If you’ve been searching for a software strategy that can help you deliver new features to your customers or staff with greater speed and efficiency then continuous delivery is it.
This set of principles is about striving to improve your software development processes from the conception phase through to the customer. It is about streamlining and automating wherever possible to create an efficient pipeline that carries tangible improvements to your software quickly without introducing bugs or configuration headaches.
Making the shift in thinking must be backed up by careful planning and implemented in stages. Continuous delivery is not about adopting a specific system or a set of tools. There is no shortcut to achieving it. What’s required is a concerted effort to work towards common goals and an analysis of how to get there without major disruptions.
Maximizing reliability and efficiency is achievable through automation. Manual processes are time-consuming, they introduce opportunities for error, and they create bottlenecks focused on specific staff members.
The trick is to identify specific steps that can be automated and move gradually towards continuous delivery, making sure that you measure its impact and effectiveness as you go. There are some very compelling reasons to embark on this transition.
Continuous Delivery Accelerates Feedback
When the deployment process is configured and automated you can roll out new features with the touch of a button. Forget about infrequent releases with laundry lists of features. Small, frequent updates ensure that your final product is being improved constantly.
Continuous delivery enables you to create a fast feedback loop and each new feature can stand or fall on its own merits. You won’t have to roll back a big update containing over 100 features because one of them failed.
The benefits of fast turn-around on feature requests are clear. Customer feedback can be gathered and acted on immediately and this really helps to build loyalty and improve customer satisfaction.
Continuous Delivery Reduces Risk
Another benefit to frequent, small deployments is that the overall risk is reduced. When you bundle lots of features together into a new build there are inevitably configuration problems, time gaps often mean environment changes are necessary, and it becomes tough to test for every possibility. Large deployments are also necessarily unique and this means that your past experience isn’t always applicable.
With continuous delivery you configure and test your pipeline once and then you can roll out as many deployments as you like in very small increments. The risk of unforeseen errors being introduced into the live product is reduced, and they’re easier to deal with when they do occur.
Continuous Delivery Improves Software Quality
In traditional software development there is no such thing as a bug-free application. Code is compiled and packaged together fairly infrequently and the complexity of long feature lists makes testing infinitely harder. Tracing the roots of a defect can be time-consuming and expensive, and so software usually ships with a few known bugs left in it.
Continuous delivery encourages you to automate the assembly, the compilation, and the testing for each individual deployment. The earlier you identify problems, the cheaper and easier they are to fix. This approach flags bugs immediately and fixes can be rolled out fast. The quality of the live product is inevitably going to be higher.
In order to realize the full benefits of continuous delivery it is vital to automate where you can, but this is not an all-or-nothing deal. It can be an evolutionary process, in the sense that some automation will provide measurable improvements. Take steps towards automation tooling with pipeline orchestration, continuous integration, application release automation, and configuration management. As you begin to reap the rewards and improve your processes, it will grow easier to move towards a true continuous delivery system that enables you to achieve your goals.
Don’t Forget the Bottom Line
The mindset here is firmly focused on the long term. Continuous delivery requires some upfront investment to create a solid deployment pipeline which will pay major dividends for some time to come. Think of the money you spend on manual processes—experts writing scripts that only they understand, troubleshooting sessions to identify what went wrong, and debate over what changes to make for the next deployment.
With continuous delivery you can eradicate all of that. You can also drastically reduce the overhead associated with an individual deployment. This frees you from cost and resource limitations that generally limit your deployment frequency.
Ultimately, the benefits of faster feature delivery—informed by a tight customer feedback loop, with a reduction in overall errors and lower costs—are simply too good to ignore.
About the Author
Andrew Phillips is VP of product management for XebiaLabs, a provider of application release automation software for enterprises looking to improve the application delivery process.