Behaviorally Speaking – Process and Quality
By Bob Aiello
Configuration Management places a strong focus on process and quality so sometimes I am shocked to learn that CM experts know so little about the underlying principles of CM that so clearly impact process and quality. I find this to be the case in organization whether they embrace agile methodologies or and so-called non-agile approaches such as waterfall. While many of my colleagues are expert build, release or deployment engineers, still there are those who do not understand the underlying principles that focus so heavily on process and quality. This article will help you enhance your existing CM Best Practices by applying the core principles that deliver excellent process and quality. We will also take a moment and make sure that we get our terminology straight.
So what exactly does it mean to have a process? There are many times when I hear colleagues say, “well our process is …” while referring to a set of activities that I would never really consider to be a “process”. My favorite authoritative resource is the free IEEE online dictionary called Sevocab  which describes a process
as a “set of interrelated or interacting activities which transforms inputs into outputs.” Sevocab also notes that the term “activities” covers use of resources and a process may have multiple starting points and multiple end points. I like to use Sevocab because it also notes the standard (e.g. IEEE) or framework (e.g. ITIL) where the term is used which can be very helpful for understanding the term within a specific context. I usually describe a process as a well defined way of doing a particular set of activities and it is worth noting that a well defined process is implicitly repeatable.
In configuration management, we often focus on creating processes to support the application build, release and deployment engineering. It is essential that all processes be automated or at least “semi-automated” – which means that the script proceed through each step, although perhaps requiring someone to verify each
step based upon the information on the screen. Scripting the entire release process ensures that process is repeatable and that errors are avoided. An error free process also helps to also ensure that we achieve a quality result. Manual procedures will always be sources of errors and mistakes. Automating the step, even if you need some human intervention will go a long way towards improving your process and quality.
Sevocab defines Quality as the degree to which a system, component, or process meets specified requirements and the ability of a product, service, system, component, or process to meet customer or user needs, expectations, or requirements. Configuration Management principles help to ensure quality. Here are
some of the guiding principles for source code management:
1. Code is locked down and can never be lost
2. Code is baselined marking a specific milestone or other point in time
3. Managing variants in the code should be easy with proper branching
4. Code changed on a branch (variant) can be merged back onto the main trunk (or another variant)
5. Source Code Management processes are repeatable
6. Source Code Management provides traceability and tracking of all changes
7. Source Code Management best practices help improve productivity and quality
Regardless of the version control tool that you are using these principles will help you manage your code better and the result is better quality. Here are some principles as they relate to build engineering:
1. Builds are understood and repeatable
2. Builds are fast and reliable
3. Every configuration item is identifiable
4. The source and compile dependencies can be easily determined
5. Code should be built once and deployed anywhere
6. Build anomalies are identified and managed in an acceptable way
7. The cause of broken builds is quickly and easily identified (and fixed)
You will find principles for each of the core configuration management functions in my book on Configuration Management Best Practices , but the ones listed above for source code management and build engineering will help you get started improving both process and quality.
Process and Quality are essential for the success of any technology development effort. Implementing the core configuration management best practices of source code management, build engineering, environment management, change control, release management and deployment will help you successfully develop
software and systems while maximizing productivity and quality!
2. Aiello, Robert and Leslie Sachs. Configuration Management Best Practices: Practical Methods that Work in the Real World. Addison-Wesley, 2011