Continuous Delivery Pipeline Summary For Leaders
Learn how a single release workflow known as the Continuous Delivery Pipeline enables digital product companies to deliver new features to users fast and efficiently.
The continuous delivery pipeline has been an efficient tool to develop digital products during the last few years, and it’s a mandatory pillar for your company to become a great Digital Product Company. The ADAPT Methodology® is a unique Digital Product Development framework to guarantee the success of Leaders in the Digital Era!
Society changed and leaders need support in the way how they lead and design their digital product organizations, that is the reason why the ADAPT Methodology® was created, but now let’s get a deep dive into the Sprint Review meeting.
What is a continuous delivery pipeline?
The Continuous Delivery Pipeline (CDP) is a modern software strategy that chains together different stages of a software’s development including processes like automated builds, tests, and deployments.
The CDP is composed of four phases:
- Continuous Exploration (CE)
- Continuous Integration (CI)
- Continuous Deployment (CD)
- Release on Demand (RoD)
Even if you see more or fewer phases in your organization’s pipeline, the concepts outlined will still apply. If you’re familiar with the Agile Methodology and the Scrum Methodology, you’ll have a better understanding of how to implement CDP as these strategies share related principles.
One common misconception of the Continuous Delivery Pipeline is that the phases have physical manifestations when the reality is that it’s not needed. These are logical phases and can be visualized as maps that connect environmental milestones such as testing, staging, and production.
When it comes to implementing a CDP, organizations take into account three important concepts and these are quality, frequently, and predictably.
As you read through this article you’ll see how these concepts are emphasized within the body of the continuous delivery pipeline.
The ultimate goal of a CDP is very simple and that is to take an idea and transform it into value for the user through an automated series of testing, staging, production, and delivery.
The brilliance of having a CDP in place is that organizations get to explore, integrate, and release valuable products into their market frequently and reliably through a continuous loop of activity and feedback.
To understand how this works, the CDP can be viewed as an automated and reliable framework that includes a set of steps that code changes will undergo to reach their way to production.
In other words, the CDP allows software organizations to seamlessly deliver quality products on demand to their users. Thanks to a dependable process that creates, tests, and evaluates whether a product is fit and ready for the end-user.
The advantage of having a continuous delivery pipeline means better production and delivery which ultimately translates to satisfied customers experiencing high-quality products that offer cutting-edge technology.
Without a continuous delivery pipeline, digital product companies will face several disadvantages like:
- High-risk releases. In the absence of CDP, software deployments are painful and stressful. Stakes are higher because the probability of things going wrong is increased and in the event of such, the consequences are costly and time-consuming.
- Slower time to market. Historically, traditional methods made the Software Development Lifecycle consume a lot of time from weeks, months, or longer. Those old processes proved to be inefficient and unsustainable, which is what the CDP addresses. In the digital era, everything changes constantly and so does the market so if a company doesn’t have an effective roadmap like the CDP, they’re working at a snail’s pace while the competition continues to release new features and services to the market.
- Low-quality products. Because of the lack of automation, teams end up spending more time and effort across different activities thereby spreading themselves too thin which undoubtedly sacrifices the quality of the products and services.
- Higher costs. Because of inefficiencies and strained manpower, the costs of making, maintaining, and delivering changes to software goes up. If a company had invested in a CDP, it wouldn’t have to experience these types of challenges.
- Unhappy teams. Since teams are overwhelmed and working under pressure, they become more prone to burnout. And when the team is subjected to stressful conditions this significantly impacts the entire software development process.
So for digital product companies that want to become leaders in their respective fields, it is crucial that mistakes are avoided as much as possible. In the digital era, it’s companies with a goal for agile transformation that develop the necessary structures and processes that make them into market leaders who achieve attainable growth and happy customers.
How does the continuous delivery pipeline work?
The Continuous delivery pipeline works by breaking down the software delivery process into four key stages called Continuous Exploration (CE), Continuous Deployment (CD), Continuous Integration (CI), and Release on Demand (RoD).
The purpose of each stage is to evaluate the quality and functionality of new features from different angles and to prevent disasters from affecting the end-user. How each stage operates and connects harmoniously will be explained later throughout the article.
Continuous Exploration (CE)
As the term suggests, this stage revolves around exploration and design thinking wherein the organization hypothesizes new ideas and solutions for their target customers. This is done through receiving and evaluating market research and customer feedback.
At the CE stage, teams work to analyze and interpret the streams of data so that they can understand and decide on what is required to meet the needs of the market, whether it is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or Minimum Marketable Feature (MMF).
Here in CE, teams can look at the existing structures and solutions and evaluate what can, or should be adjusted and modified. It is also here where ideas for features and capabilities are explored and conceptualized. Finally, what happens next is these changes are then articulated and carefully prioritized in the Program Backlog. In simpler terms, this is where components (small distributable and testable units of products) are built and stored ready for testing.
