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What 108M Lines of Code do not Tell Us

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Source: Nemo

Coming on the heels of Gartner’s research note projecting $1 trillion in IT Debt by 2015, CAST’s study provided a more granular view of the debt, estimating an average of over $1 million in technical debt per application in a sample of 288 applications. Between these two studies, the situation examined at the micro-level seems to be quite consistent with the state of affairs estimated and projected at the macro-level.

My hunch is that the gravity of the situation from a software quality and maintenance perspective is actually masked by efforts of IT staffs to compensate for programming problems through operational excellence. For example, carefully staged deployment and quick rollback often enable coping with defects that could/should have been handled through higher test coverage, lesser complexity or a more acceptable level of code duplication.

Part of the reason that the masking effects of IT staffs are not always fully appreciated is that they are embedded in the business design of IT Outsourcing companies. The company to which you outsourced your IT is ‘making a bet’ it can run your IT better than you can. It often succeeds in so doing. The unresolved defects in your old code plus those that evolved over time through software decay have not necessarily been fixed. Rather, the manifestations of these defects are  handled operationally in a more efficient manner.

Think again if your visceral reaction to the technical debt situation described in the Gartner research note and the CAST study is of the “This can’t possibly be true” variety. It is what it is – just take a quick look at Nemo to see representative technical debt data with your own eyes. And, as indicated in this post, it might even be worse than what it looks. As Gartner puts it:

The results of such [IT Debt] an assessment will be, at best, unsettling and, at worst, truly shocking.

Technical Debt Assessment, Sterling Barton LLC and the Moussaka

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A few month ago Chris Sterling and I were carrying out a Cutter Technical Debt Assessment and Valuation engagement for a venture capitalist who was considering a certain company. We discovered various things in the code of this company. More noteworthy, my deep domain expertise led to Chris discovering the great Greek dish Moussaka.

I have eaten a lot of good Moussakas over the years. Even against this solid gastronomic background I can’t forget how the eyes of Chris lit up when he took the first bite. It took him only a tiny little time to get on his iPhone and tweet on the culinary aspects of our engagement. I then knew it was going to be a very successful engagement…

The relationship with Chris deepened since this episode. For example, in collaboration with Brent Barton Chris contributed a great article to the forthcoming issue of the Cutter IT Journal on Technical Debt. In this article Chris and Brent  demonstrate how technical debt techniques can be applied at the portfolio level. They make the reader step into the shoes of the project portfolio planner and walk him through their approach to enhancing the decision-making process by using the software debt dashboard.

Chris has just published an excellent post entitled “Using Sonar Metrics to Assess Promotion of Builds to Downstream Environments” in Getting Agile and was kind enough to suggest I cross-post it in The Agile Executive. Here it is (please note that the examples given below by Chris have nothing to do with the engagement described above):

“For those of you that don’t already know about Sonar you are missing an important tool in your quality assessment arsenal. Sonar is an open source tool that is a foundational platform to manage your software’s quality. The image below shows one of the main dashboard views that teams can use to get insights into their software’s health.

The dashboard provides rollup metrics out of the box for:

  • Duplication (probably the biggest Design Debt in many software projects)
  • Code coverage (amount of code touched by automated unit tests)
  • Rules compliance (identifies potential issues in the code such as security concerns)
  • Code complexity (an indicator of how easy the software will adapt to meet new needs)
  • Size of codebase (lines of code [LOC])

Before going into how to use these metrics to assess whether to promote builds to downstream environments, I want to preface the conversation with the following note:

Code analysis metrics should NOT be used to assess teams and are most useful when considering how they trend over time

Now that we have this important note out-of-the-way and, of course, nobody will ever use these metrics for “evil”, lets discuss pulling data from Sonar to automate assessments of builds for promotion to downstream environments. For those that are unfamiliar with automated promotion, here is a simple, happy example:

