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Netflix uses it, so it should work great for you, right? Not so fast. The Paved Road is not for everyone. While it caters to the majority, there are always going to be developers who need (or choose) to go ‘off-road’. There are a few things you should consider before creating a Paved Road in your organisation. In this article I will discuss the pros and provide a few questions you should ask before implementing it.

What exactly is the Paved Road?

In her 2017 OSCON presentation, Netflix’s Dianne Marsh describes the Paved Road as ‘A concept, formalizing a set of expectations and commitments between the centralized teams and our engineering customers’.

This means that a central team builds and (mostly) maintains the Paved Road for the benefit of its developer clients. In turn, developers who choose the Paved Road agree to comply with its philosophy. The result is that developers are free to focus on what they do best: building and delivering features. However, the Paved Road should not be siloed in that one team. Developers should not be discouraged to go ‘off-road’ occasionally to discover new horizons and to contribute back to the Paved Road.

That said, building a Paved Road can be a sizeable investment, and should be done in consultation with the teams intending to use it.

What is an example of a Paved Road?

Figure 1: An example Paved Road workflow

Let us say you have several teams developing microservices that run on Kubernetes. Each microservice needs to have the same basic structure (service discovery, logging, etc.), so you create a template for each new service to be based on. Development teams are free to add any code behaviour they want, but the CI/CD pipelines must be the same for all. This could include building the code, testing, building images, scanning the images for vulnerabilities and, finally, publishing those images. All these processes are perfect candidates for the Paved Road and could be implemented in something like GitHub Actions. You can run code compliance checks, unit tests, and even test the Docker images as part of your pipeline.

What are the benefits of the Paved Road?

Here are a few reasons to invest in a Paved Road solution.

  • It is optional. If the team chooses to stay ‘off-road’ or their project just does not support the Paved Road model, this is fine; the Paved Road is there to cater for the majority. However, developers who choose to ignore it need to understand that they are taking on the extra burden of ensuring compliance.
  • It relieves individual developers of having to manage the boring parts of their jobs. These days, developers have many layers of responsibility in addition to writing code, for instance monitoring and alerting, logging, and security. These can be managed by the Paved Road.
  • It does not immediately have to be a twenty-lane superhighway. Developers could benefit from the equivalent of a single-lane country road. You might even start out this way, adding features over time.
  • It is collaborative. Development teams do not have to be passive consumers, they are free to contribute improvements.
  • It allows for exploration and innovation. Knowing that the Paved Road is nearby, developers can strike off into the wilderness and experiment with their own offshoots. This should not be undertaken lightly and should be aimed at improving the Paved Road if such an excursion proves fruitful.
  • It reduces silos. The more teams using the Paved Road, the more they understand what each other is doing. This makes it easier for developers in one team to help solve problems in another team.
  • It provides security and compliance as the default. Manual compliance tests, risk assessments, and audits are time-consuming and the bane of a developer’s existence. Too often, these vital steps are treated as afterthoughts, sometimes even being left out completely as pressure to meet deadlines mount. But, if you bake them right into the Paved Road, developers get them for free.
  • It saves time and money. Imagine that every development team has crafted their own unique workflow. Now imagine that you want to add SonarQube to the mix. Each team would need a new backlog item and would have to figure out how to implement this requirement. On a Paved Road, this would only have to be added once in one place and everyone would have immediate access.

What you should know before implementing a Paved Road

So, you have decided you want to try your own Paved Road? Great! But there are a few questions you should ask before diving in.

Are your technologies/processes compatible with the Paved Road?

First do a small feasibility study to determine this. Find out how easily the code can be built and tested. How much manual intervention is required? Does your organisation support automated processes like publishing images to a registry? If there are any blockers, you will first have to fix them; the Paved Road will not solve them for you.

Do you have a central team that can implement and (initially) manage the Paved Road?

Developers do not have the time to build it themselves. You need a team that is in contact with all teams so it can build the solution that best fits everyone. However, this team does not have to be 100% responsible for the continued maintenance of the Paved Road. As I mentioned earlier, developers are encouraged to go ‘off-road’ and explore, or even fix the occasional pothole. Developers should be encouraged to take an active interest and not overstuff the central team’s backlog.

Will your teams adopt it?

This is down to your company’s culture. You may have some work to do getting alignment and buy-in before you can embark on this journey. And this does not just include development teams; the Paved Road weaves through multiple departments. For instance, it is in the CISO’s best interests to help set up the compliance and security tests to ensure the software being rolled out is as secure as possible, especially if you want continuous delivery.

Conclusion

The Paved Road is a great solution for standardising and managing compliance, but it is not suitable for everyone. And, like any solution, it needs proper care and maintenance. But, if implemented correctly, it can go a long way in making your developers’ lives easier.

For a concrete example of the Paved Road, as implemented at Ahold Delhaize, read Reinier Timmer’s blog post ‘A Paved Road for CI/CD using GitHub Actions’.

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