In recent years, there’s been an explosion of tools for developing and delivering software. In a single pipeline, a company will have separate tools to ideate, plan, code, verify, configure, release and monitor new software, and every pipeline can have different tools for each individual stage (i.e. ideation). That’s a lot of tools, and providing visibility into the process of application development and delivery is difficult and can create many challenges.
The key to eliminating these challenges is to develop a converged toolchain.
What Is a Toolchain?
A toolchain–in the context of software delivery–is a collection of tools managing the planning, execution, quality and delivery of the software being developed, starting from idea generation all the way to production. Each phase of development can have numerous tools, and it’s not uncommon for an organization to use multiple test tools, multiple tools for backlog/user story planning or multiple defect tracker tools.
By default, each tool operates in a silo–not really interacting with other tools and not visible to other groups. Without a converged toolchain, companies are left with fragmented visibility along the application development and delivery pipeline. This means the development team has no idea what the planning team is doing, the operations team can’t see what’s happening with the development team, and so on. Of course, someone from the development team could walk over to the planning team and ask, “what’s going on?” But that halts momentum and slows down the entire process.
The Kanban framework is a great example of a siloed tool commonly used in planning. It presents a list of all the features that need to be built, but it can’t track features in production unless someone manually changes a status. Thus, it’s only as reliable as each person making the updates, and it results in the status of many projects being out of date and stale.
The service desk is another good example. Here you’ll find which projects are in or about to be in production, but it leaves you with very limited visibility into what’s coming down the pipeline. It also doesn’t provide you with context. For example, the operations team may know what app they’ll be working on, but they don’t have an idea of the risk profile of what’s coming.
Benefits of a Converged Toolchain
With a converged toolchain, disparate and siloed tools can work in one connected ecosystem. Help desk tickets can match a bug to the specific developer who worked on the feature, and initiatives can be matched to applications, environments and/or production change requests. The convergence of tooling data enables visibility between groups–allowing each group to use their own tools but at the same time work with data that is augmented from the rest of the toolchain–and this visibility enables collaboration between the groups. Connected toolchains also enable each team to continue to work on their part of the process using their own tools, and teams can evaluate the entire process of software delivery and monitor for hand-offs, waste and inefficiencies. This holistic visibility enables efficiencies not previously possible.
Without a converged toolchain, teams are likely to run into problems around timing and planning. For example, when the testing team is ready to tackle their part of a project, their first questions are typically, “what environment is it on?” and “what features does it include?” Unfortunately, these can be some of the hardest questions to answer. But a converged toolchain allows the testing team to easily see where exactly the unverified feature is, and quickly move it along the pipeline.
By converging the toolchain, you’re integrating and interconnecting the tools in the toolchain. To achieve this, you’ll need to complete three steps. First, you need to correlate and integrate data from the tools into a common data model. This will help create a standard way of looking at features, tests, environments, release processes and phases of delivery. All of these tools need to feed into their part of application delivery so you can correlate all the data together.
Once you have that, the second step is to synchronize data between the tools and bring all the data into your common data model. This will give you the visibility your teams need so you can connect particular features to the environments they are on or know what features still need to be built.
The third step is to create workflows. This allows you to not only bring data in but also take action on the data and react to things based upon events. For example, when the operations team is transitioning a new feature to production, they can mark it as ready for production, and it will be labeled that way across all tools and all teams. This ensures every team is on the same page and no piece of work can become stale.
This workflow can also help when it comes to issues that are reported to an organization’s help desk or technical support of internal applications. Without a converged toolchain, that help desk worker has to create a ticket, call up to the developer team and try to track down the person who can fix the issue. However, with a converged toolchain, that help desk worker can automatically create an alert for the developer of that system. Then the developer is able to quickly see the bug, begin working on a hot fix and send a note back to the end user with an estimated time of completion. All of this is completed within the workflow of the converged toolchain and without anyone having to physically chase down another person for answers.
By restricting themselves to only living in silos, most organizations have created a problem when it comes to communication and workflow across teams. Instead of working on items that deliver value to their customers, teams are spending a considerable amount of time on hand-offs. While it is important to know where a project stands, teams should be focused on delivering value to the customer, not gathering status updates.
The days of living with this kind of fragmented visibility into the application development and delivery process is not acceptable anymore. Every organization’s toolchain should be focused on removing execution barriers and automating the development and continuous delivery process. In order to achieve this kind of success, teams need to be able to work with full transparency in their tool of choice while also being able to see the broader context of how their work fits in to the rest of the toolchain. With a well-designed, integrated and automated DevOps toolchain, development and operations team members are able to work together with common objectives and metrics to ensure quality, on-time application delivery to the customer.