A development team makes some changes to the automated tests and implementation code on an application and checks their changes into source control. A continuous integration server finds out that source control artifacts have changed since the last time it ran a build cycle and updates its local artifacts to incorporate the most recent changes. The continuous integration server then runs the build by compiling, executing automated tests, running Sonar code analysis, and deploying the successful deployment artifact to a waiting environment usually called something like “DEV”. Once deployed, a set of automated acceptance tests are executed against the DEV environment to validate that basic aspects of the application are still working from a user perspective. Sometime after all of the acceptance tests pass successfully (this could be twice a day or some other timeline that works for those using downstream environments), the continuous integration server promotes the build from the DEV environment to a TEST environment. Once deployed, the application might be running alongside other dependent or sibling applications and integration tests are run to ensure successful deployment. There could be more downstream environments such as PERF (performance), STAGING, and finally PROD (production).

The tendency for many development teams and organizations is that if the tests pass then it is good enough to move into downstream environments. This is definitely an enormous improvement over extensive manual testing and stabilization periods on traditional projects. An issue that I have still seen is the slow introduction of software debt as an application is developed. Highly disciplined technical practices such as Test-Driven Design (TDD) and Pair Programming can help stave off extreme software debt but these practices are still not common place amongst software development organizations. This is not usually due to lack of clarity about these practices, excessive schedule pressure, legacy code, and the initial hurdle to learning how to do these practices effectively. In the meantime, we need a way to assess the health of our software applications beyond just tests passing and in the internals of the code and tests themselves. Sonar can be easily added into your infrastructure to provide insights into the health of your code but we can go even beyond that.

The Sonar Web Services API is quite simple to work with. The easiest way to pull information from Sonar is to call a URL:

http://nemo.sonarsource.org/api/resources?resource=248390&metrics=technical_debt_ratio

This will return an XML response like the following:

  248390
  com.adobe:as3corelib
  AS3 Core Lib
  AS3 Core Lib
  PRJ
  TRK
  flex
  1.0
  2010-09-19T01:55:06+0000

    technical_debt_ratio
    12.4
    12.4%

Within this XML, there is a section called  that includes the value of the metric we requested in the URL, “technical_debt_ratio”. The ratio of technical debt in this Flex codebase is 12.4%. Now with this information we can look for increases over time to identify technical debt earlier in the software development cycle. So, if the ratio to increase beyond 13% after being at 12.4% 1 month earlier, this could tell us that there is some technical issues creeping into the application.

Another way that the Sonar API can be used is from a programming language such as Java. The following Java code will pull the same information through the Java API client:

Sonar sonar = Sonar.create("http://nemo.sonarsource.org");
Resource commons = sonar.find(ResourceQuery.createForMetrics("248390",
        "technical_debt_ratio"));
System.out.println("Technical Debt Ratio: " +
        commons.getMeasure("technical_debt_ratio").getFormattedValue());

This will print “Technical Debt Ratio: 12.4%” to the console from a Java application. Once we are able to capture these metrics we could save them as data to trend in our automated promotion scripts that deploy builds in downstream environments. Some guidelines we have used in the past for these types of metrics are:

  • Small changes in a metric’s trend does not constitute immediate action
  • No more than 3 metrics should be trended (the typical 3 I watch for Java projects are duplication, class complexity, and technical debt)
  • The development should decide what are reasonable guidelines for indicating problems in the trends (such as technical debt +/- .5%)

In the automated deployment scripts, these trends can be used to stop deployment of the next build that passed all of its tests and emails can be sent to the development team regarding the metric culprit. From there, teams are able to enter the Sonar dashboard and drill down into the metric to see where the software debt is creeping in. Also, a source control diff can be produced to go into the email showing what files were changed between the successful builds that made the trend go haywire. This might be a listing per build and the metric variations for each.

This is a deep topic that this post just barely introduces. If your organization has a separate configuration management or operations group that managed environment promotions beyond the development environment, Sonar and the web services API can help further automate early identification of software debt in your applications before they pollute downstream environments.”

Thank you, Chris!

