Calling scripts in RM2015 vNext style

I recently improved all of my powershell scripts for RM2015 vNext deployments by including a param() clause at the start of each script. Only to discover that when using PS/DSC actions in RM2015 (and 2013 for that matter) you cannot pass parameters! Quite frustrating as the main reason i did this improvement was because of Microsoft’s message at the end of their Release Management vNext Plans blog post

To maximize the chances of carrying your investments forward, we recommend that you write PS scripts to drive your deployments with the current versions of RM server

and the default/recommended way to work with powershell scripts using the PowerShell on Target Machines VSO agent task is to pass parameters. Sure, the VSO agent task has the advanced option “Sessions Variables” for backward compatability but I would really prefer to make my RM2015 solution forward compatible instead.

So how do I make my RM2015 scripts and release templates forward compatible? Turns out it is not that difficult to achieve. You’ll need a generic wrapper script and three variables in RM. Your wrapper script should look like this:

Invoke-Expression "$PSScriptRoot\$PowerShellScript $ScriptArguments"

Make sure your wrapper script is included in your build drop together with your other deployment scripts. Then add three global variables in RM2015.

  1. PSScriptPath – set the value to the “drop releative” path of your wrapper script. (If this path differ between components make this a component variable instead)
  2. PowerShellScript – do not set a value at the global level, we just want the variable to show up in the dropdown list for Custom configuration in our PS/DSC action.
  3. ScriptArguments – do no set a value at the global level, same reason.

And now, your PS/DSC actions can look like this:


which corresponds nicely with how it is done in the VSO agent task:


We are now forward compatible!

TFS and VSO guidance – Area path

Team and organizations that are new to TFS almost always struggle with how to structure their hierarchy for the Area Path field.  The documentation might seem straight forward: “Area paths allow you to group work items by team, product, or feature area”. However, most teams quickly discover that this is easier said than done.

First of all, do not use area path to track teams unless you have to (currently no other way to do it in VSO). I’ve explained why in a previous post.

Second, start small with broad areas and add more detail (child nodes) as needed. I’ve seen too many teams getting stuck on implementing a “complete” area path hierarchy thinking the field wont be useful unless they have it all in place. Most of the time that is a real waste of time, usually resulting in a way too detailed hierarchy where many nodes are never used. Use an agile approach instead and add detail where needed, when needed.

Third, keep a user centric view. A very common scenario is that the area path hierarchy is defined by the development team usually resulting in something relating to the software architecture. Unfortunately this is rarely useful to non-developers, e.g. Product owner, stakeholders, end users. Product features or workflows are usually more useful as it makes more sense to the non-developers (typically the ones creating new requirements and bugs) and for reporting purposes. One of the most interesting solutions I’ve seen, and personally feel makes a lot of sense, is to map the area path hierarchy to the user manual’s table of content.


This is the second post in a series where I will try to give you some solid guidance on TFS/VSO or point you towards existing solutions and recommendations.

TFS and VSO guidance – Teams

I often get questions along the lines of “How do we do this in TFS?” It can be anything from setting up teams to choosing the best process template or how to structure a useful area path tree. My answer is always “Well, it depends…” because that is the truth. It really does depend on quite a lot of things. Fortunately, most of the time, you can change how you do things as you gather more and more experience from working with TFS in your organization. On the other hand, if you start out wrong it might require quite a lot of work to rectify that mistake. This realisation quickly turns the original question into “Ok, so how are we supposed to do this in TFS? Are there any recommendations or best practices? What does Microsoft say?”

Well, if you take a quick look at MSDN Library you will quickly realize that Microsoft actually has quite a lot to say. But over the years they have become less and less prescriptive. Which is good. Unless you are looking for some solid pointers… As far as recommendations and best practices goes these golden nuggets of information can sometimes be difficult to find.

So, this is the first post in a series where I will try to give you some solid guidance on TFS/VSO or point you towards existing solutions and recommendations. These posts will be based on my experience from working with TFS over the last 10 years.

Setting up Teams

What you need to know here is that the default way of setting up Teams in a Team Project is flawed. It works, but it is flawed and it will often cause grief down the road. Why? Because it uses the Area Path field to define your teams. This is not what the field was originally intended for. The Area Path field is intended to categorize work into product areas. The team is not a product area. Having multiple purposes for one field is bad design and this will quickly become apparent when you want two teams to work on the same product as you suddenly find yourself maintaining two identical area path structures in TFS, one for each team.

A much much better way to set up teams in TFS is to add a separate Team field, which is actually fully supported by Microsoft and opens up a hidden Team settings interface in WebAccess. It will require some customization of your TFS but it is definitely worth the effort.

