4. The Snowball Effect
Once achieved, the effects of this objective of having minimal manual intervention ripple through and start a snowball effect.
At first, you gain efficiency — there is no checklist to go through when deploying, no time needed to spend doing the tedious steps of deployment; the computers will perform those steps as quickly as possible and always in the same order without skipping any of them or making the errors that humans usually do when performing tedious work.
With a click of a button, or on a certain event the deployment starts and while it runs the people from the team are free to do whatever they want in the time it takes to deploy: they can have a cup of coffee, can make small talk with a colleague, or can mind the more important business like the overall quality of the product they're working on.
Furthermore, besides efficiency you can gain speed — just by delegating the deployment process to computers you gain time because computers do boring stuff a lot quicker than humans.
With efficiency and speed comes reduced integration friction. A common effect of reduced integration friction is an increase in integration frequency. High integration frequency coupled with workflow automation leads to an increase in the number of deployments that are made.
And this is where the magic unravels.
Tight feedback loop
Once you automate the repetitive tasks you free-up the time of the QA engineer, which allows him/her to spend more time with the system(s) they are testing. In other words, the time gained through workflow automation is invested into the actual Quality Assurance of the system under test.
And when the QA engineer invests more time into the testing process, he/she will be able to spot more issues. With enough repetitions enabled by quick deployments, the QA engineer acquires a certain amount of skills which will enable him/her to spot defects faster. The sooner a defect is spotted, the sooner it is reported, and subsequently, the sooner it gets fixed.
We have a name for this thing — it's called a feedback loop. The feedback loop is not introduced by automation — it was long present in the project, but once workflow automation is introduced it tightens the feedback loop, which means we, as developers, have to wait less time to see the effects of the changes we introduced into the system. In our specific case, we have to wait less because workflow automation reduces the time of the deployment to QA environment to minimum.
Improved user experience
But wait, there's more! The time that the QA engineer gets to invest into growing his/her skills is spent using the system under test. With more time spent using the system under test, the QA engineer gets closer and closer to the mindset of the real users of the system. And while in this mindset, the QA engineer not only understands what the system does for the user but also understands what the user wants to do.
Of course, this understanding is bound by a certain maximum but nonetheless, the effect it has on the development process is enormous.
First and foremost, there is an increase in the quality of the system: when the QA engineers have a sound understanding of what the user wants to do they will make sure that the system indeed caters to the needs of its users. This in itself is a huge win for the users alone but this also benefits the entire team — the knowledge about the system gets disseminated within the whole team (including developers), and the Product Owner (PO) is not the bottleneck anymore.
Furthermore, with more time spent in the mindset of a user, the QA engineer will start striving for an improved user experience because he/she, like the real users of the system, will strive to do thing faster.
As such, the QA engineer starts suggesting some usability improvements of the system. These improvements are small — e.g., change the order of the menu items, add the ability to have custom shortcuts on the homepage etc, but they do improve the experience of the user.
Sure, all of those changes must be discussed with the team and approved by the PO but those who get approved bring the system closer to what the actual users want.
5. Allow the QA engineer to be an user of the system
The main role of a QA engineer is to ensure that the system under test satisfies the needs of its users. As such, the QA engineer needs to think like a user, to act like a user, and to be able to quickly shift from the mindset of the user to the mindset of the problem analyst required by the job description.
But if you take from the QA engineer all the hassle of deployment and fiddling with making the system run properly in the testing environment you are unlocking more time for him/her to spend in the mindset of an actual user, and having a user of the system close by is a treasure trove for building it in such a way that the system accomplishes its purpose — catering to the needs of his users.
As a developer, it may be strange to look at your colleague — the QA engineer — like at an user of the system you're both working on. After all, you both know a lot more of what's under the hood of that system for any of you to be considered just a simple user of it.
But it is a change worth making. And, as the saying goes, to change the world you need to start with changing yourself. This change comes when you treat QA environment as production environment and make all the efforts needed to uphold the delivery to QA to the same rigor as delivery to production. In essence, it's nothing but a shift in the mindset that was already mentioned in the title — don't release to Production, release to QA.