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Eliminating Waste from Oracle BPM and SOA Projects

Today every business is a digital business, where the value that the business delivers to its customers, either through its products and / or services is increasingly derived from the software “systems” that underpins them.

The end service delivered to the customer is not performed by a single system; but rather a patchwork of applications, each one performing a particular business function. Oracle Middleware components, such as the Oracle BPM Suite and Oracle SOA Suite, provide the application platform to combine these business apps, like puzzle pieces, into an integrated solution in order to deliver a seamless and unified experience to the customer.

Organizations are in a digital race, where the speed at which IT can reliably deliver new features and innovations is what sets them apart from their competition. Yet in most organizations, IT projects are failing to deliver, either on-time or on-budget.

"Studies have shown that software specialists spend about 40 to 50 percent of their time on avoidable rework rather than on what they call value-added work, which is basically work that's done right the first time..." - Robert Charette, IEEE Spectrum, Sept. 2005

The Need to Eliminate Waste

Removing waste in software development can result in significant cost savings, but more importantly, it can reduce the length of the software development lifecycle, allowing businesses to deliver solutions faster to market. Improving an organisations innovation, competitiveness, and responsiveness in the marketplace.

Within SOA and BPM projects, there are many forms of waste, but some of the biggest causes of waste include:

  • Manual Build and Deployment of Code is Error Prone
  • Late Integration
  • Test Teams Idle
  • Defects Discovered Late in Delivery

Manual Build and Deployment of Code is Error Prone

Manually building and deploying code is a resource intensive and highly error prone process; ask anyone to perform a task tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times and you will find that there are inconsistencies / errors; this is further compounded by the fact that in most organizations there are different individuals and teams performing these tasks in each environment.

An incorrect deployment is one of the most common causes of issues when promoting code into a staging environment. Small errors, such as misconfiguration of a middleware component, can cause issues that are difficult to diagnose and rectify, often requiring many days / weeks of man effort to resolve. As a result, we’re often left with a situation where deployed code fails to work, with the all too familiar expression;

“Well, it worked in my environment!”

These are not one-off issues, but rather a steady drip, drip, drip of issues through all stages of the project lifecycle, resulting in many months of wasted man effort to resolve and lost productivity; leading to missed milestones, project delays and the inevitable cost blow out.

Late Integration

Since manual builds are so time consuming, stressful, and error prone, the natural tendency in a project is to minimize the number of releases into each staging environment, and delay these until late in the project when the code in theory will be more stable.

Software components implemented in isolation are full of assumptions about the other components with which it will be integrated. Leaving integration towards the end is a high risk strategy, since issues with core architecture or design patterns, for example, may not be exposed until a project is almost completed.

This is especially the case for Oracle SOA and BPM projects, which involve integrating multiple systems together; it is a common mistake for all parties to agree on the interfaces between the systems and then go off and code independently (often for months), with a false sense of security that this is sufficient to avoid the worst issues when it comes to integrate these pieces together.

System integration and testing is then carried out towards the end of the project, just prior to going into User Acceptance Testing (UAT). Correcting invalid assumptions discovered at this stage in the lifecycle can result in significant time delays, be very costly and may even require significant areas of the code base to be re-written.

Test Teams Idle

One of the biggest wastes in software development is time spent waiting for things to happen. An area where this happens all too regularly is testing.

As previously mentioned, System Integration Testing (SIT) is often pushed back until late in the project, with developers cutting code up until the day before SIT is due to begin. At the eleventh hour, the build is run and the code deployed into the SIT environment, ready for testing to begin.

Unfortunately, for reasons already highlighted, the first delivery into SIT rarely goes smoothly, often requiring weeks or even months of elapsed effort by the development team to get the application to a state where testing can be performed. During this time, the test team is forced to stand by idle.

Once the first release into SIT has been successfully completed, it is not the end of the issue. Since manual builds and deployments are error prone, it means that process of deploying each subsequent release so that it is ready and fit for testing can be arduous. The deployed code will often fail basic “smoke” tests and require extensive troubleshooting and fixing before it’s ready to be tested, again with the test team left helpless on the sidelines.

Apart from wasting significant amounts of the test team’s time, the time spent troubleshooting the release is wasting developer time that should be spent on writing the code that delivers business value.

Defects Discovered Late in Delivery

Test teams are caught between a rock and a hard place; with each test cycle starting late for reasons outside of their control, yet the milestones for completing each round of testing remain fixed due to project pressures.
Squeezing the testing into a reduced timeframe, means the overall coverage and quality of testing is compromised, resulting in more defects going undetected in each round of testing.

The net effect is that defects are discovered later in the development cycle, or worse, make it into production. It is well known that the longer these defects remain undiscovered, the more effort it takes to troubleshoot and fix, resulting in significant project delays.

The business is frustrated when “development complete” code can’t be released, or unreliable code not fit for purpose is pushed into production – leading to the inevitable fallout and fire-fighting.

Continuous Delivery for Oracle BPM and SOA

The goal of continuous delivery is to help software development teams drive waste out of their process by simultaneously automating the process of software delivery and reducing the batch size of their work. This allows organizations to rapidly, reliably, and repeatedly deliver software enhancements faster, with less risk and less cost.

Applying Continuous Delivery in the development of Oracle Middleware projects can deliver significant reductions in development time and costs.

Download White Paper

In subsequent posts I will go into further details on how we can apply continuous delivery to Oracle BPM and SOA projects. Click here download a white paper on Best Practice for Implementing Continuous Delivery for Oracle Middleware.