A Good Start Point for Devops – Guest Post by Peter McGarahan

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevepj2009/3461077400/

Many of the devops posts in this blog were written from a dev perspective. Today’s guest post by Peter McGarahan examines the topic from the ops perspective. It is inspired by the following eloquent quip about change:

Assume we’re starting from scratch. Assume that we actually are a startup that doesn’t have over a hundred years of experience and sub-optimized IT legacy.

A few biographical details for readers who might not know Peter or know of him. Peter J. McGarahan is the founder and president of McGarahan & Associates, an IT Service Management consulting and training organization.  Peter offers 27 years of IT and Business Service Management experience in optimizing and aligning the service and support organizations of the Fortune 1000 to deliver value against business objectives. His thought leadership has influenced the maturity and image of the service and support industry. His passion for customer service led the Taco Bell support organization to achieve the Help Desk Institute Team Excellence Award in 1995. IT Support News named him one of the “Top 25 Professionals in the Service and Support Industry” in 1999.  Support professionals voted McGarahan “The Legend of the Year” in 2002 and again in 2004 at the Service Desk Professionals conference for his endless energy, mentoring and leadership coaching. As a practitioner, product manager and support industry analyst and expert, McGarahan has left his service signature on the support industry / community.

Here is Peter:

As a former Director of Infrastructure & Operations (I&O), I found it beneficial to establish a respectful working relationship with my Development Colleagues. It was important for the accountable leaders to better understand the objectives, workings and success metrics of each team. It was also critical for the leader to establish the ‘rules of engagement’ for how each team would assist each other in achieving their stated objectives (success metrics). It certainly helped to have an IT / Business leader who established a cooperative / collaborative teamwork culture. She also supported it with shared IT / Business objectives and performance goals for all accountable IT leaders. The I&O team certainly benefited from a CIO who understood the importance of customer service, the value of support and the business impact (negative IT perception) caused by repetitive incidents, problems and service disruptions. It was a game changing day for I&O when the CIO announced that all accountable leaders would have half of their performance objectives (bonus compensation) based on the success metrics of the I&O team.

In working with Infrastructure & Operations organizations, it has become apparent that as we continue to implement, measure and continuously improve the IT Infrastructure Library v3 (ITIL) processes, we must simultaneously address how we focus on all things new! In a recent Cutter Executive Update entitled IT’s Change Imperative, I relate lessons learned from my conversations with Geir Ramleth, CIO of Bechtel and Ron Griffin, Senior VP of Applications for Hewlett-Packard. Their leadership, vision and courage inspired me to think differently about how IT can better work together for the benefit of the business. In the end, the only success that matters – is the continued growth and profitability of the business. A summary of their change success stories:

  • Hewlett-Packard CIO Randy Mott hired the right people to implement his IT strategy and change plan that included building, consolidating and automating its data centers; transferred work in-house from contractors; standardized on only a quarter of its apps; and built one central data warehouse — all while cutting spending in half.
  • Geir Ramleth, CIO of Bechtel described how he used cloud computing principles to transform IT and make Bechtel’s computing environment more agile. He had a vision of allowing Bechtal’s global employees access to the right resources at any place at any time with any device – delivered securely and cost-effectively. He encouraged his IT people to step outside their comfort zones and do things in a different way. He resisted modifying the current state and went with the transformational change fearing they would only wind-up incrementally better. In targeting a desired end state, he gave his team guiding instructions to “Assume we’re starting from scratch. Assume that we actually are a startup that doesn’t have over a hundred years of experience and sub-optimized IT legacy.”

In the spirit of change, we should challenge ourselves to develop shared ‘devops’ goals / objectives. In the end, these should help us identify, link and realize how to translate IT objectives / metrics into tangible business benefits / value.

I have listed some shared ‘devops’ goals / objectives that I believe are a good starting point. I encourage and invite your thoughts, opinions and ideas around these and any others that you feel would aid ‘devops’ in working to establish measurable business value credibility.

