There is no time like now

07-04-2014

It doesn’t matter if you talk about mission critical operations or launching new products and services, in the digital world it’s all about living - and working - in the now.

If you have noticed some bugs in a service that your customers use daily. Or if you are working in media and need to make content updates before deadline, even a few hours can make you lag behind the competition. Which in turn can lead to lower Google Ranking and hurt your profit.

This is news to no one, but the turnaround time in the web services and hosting industry is still not as fast as it could be. And the reason for this is pretty obvious. The bulk of the hosting providers are working with tools and processes that are not up to date.

For instance, let’s say you have a bug fix that in itself doesn’t take longer than half an hour to do. You send a mail or create an issue in some other way and a service center - or something similar - is on the receiving end, giving your bug a queue number.

Someone at the service center will look at the tasks in the order of that queue and when the number is up that someone will decide what to do with your bug. Who to assign it to, et cetera. And that engineer can have a queue of issues of her or his own.

As you can see, this linearity creates one bottleneck after the other. And it’s no wonder that it can take hours or even a day before your task gets the attention it should have. And by that time, it’s really an issue.

That’s why Basefarm develops workflows that cut down time to market.

Ziggo, one of Basefarm’s clients in the Netherlands, went from a few to a lot of  deployments per month. Now it costs them virtually no time to deploy and the project team gets continuous feedback on what is being deployed. 

You can’t get true DevOps unless you marry development with operations

How is it possible to speed up turn around by an order of magnitude? You tear up the linear approach. Instead of a queue of issues, you put the developers in direct touch with the operations engineers.

And this is exactly what Basefarm does. Time to market is no longer measured in days or hours, but in minutes. Let’s say the developers at a media company have a bug fix they want to deploy and it’s crucial that they get it out. They are already in direct, live contact via Skype or any other digital channel of their choice - with a fellow engineer in their own team at Basefarm.

This engineer is the designated ‘Gatekeeper’ for the day. He or she is responsible for creating issues together with the client side engineer, as well as prioritizing them. In other words, there is no turnaround time at all. There is no queue of issues. If the client developer deems the issue so important that it should supersede everything else, it does so immediately.

- In our web and application team at TV4 we regard the gatekeeper and DevOps as valid team members like everyone else in the team, says Per Åström, Technical Manager, New Platforms at Swedish TV channel TV4.

- And during the day we have continuous contact with a gatekeeper synchronizing and prioritizing incoming issues and ongoing tasks focusing on real business value - short and long term.

So this becomes a true marriage between developers and operations. In other words a way of creating DevOps. Or in Per Åström’s words:

- The Gatekeeper helps us prioritizing incoming work so the rest of the DevOps team can focus on delivering new features all the way until they actually are live in  production environment. The Gatekeeper also helps us understand what features we need to work on to keep a robust and dynamic environment making sure the DevOps team deliver what we agree on and early get the description of these new services.

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“If it’s not on the board, it doesn’t get done”

The magic tool shared in this marriage is what’s called a Kanban board. I.e. the clients developers and their Basefarm team of engineers share the same board with things ‘To do’, ‘Work in progress’ and ‘Done’ (or any other labelling they prefer) and can change the label for any issue as they please, live.

Kanban is just one of many ways to display an agile workflow and which one you use is up to the each client. The key is to have a shared board. This becomes the central tool for the workflow.

- Media and Web are extremely fast moving businesses these days, says Per Åström at TV4. With a Kanban board we can easily adapt incoming issues as fixing a security holes into daily workflow not losing too much speed jumping between too many tasks at same time.

Basefarm has combined the shared board with new, automated tools for pushing changes to the servers. Which means that someone in a client team can do a lot of what they previously had to ask their hosting partner to do. With the push of a button.

Ziggo uses the automated tools continuously. This is due to the fact that new releases are triggered by the GIT activity.

With the combination of continuous delivery, direct contact between developers, a shared board for all issues and automated tools for pushing changes, Basefarm has developed workflows that cut time to market down to minutes.

Which translates to both increased efficiency and competitive advantage for client companies.

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How we work with Kanban

Kanban is one of several ‘board methods’ to visualise agile projects. Typically, tasks are divided into columns like To do, Doing and Done. Each task has a Post It of its own that can be moved between columns and that states who is responsible for the task and when it is due. The board can be analog on a wall or digital and shared with everybody in the project team.

Gatekeepers and the work process described here is specific to bigger platforms with high complexity and a high rate of change.

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