Generating release notes from JIRA with Google Docs

April 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Posted in Agile, Programming | Leave a comment

Recently I did a project using Scrum in short (one week) iterations. The acceptance testers weren’t part of the team and asked for (well, actually demanded) release notes with every increment we shipped. We told them that wasn’t a problem at all, since we keep track of all our user stories and issues in JIRA. We already had created an account for them at the start of the project, so end of story we thought. Almost.

This didn’t work out because they experienced JIRA as a bit too complicated and didn’t want to dig up all the information themselves every Friday. We realized that some basic introduction in JIRA might help but that we could help them even more by defining a couple of filters. So I asked what they needed, created the filters to come up with this information, showed them how to use them and again concluded: end of story and back to real work. Well, almost.

They still preferred to have a document containing the release notes attached to the email that announced every new release. Mainly because they had always done it like that and also because it was easier to print the document. We decided to take the path with the least resistance, use our own JIRA filters, and waste one or two hours per release to copy JIRA issues to Word, format them in tables, fight to get the layout somewhat correctly, etc. At least  some activities to give a project manager a reason for his existence. End of story. Almost.

Because as IT guys (and girls) we don’t like boring repetitive work, especially not when it has to be done late at night when we finally got that release shipped. And certainly not when we can’t see the added value of duplicating information from one format (JIRA) to another (Word). Our default solution is Yak shaving automating the work. So I came up with this set-up based on JIRA, Google Docs and some Google Apps Script:

The source is JIRA. In the past I already wrote a couple of blog posts on how to import data using Ruby (and Soap), using JavaScript (directly into a Google docs spreadsheet) or using ClojureScript (using REST). The report is based on a template that I created in Google docs. Here you can already include for example the company logo’s, the disclaimers, etc. etc.

Some sample code (note this doesn’t use JIRA) to create a document using a template:

function createDocFromTemplate() {
  var files = DocsList.find("my-template");
  return DocumentApp.openById(files[0].makeCopy("release-notes").getId());

As you can see in the picture I also use a Timed Trigger. This fires the script every Friday for example at 6:00 PM. I belong to the minority of people that think that distributing Word documents is not very professional (unless you want to co-author it with others) so I prefer to create a pdf. This is done in the next step. Some sample code on how to do this:

function createAttachments(doc) {
  var mimeType = "application/pdf";
  var blob = doc.getAs(mimeType);
  return [{fileName:"release-notes.pdf", mimeType:mimeType, content:blob.getBytes()}];

And finally we have to send the release notes to the right people. For this I created a new Group in Google Contacts. The next code snippet shows how I can read the email addresses from this group and how I create an email with the pdf as an attachment:

function sendDocumentAsPdf(doc) {
  var contacts = getRecipients();
  var attachments = createAttachments(doc);
  contacts.forEach(function(contact) {sendMail(contact, attachments);});

function getRecipients() {
  return ContactsApp.getContactGroup("MyGroup").getContacts();

function sendMail(contact, attachments) {
  var recipient = contact.getEmails()[0].getAddress();
  var subject = "Release notes";
  var body = "Please find the release notes as attachment.";

  MailApp.sendEmail(recipient, subject, body, {attachments:attachments});

This concludes my brief description on how to generate release notes. There is room for improvements. For example right now the email is scheduled at a fixed time. To make your reports look more ‘genuine’ (as in: a lot of work to create) you could use a ClockTriggerBuilder to generate your own triggers that fire at a more or less random time, preferably of course Friday late at night.

Final remark: it is almost always better to include testers in your team. Even at the cost of a lot of initial energy and frustration, it’s worth the end result. The solution I described is only a patch for a very bad process.

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