Everybody is talking about Continuous Delivery (CD) these days. In most of the conferences that I attended CD was a topic being discussed amongst developers or DevOps. I worked on a couple of projects recently and had some interesting observations. I think that CD is not just about DevOps being involved and QA is not just about testing. It in fact is a confluence of both those roles and many more.
Continuous Quality Delivery is making the application available to the end user in a stable state as often as possible and to give some business value at the same time.
As a QA I can contribute to the CD process in many ways thus transforming it to Continuous Quality Delivery. The objective is to avoid any defects in the first place or at least find and fix them as early in the development cycle as possible.
When I joined the team, I noticed that we were trying to achieve CD but the release process itself was too long and took about two days to get something out into production.
I took the initiative of getting people together to refine the release process. After a few sessions of facilitations over a couple of weeks of continuous improvement, we got to a place where we could actually release a working piece of software in a couple of hours.
In a typical delivery team it is always not possible to make every check-in committed by the developer to be production ready. So it is a good idea to user feature toggles. (I will leave it to a separate discussion as to why feature toggles are better than release branches) Feature toggles are generally used for different reasons: To hide incomplete features or to observe user behaviour by toggling a completed feature on or off.
This is a powerful technique to control the state of the application. But this needs continuous maintenance in terms of removing the toggle once the feature is completed along with the code and associated tests. As a QA I was on top of monitoring from the beginning, which stories would need toggles and which ones need to be removed. Thus keeping the quality of the application and the code base to a high level.
I also had conversations with the BAs trying to see if we can write and line up stories in such a way that we do not need toggles in the first place, thus keeping the toggle maintenance to its minimum. We could do this by playing stories in such a way that the backend functionality is developed first and then moving on to the front end visible stories.
Continuous Quality Delivery or other wise it is a good practice for a QA to pair with the BAs in story reviews to bridge gaps in requirements, to identify test data, to identify additional test cases.
Similarly it is also beneficial to constantly interact with developers ensuring the level of automation test coverage and finding defects while they are developing. I found it immensely useful in attending tech huddles, dev analysis, code reviews etc to understand the code and implementation better. This would enable me to think of other scenarios of testing apart from just black box testing. I found it necessary to write automation tests as much as we could to minimise the manual testing and regression time.
Build time plays a significant role of how quickly a developer can commit his code and how soon can it go through different environments to production. There was a time when the team started feeling the pain of the increased build time. I started tracking the build time and making it visible to the team. I got together with the operations people to increase the build agents so that we could run the tests in parallel. This surfaced a new challenge when we found out that some of the tests were dependent on each other. So I paired with the developers to make the tests autonomous. This helped us in reducing the build time.
The QAs were constantly trying to make sure that the manual regression test suite was kept to a minimum to reduce the manual testing time. While we were trying to add newer tests to the suite, at the same time older tests were being discarded. But for business functionality scenarios would always be present.
The QAs were using a Blue-Green deployment strategy to release the application into production. This would ensure that we have almost no downtime and also give us the confidence of testing on a "production" environment before it turns into "live"
The QAs were also holding retrospectives to make sure that we were always improving as a role in contributing to Continuous Quality Delivery.
The project was a grand success and the road map in this area was to go form weekly releases to daily releases.