Continuous Delivery: Keeping Pace with Software Development

In the digital age, custom website programming is no longer focused on quality alone. Speed has become a deciding factor, as businesses need to deliver software that loads quickly, performs well, and provide great user experience—and they have to do it fast, sometimes even in real time.

The software industry has responded to these concerns with an approach called Continuous Delivery, a design practice used in software development to automate and accelerate the process of software delivery. Through Continuous Delivery, software is released more frequently but at the same time without compromising quality. This is a critical practice for software organizations that want to accelerate the delivery of quality code as a mean of better serving customers and gaining competitive advantage. High-performing organizations like Netflix and Etsy make use of this technology.

Benefits of Continuous Delivery
One of the most discernible benefits of Continuous Delivery is quick reaction times for both internal and external stimuli. Feedback is instantly available, since the barriers among business, development, quality, and operations teams are broken down. The application is constantly tested as the code is being written, so there are slim margins for mistakes.

Some business owners fear the risk of releasing low quality software through Continuous Delivery. However, the quality of software can actually be improved if Continuous Delivery is implemented the right way. If developers are relying on risk infrastructure daily, it is easier for them to notice and resolve deficiencies much quicker than if the process has only undergone every few weeks or months. Eric Wittman, general manager of developer tools at Atlassian, noted: “Remember, if we are doing Continuous Delivery, it is likely we are working on small batch sizes, and if there is a bug, it is less of a massive ‘Whoa, the world has come to an end’ situation. You are able to fix it relatively quickly, and you get the ability to deploy again relatively quickly. It is all about visibility. As soon as you see the problem, you try to fix it. And if you miss problems, then you add layers of automation to fix those problems next time.”

Continuous Delivery also easily exposes inefficiencies and costs not only to the business itself but also to decision makers. Constructing a pipeline makes it clear where the problems in the software lie, like bottlenecks and low-hanging automation fruit ripe for picking. At the end of the process, a fool-proof cycle is achieved. There are now clear incentives for a healthy software delivery dynamic.

Continuous Delivery also provides more flexibility to a business in terms of delivery of features and fixes. Businesses can release specific sets of features for a select group of users just to ensure that they function as designed. They can even set up multiple releases as features are tested and developed, always ready for deployment, but kept dormant in the software as the business wishes. The choice will ultimately rest on the organization and its confidence on the code, magnitude of change that it wants to implement, and the immediacy of the need for an update or patch.

Making It Work
Continuous Delivery may have a lot of benefits, but it is not for everyone. A business motivation and measurable goal are pre-requisites for the Continuous Delivery approach, as this will dictate the directions the software is going to take. Once an organization figures out its business goals, it needs to understand its current state to decide on the best course of action. The idea of Continuous Delivery relies on the notion that software should always be ready to ship, hence organizations should have the ability to react quickly. Michael Butt of AppDynamics says that development teams “should focus on working in smaller increments at an agile pace.”

Hence, teams should have a culture of collaboration in practice. Everyone involved in the end-to-end process should be on the same page. People can sometimes serve as the biggest obstacle, as moving from a siloed organization to cross-cutting teams require some brain rewiring.

A Continuous Integration approach—the process of merging code into a shared repository throughout the day—is necessary for the team in order to achieve Continuous Delivery. It should be viewed as a single continuous process, not as a set of processes in order to avoid delays and errors. It should not only be a way of work, but a culture and mindset as well.

“There is no one-size-fits-all rate of delivery,” said Butt. “Some organizations might release several times in one day, some several times a week or even every month. The important thing to focus on is the ability to release incrementally with as much automation as possible, enabling agility.”

Continuous-delivery
Nhan Ngo, made this fabulous visualization.