  1. Lower the total cost of ownership of all services (best way to achieve this is build them with serviceability, usability and maintainability in the design of all new applications, systems and services).
  2. Increase business value – achieve business benefits (lower operational costs, increased revenues, improved customer experience)
  • Simplified navigation
  • Productivity enhancing capabilities /functionality
  • Plug ‘n play integration
  • Personalization
  • Training / On-line Self-help features

3. Minimize business impact

  • Reduce change-related outages / incidents.
  • Reduce number of problems / incidents / calls.
  • Reduce the number of requests / training-related calls / inquiries.
    • Provide insights and tracking to the number of Known errors / workarounds / knowledge articles (solutions).
  • Speed to resolution based on business prioritization model
    • Operating Level Agreement / Commitment between Single Point of Contact (SPOC) Service Desk and internal IT Service Providers based on response / resolution times / commitments.
    • Bug-fix Process:

- Provide insights into the ‘bug/fix/enhancement’ list and process with transparent visibility to business prioritization (needs / requirements / quantifiable benefits).

4. Improved and frequent Communication

  • A marketing / product launch / status update and awareness campaign.
    • Especially around rollout / enhancement time.

As If Another Proof Point Was Needed

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Annie Shum’s interview earlier this week gave readers of this blog a multi-dimensional view of imminent changes in IT. If you needed independent validation, it came yesterday through EMC’s Chuck Hollis words in the national solution provider GreenPages Technology Solutions’ 14th annual summit:

Vice President Global Marketing CTO Chuck Hollis Monday said the changes resulting from the storage giant’s own no-holds barred journey to the private cloud led to a decline in IT employee job satisfaction…

Hollis said the internal IT satisfaction drop came in the second phase of the EMC cloud revolution focused squarely on mission critical applications. That second phase — which EMC is in the midst of now — has sparked major changes in IT jobs as the company has replaced IT management, security staff and backend IT staff.

“During this phase, this is where org (organizational) chart issues started to come in,” Hollis said. “People’s jobs started to change. Younger people in the organization were being promoted over older people.”

As if another proof point to add to Annie‘s rigorous data was needed…

Written by israelgat

August 4, 2010 at 7:30 am

Boundary Objects in DevOps

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Boundary Object by Cherice.

Source: Flickr; Chrice‘s Photostream

The following recommendation was given in the post How to Initiate a Devops Project:

For a DevOps project, start by establishing the technical debt of the software to be released to operations. By so doing you build the foundations for collaboration between development and operations through shared data. In the devops context, the technical debt data form the basis for the creation and grooming of a unified backlog which includes various user stories from operations.

I would like to augment this recommendation with a suggestion with respect to the mindset during the initiation phase. Chances are the IT folks feel outnumbered by the dev folks. It might or might not be a matter of optics, but recognizing and appreciating this mindset is will help a lot in getting the devops project on track.

Here is a simple example I heard from a participant in the June 25 devops day in Mountain View, CA. The participant with whom I talked is an IT ops person who tries to get ops aligned with  fairly proficient Agile development teams. She is, however, constrained with respect to the IT ops resources available to her. She simply does not have the resources required to attend each and every Scrum meeting as 25 such meetings take place every day. She strongly feels “outnumbered.”

Various schemes could be devised to enable meaningful participation of ops in the Agile process. The more important thing though is to be fully sensitized to the “outnumbered” feeling. The extension of Agile principles to ops will not succeed at the face of such a feeling.

Discussing the subject with my friend Andrew Shafer, he mentioned the effectiveness of boundary objects in such cross-organizational situations:

Boundary objects are objects which are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites. They are weakly structured in common use, and become strongly structured in individual-site use. They may be abstract or concrete. They have different meanings in different social worlds but their structure is common enough to more than one world to make them recognizable means of translation. The creation and management of boundary objects is key in developing and maintaining coherence across intersecting social worlds. [Source: Wikipedia].

As an example, the boundary object for the situation described in this post could be a set of technical debt criteria that make the code eligible for deployment from a product life cycle perspective. By so doing, it shifts the dialog from the process to the outcome of the process. Instead of working on generating IT resources in an “outnumbered” mode, the energy shifts toward developing a working agreement on the intrinsic quality of the code to be deployed.

