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Build First: Fast-Paced Software Delivery on Agency Timelines

Posted 17 April 2015 10:00 AM by Keith Morris

A couple of years ago within Moxie’s engineering practice, we drove a few philosophical stakes into the ground to propel our practice to be (1) Repeatable, (2) Reliable, (3) Predictable, (4) Innovative and (5) Strategic. To help address the first three ideals, we took a long and detailed look at our software development methodology. We basically put everything on the table for review, including source control management (SCM), hardware environments, automated build management and automated deployment strategies, as well as the human processes that support these systems.

We ultimately landed on a methodology where we consider and address one item before any other: How to automate the building and deployment of a project prior to beginning any development on the project itself. While refining our approach, we came across Nicolas Bevacqua’s book, "JavaScript Application Design," which touts a similar method. In his writings, Bevacqua uses the term “Build First” and emphasizes the mantra “Build Early, Build Always.” His summarization really resonated with us; it now serves as the yardstick by which we measure our readiness to progress to the development of the actual marketing requirements of the software, on a project-by-project basis.

Moxie’s Build First approach requires leveraging the same process that builds and deploys software to our production environments throughout the entire development cycle — from the developer's local machine all the way to the live production environments. This ensures that (1) the build and deployment process is repeated hundreds of times throughout the development cycle and (2) that any issues that might arise are identified and addressed as early as possible.

So What Does This Mean for Digital Marketing?

The digital marketing landscape changes quickly. Consumers demand increasingly integrated experiences with less friction. They want to get things done quickly and don't want barriers getting in the way. As a result, digital marketers need to find new and innovative ways to engage their customers without impeding them. Subsequently, marketers must watch user behavior, listen to feedback and respond rapidly and accordingly. 

Suffice it to say that the days of four-month development cycles for large-scale tactical digital projects are over. When engaging with user experience (UX) teams, marketers should seek to identify the "Least Viable Product" to deliver to their users. This means finding and focusing on the fewest core features that provide the most value to their target audience — and launching those as quickly as possible. Then, after initial launch, the analytics and UX teams work together to identify refinements and feature additions that should be made to better engage the customer. By using a Build First approach to development, these feature enhancements and refinements can be brought to market very quickly with minimal risk through weekly, or even daily, software releases. 

The ability to respond instantly to user behavior and feedback, as well as changes in the market, is of utmost importance. In the time since we have fully rolled out our Build First approach, it has far exceeded our expectations in regards to agility, team fluidity, speed to market and decreased risk. Prior to its implementation, deployments were an error-prone, manual process that took place in the wee hours of the morning. Now, many of our deployments can be executed during business hours — with the push of a button — and with little to no interaction with the infrastructure team. This has enabled us to make great strides in our continual efforts toward processes that are repeatable, reliable and predictable.

Tools of the Trade

The core of Moxie’s Build First approach is GIT managed through Atlassian's Stash, with build tasks run with Gulp.js and Jenkins for our continuous integration and deployment orchestration. We use this setup for building everything from front-end JavaScript concatenation and minification and LESS/SASS compilation to full .NET MSBuild configuration, unit testing and deployment.

What are you using?

About the Author

Keith Morris is Director of Development at Moxie. When he’s not geeking out on software development or DevOps automation, he loves playing bluegrass music, making soap, cooking barbeque and hanging out with his lovely family. Find him on Twitter @keithmorris or blogging at https://standupbass.wordpress.com/ 

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