13 Reasons a Staging Environment Is Failing in Your Organization
The staging environment plays an important part. If staging isn't working for your organization, make sure you aren't making these common mistakes.
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The staging environment is something which is suggested as a best practice but considered a burden. Many of us feel weighed down with the thought of the extra investment and effort involved to keep it up. It happens very often that a company, in spite of having a staging environment, ends up failing to reap the proper results from it. This makes us ponder, what went wrong in our QA environment? Why is a change which performed so well in QA, happened to walk south after migrating to production?
This post is aimed towards the importance of having a dedicated staging environment for QA in all companies. If you think you are better off with your staging environment, give it a quick read and think again!
This is my attempt to help everyone understand that a staging environment is not to be blamed for poor production results. Poor production results are a reflection of mismanagement in the QA environment.
This is why your staging has been failing you!
Lack of Constant Monitoring
You reach out to staging only to test a recently deployed change in it. Monitoring helps you to prevent any code deployment above the threshold limit offering state stability, ultimately preventing QA from becoming erratic. Don’t simply rely on monitoring tools! They tend to exert a significant overload on the monitored server and it’s not wise to just leave a complete environment in the hands of a third-party service provider, especially if you have invested a large amount of money invested in it. staging being the closest of all environments to production, it needs continuous monitoring.
Running Staging in the 11th Hour
This is a very common letdown on management's part. The pressure of RAD (Rapid Application Development) leads to hasty deployments through the pipeline. The large number of requests from end users' bug logging, RCA (Root Cause Analysis), bug fixing, validation, outage management, and other responsibilities often overshadow the presence of a staging environment. As a result, the pipeline to QA is established when the release date starts dawning on the horizon. You need to provide your testers enough time to test the product thoroughly in this environment, otherwise this is no different than pushing changes from dev to production.
There are times when a major outage disrupts the whole working atmosphere of a team, bringing everyone on call — he clients, managers, developers, and even testers. Everybody is brainstorming on what went wrong and on whose behalf. When services are down, customers are onto you like a 911 emergency and you need to deliver a quick fix ASAP. In this rush, we often provide a workaround or even deploy a minor fix to production immediately to calm the scenario, but we forget to deploy that tiny fix in staging, too. We forget to update it in the next couple of hours or days due to having a lot on our plate. Efficient management is needed to make sure that even a micro-level fix is migrated to all associated environments, especially to QA.
Your QA Is Not as Identical to Production as You Assume It to Be
This is related to the previous point. You deploy an immediate fix to production but miss out on QA. The next release cycle draws upon you. Your QA validation passes perfectly, but the moment you migrate to production, the code goes haywire. This could happen due to that small bug which was missed between the two environments.
Obsolete Testing Practices
Many companies follow outdated testing practices where they have an isolated QA team which fails to completely integrate with dev. You will notice constant arguments between the testers and developers in this scenario. A fix will go to QA, another bug related to that fix gets logged, reverting the pointer back to the developer, who will then redeploy hastily, and the vicious cycle continues. By the time the release date pops up, you end up deploying a lot fewer fixes as compared to the number you planned or the number that your clients expect.
Missing a Common Goal
This is something that has been a problem from as long as I can remember. Separate teams are working on the same project, a task-focused only towards their goals, and are ignorant when asked for cooperation. United we stand, divided we fall. This motto needs to be followed to reach the pinnacle stage of customer-centric delivery efficient resource utilization.
No Live Data From Production
You will have a hard time believing two people are twins if one of them weighs twice as much as the other. This is exactly how it is for staging. Remember, the aim of staging is to replicate as much of production as possible. Customer data is not something that you can dummy out. Rather than running tests on empty tables, you need to fill the staging database with as much data as your production database is handling to have an estimate of your latest schema capabilities. There are tools available on the market to support this.
Performance Parameters Are Not Accurately Simulated
Often, the result of test cases is not as fast in production as it is in staging. This happens because your staging is not facing real-time internet traffic, but your production environment is. You can’t encounter race conditions, load handling, performance tracing, and deadlocks in a QA environment. The good news is that there are tools for that purpose too.
No Isolated Staging Server
Hosting your staging server in the same place as production is a major mistake that not only brings confusion but also risks data leakage and disruption as a whole.
Missing Out on Exploratory Testing
We are so determined to test the known test scenarios that we forget about the unknowns. By unknowns, I am referring to scenarios that are unforeseeable by a team of engineers and testers but are exposed when the product is made available to thousands of your customers. Performing exploratory testing is crucial for eliminating the risk of unknowns.
The introduction of agile has been well executed in many companies. However, some companies find it very hard to transition from waterfall to agile. The whole team, from developers to testers and even managers, are baffled when it comes to handling a QA environment on a regularly scheduled basis. I understand how hard it can be with so much on your plate, but managers need to plan ahead of time to organize the appropriate data that needs to be transferred to QA in the right amount.
Difficulties in Deployment and Management of Microservices
Microservices are something that everybody is looking to apply in their organization for reliable and smooth expansion. It is believed that microservices and staging servers are not meant for each other because there are so many independent teams providing connectivity to numerous third-party application simultaneously. It becomes very challenging to map all external and internal microservices with the latest versions that are running in production. This is tough, but relevant for ensuring a reliable quality product on the market.
Why Not Dump Staging and Save Yourself the Hassle?
You need to consider a few things before you make that decision.
- Migrating changes directly to production by skipping QA can involve some major losses in the aftermath. Are you prepared to accept the losses that may come from the unknowns?
- Testing after deploying to production is pretty different from doing it in QA. You have a very small time window to test a compound system, and not being able to test every component may lead to an outage, or even worse, as you may end up losing a valuable customer. Planning and organizing will be the key if done well — otherwise, it can also be your doom.
- An approach for testing in production? Feature flags serve as a helpline as you can deploy your change to production and activate it only when you feel ready. However, be ready to encounter noise in your system’s codebase. You may even end up with code that looks absurd to you in many ways. Feature flags need proper cleaning like a good practice. Make sure to retire old feature flags.
- Feature flags won’t guarantee protection against changes where the code reflects on a large number of existing components. Also, your testers are going to take a fair amount of time to get used to feature flags.
To build a robust staging or QA environment, make sure that you replicate production as closely as possible in terms of hardware and software. Develop a code reviewing process. Make sure that code deployed by one team in QA is thoroughly reviewed by another development team.
If you are working agile, schedule your code migration to QA on weekly basis. Follow best practices for software testing, as they will serve as a bible for the successful implementation of QA.
Staging is a crucial element for small startups and big enterprises alike. Think of it like an expensive vase that you need to maintain and handle with care. When tidied up properly, it is bound to bring more grace to your production environment.
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