Some technical debt criteria that could form the core of a devops boundary object are mentioned in the post Technical Debt Meets Continuous Deployment. Corresponding criteria could be used in the boundary object to satisfy operational requirements which are critical to the proper functioning of the code. For example, a ceiling on configuration drift in IT could be established to ensure an adequate operating environment for the code. A boundary object that contains both technical debt criteria and configuration drift criteria satisfies different concerns – those of dev and those of ops – simultaneously.

Written by israelgat

July 6, 2010 at 6:44 am

Technical Debt Meets Continuous Deployment

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As you would expect in a conference entitled velocity, and in a follow-on devops day, speeding up things was an overarching theme. In the context of devops, the theme primarily manifested itself in lively discussions about the number of deploys per day. Comments such as the following reply to my post Ops Driven Dev were typical:

Conceptually, I move the whole business application configuration into the source code…

The theme that was missing for me in many of the presentations and discussions on the subject was the striking of a balance between velocity and quality. The classical trade-off in process control is between production rate and product quality (and safety, but that aspect [safety] is beyond the scope of this post). IMHO this trade-off applies to software just as it applies to mechanical or chemical processes.

The heart of the “deploy early and often” strategy hailed by advocates of continuous deployment is known deployment state to known deployment state. You don’t let the deployment evolve from one state to another before it has stabilized to a robust state. The power of this incremental deployment is in dealing with single-piece (or as small number of pieces as possible) flow rather than dealing with the effects of multiple-piece flow. When the deployment increments are small enough, rollback, root cause analysis and recovery are relatively straightforward if a deployment turns sour. It is a similar concept to Agile development, extending continuous integration to continuous deployment.

While I am wholeheartedly behind this devops strategy, I believe it needs to be reinforced through rigorous quality criteria the code must satisfy prior to deployment. The most straightforward way for so doing is through embedding technical debt criteria in the release/deploy process. For example:

  • The code will not be deployed unless the overall technical debt per line of code is lower than $2.
  • To qualify for deployment, code duplication levels must be kept under 8%.
  • Code whose Cyclomatic complexity per Java class is higher than 15 will not be accepted for deployment.
  • 50% unit test coverage is the minimal level required for deployment.
  • Many others…

I have no doubt whatsoever that code which does not satisfy these criteria might be successfully deployed in a short-term manner. The problem, however, is the accumulative effect over the long haul of successive deployments of code increments of inadequate quality. As Figure 1 demonstrates, a Java file with Cyclomatic complexity of 38 has a probability of 50% to be error-prone. If you do not stop it prior to deployment through technical debt criteria, it is likely to affect your customers and play havoc with your deployment quite a few times in the future. The fact that it did not do so during the first hour of deployment does not guarantee that such a  file will be “well-behaved” in the future.

mccabegraph.jpg

Figure 1: Error-proneness as a Function of Cyclomatic Complexity (Source: http://www.enerjy.com/blog/?p=198)

To attain satisfactory long-term quality and stability, you need both the right process and the right code. Continuous deployment is the “right process” if you have developed the deployment infrastructure to support it. The “right code” in this context is code whose technical debt levels are quantified and governed prior to deployment.

Devops: It is Not About ITIL, It is About Proficiency

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As you would expect, the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) topic was brought up in the devops day held last Friday in a LinkedIn facility in Mountain View, CA. We, of course, had the expected spectrum of opinions about ITIL in the context of devops – from “ITIL will never work for a true continuous development shop” to “well, you can make ITIL work under such circumstances.” Needless to say, a noticeable level of passion accompanied these two statements…

IMHO the heart of the issue is not ITIL per se but system management proficiency. If your system management proficiency is high, you are likely to be able to effectively respond to 10, 20 or 50 deploys per day. Conversely, if your system management proficiency is low, ops is not likely to be able to cope with high velocity in dev. The critical piece is alignment of velocities between dev and ops, not the method used to manage IT systems and services.  Whether you use ITIL, COBIT or your own home-grown set of best practices is irrelevant. Achieving alignment of velocities between dev and ops is a matter of proficiency in system management.

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