DT Consulting and partner to support a global company to optimise benefits from migration to Agile SCRUM and Microsoft TFS

Introduction

Dunstan Thomas Consulting and one of their partners recently cemented a two year collaboration by working together to support a household name organisation to migrate from Waterfall to Agile SCRUM methodology and move its software development onto Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS).  The results have been dramatic for the global client, kick-starting a full transition to Agile SCRUM which has already tripled the software development team’s productivity.

The transformation sees a 25-strong team moving from quarterly to monthly and eventually weekly release cycles; and from cumbersome, error-prone manual release processes to automated software builds and tests using the power of TFS and associated tools including Microsoft Test Manager and Coded UI.

Dunstan Thomas Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) background

Dunstan Thomas Consulting provides training, consulting, products and tools for ALM, custom software development services and outsourced software support services.  The company employs 35 staff at its headquarters in Portsmouth and has outsourced software development partners in Malta and Romania.

Dunstan Thomas Consulting provides a comprehensive range of services to support the software development teams – helping companies optimise their valuable in-house software development resources. It also provide consultancy on best practices and assists businesses to outsource software development or IT support activities if required.

Dunstan Thomas Consulting is renowned for being at the forefront of the software development industry and employs a mix of highly skilled, highly experienced staff that all have a track record of achievement within the industry.

Many of Dunstan Thomas Consulting’s staff are certified practitioners across the major software development methodologies such as Agile SCRUM and the majority are also software developers trained and practising developers in a number of programming languages.  As Dunstan Thomas Consulting develops software for clients, it uses all of the tools that it promotes, to deliver a ‘best-of-breed’ approach for all clients – using tools from analysis and design through to quality testing.

Dunstan Thomas consultants and trainers bring a wealth of practical experience to each of their projects. They understand the technical and business challenges that a project presents, whether this is transferring a software support process to an outsourced operation or developing new software.  The business works with a range of clients from across a range of industry sectors with deep vertical knowledge in financial services, energy and telecoms.

Working together

Dunstan Thomas recently collaborated with partners on a training and consultancy assignment to support a 25-strong software development team within a global organisation, which offers workplace healthcare services.  The results were impressive:

Client challenges

The organisation’s software development team has grown quickly from eight people when the company started in 2006 up to 25 staff today. THE COMPANY originally used the Waterfall methodology for building software along with Microsoft Visual Source Safe for source code control and Microsoft Test Track Pro for bug tracking and fixes.

However as the business grew regular quarterly software release cycles were increasingly being disrupted by additional requests from the business.  The team found the Waterfall methodology was making it difficult to handle these hot fixes and emergency additions because of the absence of version control or branching capabilities within the process.

Luisa Partridge, director of sales at Dunstan Thomas Consulting, explained:

“In order to make changes they had to roll back to earlier releases to fix code and then roll forward to the latest version of code. It was time-consuming and fiddly work. They also found that Test Track Pro was not well suited to collecting user stories that would allow us to pro-actively search out bugs to fix.”

The client’s software development team also had to do a great deal of manual processing of code releases. This exposed the team to human error in the process of capturing code changes and then putting them into the next release. All developers, once they had finished making their code changes, had to summarise them in release notes written in Microsoft Word files which were sent onto the release engineer with links to other files. This engineer then had to go through literally hundreds of these release notes and apply them to the build.

The software build phase as a result could take up to five days and was beset by errors. If a developer forgot to attach a file in his release note this would often throw up exceptions which further delayed the release. It could then take several more weeks to complete the testing and fixing phase.  Altogether it could easily take two months to complete each quarterly release. This meant that building and testing had become a serious bottleneck in the software development process.  They needed a new methodology to enable faster, more efficient software development and meet changing business requirements.

Joint solution

After exploring a full range of options for software methodology and toolsets, the organisation selected Microsoft’s Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server (TFS) and the Agile SCRUM.  It was clear that the team would need support to make the transition from the Waterfall methodology to the Agile SCRUM and from its existing requirements gathering and testing tools to the new TFS-based ones.

Because the software development team operated on both sides of the Atlantic and was at that time managed from London it made sense to find a UK-based TFS specialist IT consultancy to partner with. Dunstan Thomas Consulting was selected in the middle of 2011 and training and consultancy requirements were scoped before delivery from December.

When Dunstan Thomas Consulting’s team arrived the transition to TFS was already under way and all code had been ported to three build servers on Virtual Machines.

Luisa Partridge explained the initial task that Dunstan Thomas Consulting’s TFS and Agile SCRUM specialist team took on:

“Initially we worked with the client to teach them how to better manage the release management process using branching, TFS’s version management system. This works by organising code into a number of branches which makes it easier to isolate and fix code changes without having to roll back the whole platform to make those changes. We then helped the client to automate this branching process.”

