice:

  1. Don’t say something is done until it’s in your customer’s hands. If you’re using a Kanban style tracking system make sure you have a column for deployment. Track the time it’s in the To Be Deployed state and you’ll find your bottlenecks pretty quickly
  2. Make your test/deployment process as automated as possible. Use scripts, throw away environments, stored data, live data streams, or whatever it takes to make it simple to go through the process. And since your task isn’t done until the deployment is done, you’ve got both the time and incentive to make it faster/easier to do.