Mike Schenk and Mark Granville, Connecture

Connecture is based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with further locations in Georgia and Connecticut. Connecture provides software and services to health insurance providers, automating the process of health plan sales. Some of Connecture’s software products help consumers navigate the complexities of health insurance. Some products enable state governments to offer an effective health insurance exchange, and other products support brokers in selling individual insurance for multiple lines of coverage across multiple carriers. Connecture’s clients include more than half of the nation’s top 20 health plans.

The software development team at Connecture consists of more than 100 local and offshore engineers. They build web-based software products on the Java platform with an increasing amount of front-end JavaScript, and the software targets several major database platforms running on Windows and Linux. The tools Jenkins and Maven are used for build automation, with JUnit and the Robot Framework being used for test automation.

The team was in a transition to an Agile approach and wanted to ensure that their technical setup and tools supported this process improvement. Mark Granville, Senior VP and General Manager, asked ZeaLake to assist with their build and test automation.

ZeaLake conducted an initial assessment of build and test practices. Over the course of a week, ZeaLake’s senior technical consultant, Lars Thorup, examined current systems and interviewed key engineering personnel and managers.

Based on the assessment conclusions, ZeaLake helped improving the team’s automated build and test. Mike Schenk, CTO and VP, worked closely with Lars Thorup in planning and coordinating the improvement efforts.

One of ZeaLake ‘s recommendations was to create a fully automated standard deployment process. The aim is to be able to deploy the product to any new environment in a few minutes. This step is useful for client implementation teams and QA, as well as a foundation for all automated test improvements. “Lars has done a superior job here at Connecture”, says Mike Schenk. “He helped us increase our feedback cycles and be more agile. He showed us the value of fast feedback cycles, so we can address issues in much smaller chunks. This realization has been huge for us and amounts to a culture shift in our thought processes. We learned from Lars to always have healthy software and have the ability to release at any point in time.”

ZeaLake also recommended an improved strategy for client customizations. Client customizations are now more tightly integrated into the product development workflow with the effect that conflicts during upgrades are minimized. Mike Schenk recalls: “Lars quickly ramped up to our domain and understood our challenges, for example our process of upgrading client installations. Lars’ insights have allowed us to really quickly respond to conflicts in our upgrade process. We will be able to upgrade client installations in a less painful cycle in the future.”

Based on ZeaLake’s recommendations, Connecture has improved their level of automated testing on several areas, including performance testing, ESB unit testing and integration level testing. The effort focuses on unit testing for front-end JavaScript using QUnit.

“Lars has expertise on the technology we use and gave us specific recommendations on more automation in the JavaScript area. These improvements lead to less brittleness in our UI testing.” With his hands-on knowledge of tools and technologies, Lars Thorup worked closely with the individual developers. “Lars is good at mentoring people, and he knew how to work with the teams to go about an improvement process,” says Mike Schenk.

In periods between the on-site consulting, Connecture’s team members maintain weekly contact with Lars Thorup to discuss ongoing improvement activities. Mike Schenk concludes: “Our process with ZeaLake has been pretty cool, actually.”

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