Software Maturity with Release Management

For most of my career, releasing new versions of software that I or others had written consisted of manually running scripts or copying files, maybe using an installer once in awhile, but that was rare. In many cases, the process of actually deploying the software involved a developer sitting with an operational person, especially if the operational person had been burned by previous deployments that were poorly executed. Once burned, you usually require the person building the scripts to be available when they are run.

That’s a poor way of managing the release of software. We write code to allow computers to repeat the instructions we’ve given them over and over. Computers are good at that, and they don’t make mistakes the third or fifth or hundredth time they execute the instructions. We might not give them the correct instructions, but computers don’t make mistakes and do execute what we code. If we find mistakes, we fix them and let the computer then execute them again.

However it seems that for many individuals that release software, they want to do it manually. Especially when the release is to just one machine (or database) inside their organization. And time and time again, I find that these people spend time building scripts, correcting them, and still finding mistakes it production deployments that they need to fix. Often these fixes are made on the fly, with no testing.

There’s a good mantra in software that if something is painful, do it more often. Make it easier with automation and execute it multiple times. Learn to code it better. There’s a whole industry that has grown up to help you release software more often, multiple times, and in a controlled manner. These are release management (RM) tools like Octopus Deploy and TFS Release Management. I’ve been using both of these internally, and I couldn’t imagine not using an RM tool at any point in the future. It should be easy to deploy software from one machine to another, and the process should be repeatable. That’s a sign of mature software development.

If you’re not using a RM tool, I’d urge you to check one out. Most let you get started for free, and a small Proof of Concept (POC) project is the way to get started. Once you learn the ins and outs of how you really deploy software, you will never want to do it manually again.

Steve Jones

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