Team field settings page

Unfortunately, for those of you who are using VSO it is currently not possible to do the necessary customizations in VSO. You’re stuck with the default. This might change in the near future though as VSO process customization is coming.

Modern development and infrastructure

With the cloud development the last few years we have a couple of new opportunities regarding infrastructure on developer workstations, team collaboration, development/test and production environments.

Developer workstations

There are two important aspects regarding developer workstations:

The first is the time to get a new workstation running, the average time to get a new team member effective is about three weeks. This depends on the time the get the hardware in place and the actual software needed.

The second is the cost for the actual hardware, developer usually have high demands on their computers and most companies buy new workstations in 2-3 year intervals. Apart from this some laptops are lost.

The solution is to run the developer workstations in the Azure. Microsoft have prepared images for the different versions of Visual Studio, it only takes a couple of minutes to spin them up and as part of the setup you select how much RAM and CPU you need and of course you can change this whenever you need. A bonus is that you can access your workstation from anywhere.

Team Collaboration

As a collaborative platform for source code, project planning, build and release you might use Microsoft Team Foundation Server (TFS). TFS also exits as service, Visual Studio Online (VSO). There are a number of advantages with VSO compared to “on-premises” TFS, for example:

  • Better access to the platform, you can access it from anywhere in the world, you can access your data with your Live-id or with your AD-account if you use Azure Active Directory.
  • Cheaper, as you don’t need your own hardware.
  • You don’t need to handle any upgrades, Microsoft will handle this for you. New functionality is release every third week.

Development, test and production environments

The test environments are usually a large cost for many companies especially in relation to how much they are used. By using Azure for your development and test environments you don’t need your own hardware for this. You can also scale up and out depending on your needs and you only pay for the time that the servers are turned on.

A bottleneck for many companies is that it can take weeks to create a new environment or modify an existing, with Azure you do this with just a click.

There are services you can use in Azure without spinning up any servers at all, for example:

  • Web applications
  • SQL-databases
  • BizTalk-services

Load testing

There are possibilities through MSDN and Azure to create load test rigs so that you don’t need to have your own infrastructure for this.

What does all this cost?

Microsoft has a license calculator where you can add your infrastructure to see what this would cost you. Test the calculator here.

If you have an MSDN license, then you can use most of this for free, login to MSDN and activate your MSDN benefits.




VSO in Europe

Great news for those of you who want to use VSO (Visual Studio Online) but did not like the idea of having all your data in the US.

VSO is now hosted in Europe as well! To be more precise it is hosted in the Netherlands.

This should make VSO a viable option for many organizations and government agencies in Europe. For those of us in Europe not restricted by law or company policy it is still great news as it offers a VSO option with lower latency.

So, a short summary:

  • For now you have to create a new VSO account for this
  • It will be possible to move your account from “South Central US” to “Western Europe”, but not yet. You have to wait a few months for that.
  • The entire account has to be hosted in one place. You can not have some of your Team Projects hosted in the US and some in Europe unless you create them on different VSO accounts.

You can read more about the details on Brian Harry’s blog.

License Update Visual Studio Online and maybe TFS 2013.4


With all the nice stuff included in TFS web access you probably have a lot of Stakeholders who are interested in using TFS web access. Up to now to use the Backlog and other stuff you needed a TFS CAL or pay 20$ per user per month in Visual Studio Online.

Now Microsoft have decided to let Stakeholders use much of this for free in Visual Studio Online with a new Stakeholder license. This will probably be introduced to on Premises TFS in TFS 2013.4 as a part of the “Limited User Access”

What will be able to do

  • Full read/write/create on all work items
  • Create, run and save (to “My Queries”) work item queries
  • View project and team home pages
  • Access to the backlog, including add and update (but no ability to reprioritize the work)
  • Ability to receive work item alerts

What they won’t be able to do

  • No access to Code, Build or Test hubs.
  • No access to Team Rooms
  • No access to any administrative functionality (Team membership, license administration, permissions, area/iterations configuration, sprint configuration, home page configuration, creation of shared queries, etc.)

Access to the Test Hub in Visual Studio Online

If you want access to the Test hub in TFS Web Access you need Visual Studio Premium, Ultimate or Test professional. If you are an acceptance tester and only need access to the Test Hub that might be a bit expensive, the cheapest version you can buy is Visual Studio Test professional.

Microsoft has now decided to include this in the Visual Studio Online Advanced plan. At the moment this will not be included in on premises TFS.