Once the release management process had been optimised and the goal of automating builds had been reached Dunstan Thomas Consulting’s team , worked with the organisation’s business analysts and project managers, to capture requirements in the form of ‘user stories’ in Agile 5.0 format.

User stories are considered a much more efficient and proactive way of capturing user requirements as they help eliminate any mismatch between what the business wants and the actual user experience that the technology delivers. Dunstan Thomas Consulting trainers also completed in-depth TFS administration training on the configuration, customisation and optimisation of TFS.

Dunstan Thomas Consulting trainers went on to mentor the firm’s IT team on how to manage sprints and run shorter release cycles in accordance with Agile SCRUM methodology.  The company was then able to begin the transition from quarterly to monthly release cycles.

Dunstan Thomas then brought in a partner to deliver further training on testing the company’s  software once built. The partner’s  training covered the use of Microsoft’s testing and automation tools, notably Microsoft Test Manager, Coded UI, performance and load testing.

The partner firm also worked alongside Dunstan Thomas’ training and consulting team to ensure that TFS had been configured and deployed properly so that the test team could use TFS and the features of Microsoft’s testing tools to collaborate effectively with the client’s developers using the new methodology.

The partner firm also provided training and mentoring to the developers and testers of the client’s 25-strong software development team on the use of these testing tools so that they became proficient in the use of the tools going forward.

The Director of the partner firm explains the value of mastering Microsoft’s testing tools:

“The testing tools inside TFS are revolutionising the way software is developed – reducing project timescales but also improving communication between the software development team and project sponsors within the business.”

“Testing can add huge value within the ALM process but for this to work to its full potential, testing tools need to be there to support it. Microsoft is leading the charge by providing a true ALM tool which integrates with  assets created by developers and business analysts while fully supporting agile development processes.  Total traceability from requirements, through code to testcases and bugs   bugs can be  delivered by TFS today. Continuous integration with code, test and deploy being automated has never been easier.”

He added:

“TFS can now effectively spot and highlight the lines of codes which contain bugs. This can be exported and relevant developers alerted. The developer can right click to look at the code and attach it for sending on if necessary. This is unique to TFS.”

Results

Previously the client was taking up to two months to complete release cycles. Now that TFS is fully embedded in this client’s software development team it is able to complete monthly update cycles in less than two weeks. Efficiencies have been found at every stage from requirement gathering using user stories; through automated release management, build, testing and fixing before completion and go live.

The head of the client’s software development team summarised:

“Thanks to our work with Dunstan Thomas Consulting and their partner we’ve been able to move from quarterly to monthly release cycles and are planning towards weekly cycles. We can now deploy new releases in a couple of hours – it used to take over a week before we moved to TFS. Taken together with our migration from Waterfall to the Agile SCRUM methodology and moving from Test Track Pro to Microsoft Test Manager has engendered a night and day difference in terms of my team’s productivity.”

“We’ve gone from a largely manual software development system to one where the sweat is taken out of it. We think productivity levels have already tripled and that’s before all the benefits of Agile SCRUM have been fully realised. We can now focus on really adding value to the business.”

The team has used these productivity gains to use its spare capacity to get closer to the business, pro-actively searching out business requirements which it can then meet by delivering updated software much faster. It is also able to report back quickly on the progress of software development activity to product and marketing managers. TFS provides out of the box reports which track defect fix rates, code churn, progress on user stories and, as SCRUM becomes applied more rigorously, sprint progress and burn-down charts.

Greater transparency on progress and timings for new releases has led to greater confidence in the team across the business. Expectations are now being managed more effectively and the software development team is rarely fire fighting as it often was before.  Reporting capability has been further improved through the deployment of management information tool Telerik Teampulse which integrates with TFS to provide executives with a high-level view of the progress of software development projects in a language they understand.

Future

“This client plans to port requirements and test cases into TFS to increase efficiencies in testing further.  They are not raising rich-actionable bugs yet but this is a declared objective for this client’s software development team by the end of 2012.  Once the company’s testing process is fully mature then continuous integration, with nightly builds and automated tests, will become a reality.” Partner Director.

The company is also moving rapidly towards widespread application of Agile SCRUM which will see its development and testing teams working even more closely than they are today. Release cycles will be able to move from monthly to weekly cycles as sprints become the key forum for running software development projects.

Greater automation in the build and testing stages will create further efficiencies and ensure that the team can continue to cope with a workload that is currently expanding month on month.

Summary

Following the success of this joint engagement Dunstan Thomas Consulting are looking for new opportunities to work with their partners.

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