Concurrent development of consecutive releases

Concurrent Development?

Your company wants a stream of major functionality to arrive in the application you are pushing live at a regular cadence. Because you are good Extreme Programmers, you know that consecutive development of consecutive releases is best. However, the effort and length of time needed to complete each major piece of functionality is large enough to require different project teams cooperating towards that plan. Some of those teams will be within the same codebase. Some may dependent building services that the application will invoke over the wire. Not everything is equal effort it seems, yet the business wants a specific rollout, including dates and can plan that even eighteen months ahead. They are very specific because there is an impact on the user community (staff, clients, customers or members of the public). Driving departments may include training, marketing, finance.


What you have got is the perfect setup for disaster born from the random bad news events. Things that can and do happen in software development.

Or perhaps one thing was underestimated by 50% and that is realized later rather than sooner. Should all of the following releases slip too, assuming the company did not attempt to throw bodies at it in an attempt to solve it? We all know of Fred Brook’s Mythical Man-Month and Edward Yourdon’s Death March.

Reorder Releases?

One compelling answer is to change the order of releases. To the business, that could be a relief even if it requires re-planning and problems around marketing/education given the impacted staff, clients, customers or members of the public.


The trouble is that the development teams might have to face a selective un-merge or commenting-out frenzy to support that, depending on what had merged already. Different branching models have different merge impacts and are either early or late in terms of keenness for the act of merging. That in itself is disruptive to the business, as they fear and probably witness additional delays because of the retooling and new-found nerves.

Flags, abstractions, and pipelines

If your team has institutionalized Trunk-Based Development, Feature Flags pluggable components based on abstractions (not a world apart from Branch by Abstraction), it is in a perfect position to reorder releases, and only have a small impact on the throughput of the development team.

Case study

In a real-life case study for an airline in 2012, late in development for the planned release a partner said that they could not, in fact, meet that date. Their side of the integration was not going to be ready. The airline was code complete but now had to reorder releases. The development team’s management feared some downtime while the mess was sorted out. The team in question was able to spin up a new CI pipeline, with the flags/toggles flipped to show the new permutation of features. The new CI pipeline confirmed what they had already seen on the command-line build, that there were failures in the automated tests (and something in a page did not quite look right anyway). A couple of quick fixes later, and the development team assured the airline’s management that the releases could reasonably happen in any order.

Choosing Trunk-Based Development, Feature Flags and Branch by Abstraction could be said to be a hedging strategy against the costs of larger scheduling changes.

Consecutive development of consecutive releases is by far superior!

Every high throughput Extreme Programming team will tell you that finishing and shipping a release before starting work as a team on the next releasable slice of work is much better than attempting to do concurrent development of consecutive releases. Sure, some teammates (PM, BA, tech leads) are looking a couple of weeks ahead to make sure that everything is ready for development and QA automation on a just in time basis but the majority of the dev team will only pick up new release work as the previous one has been pushed into production.

References elsewhere

show references

19 Mar 2013, Blog Entry
The Cost of Unmerge
14 Jul 2013, Blog Entry
Legacy Application Strangulation: Case Studies
10 Oct 2014, Conference Talk
Trunk-Based Development in the Enterprise - Its Relevance and Economics