Continuous Integration (CI)
Once features or components are deposited into the Program Backlog, they are taken and implemented in the stage of Continuous Integration. It’s at this point that refinement takes place through a staged environment. Here at CI various sets of tests and evaluations are executed to determine the robustness, stability, and quality of a product. If something fails then it gets reported and sent back to the team for improvement after which it then goes back to a series of tests and validations.
Continuous Deployment (CD)
Almost like a finish line, this part of the process is where the features/changes are taken from CI’s staging environment (after it has passed all the tests) and now put into production. At this stage, the features or changes are monitored and evaluated once more to ensure their functionality and performance. This is another important step throughout the CDP because this is where the business decides on when to release the new feature or changes to customers.
Release on Demand (RoD)
The stage of release on demand is where businesses determine the best time and manner in which they will make the new feature or product accessible to customers; either the update is released all at once or phase by phase depending on the market and business needs. It is here where businesses can carefully manage the degree of risk for each release.
Why is it necessary for efficiency?
The CDP provides the development team and everyone involved with an overview of changes and feedback. As a result of such, the CDP helps developers work on their products with confidence because the entire process is designed in the form of a reliable, repeatable, and predictable roadmap.
As we all know, humans are prone to faults and errors and while this is a given fact, this poses a huge problem when it comes to things where the margin for error is slim. When it comes to software, reducing the likelihood and presence of bugs is critical.
Of course, there’s no perfect software and bugs will appear from time to time but the benefit of having an automated framework that works smoothly makes a significant difference because pipelines don’t break down under stress or pressure from tight deadlines.
To put it simply, less human intervention equals better results.
The reason for this is that in the past, teams used to brace themselves for the worst possible case scenarios during manual releases because in those cases, the chances of things going terribly wrong were high.
To improve the system, solutions like the Customer Advisory Board (CAB) were introduced which is a form of manual approval. While this helped it wasn’t a full-proof solution because like mentioned earlier, humans are prone to error and inefficiencies which makes this process slow and dreary.
While with pipelines like the CDP, everything is programmed to work as expected which translates to predictability. Since each stage of the pipeline is designed to function according to strict protocol, the sequence between the stages flows smoothly, hence the term, “pipeline”.
Now, one might be concerned about the condition of a product’s quality in the fast-paced environment of a pipeline, rest assured this is also addressed throughout the entire pipeline through built-in sets of testing and criteria that function as gateways.
As a piece of code travels the pipeline it undergoes rigorous checking and tests to identify any faults and if that happens, it gets rejected and then the system sends an alert to the team with a report that details the findings.
But let’s say no problems are detected and every test is passed with flying colors, what happens next? If you’re thinking that the next stage is production then you’re right.
So thanks to these gateways within the pipeline, bugs don’t make their way over to production thereby ensuring that only quality products get delivered to customers.
And that’s essentially how a pipeline like the CDP works, increments of updates or improvements for a software navigate the pipeline and eventually reach production (provided that it passed all the tests).
Every time the pipeline is successful, the teams get to send out features and products in a risk-free and auditable manner.
You might be asking yourself now if there’s such a thing as a standard pipeline. The thing is that different companies will have a unique version of the pipeline because the anatomy of such is determined by the architecture of the product.
Whether the structure is simple or more sophisticated, the essence will still reflect the goal of the continuous delivery pipeline which is to successfully release high-quality software fast and efficiently to the market.
If you’re an executive leader looking for a proven and tested roadmap of the CDP that will help your company achieve success and happy customers, then the ADAPT Methodology™ is what you’ve been looking for.
With the ADAPT Methodology™, you’ll have all the knowledge and resources needed to equip you and your digital product company for success.
Continuous Delivery vs Continuous Deployment
Now, this doesn’t mean that human intervention is completely eliminated from the pipeline. Even today in the digital era, many digital product companies still involve some form of human interaction in their pipelines for various reasons.
In fact, this is a good time to explain another misconception between two terms that share the acronym CD: Continuous Delivery and Continuous Deployment.
Often used interchangeably, continuous delivery and continuous deployment are similar frameworks but also strikingly different from each other. You see, when we talk about having some form of human intervention, at least in the space between staging and production like deciding on when to send out a release, we are talking about continuous delivery.
Some of the people responsible for these checks and approvals are known as CAB, Project Managers (PM), and Scrum Teams. And then when we talk about a framework that has zero human involvement in the pipeline, we mean continuous deployment.
Continuous deployment is just like continuous delivery but the key difference is that the releases happen automatically.
As daunting as the idea of zero human involvement sounds, it’s been proven to work for many companies already, most of these are large companies that operate on a huge scale which makes this version of the pipeline ideal and sustainable.
Differences aside, both forms share an automated process and structure so companies can decide which version suits their needs and capabilities.
What do I gain by adopting continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment?
If you’re still contemplating whether you should consider adopting the framework of the CDP, that’s completely understandable. Making significant changes requires weighing the pros and cons. To help you decide, we’ve detailed below the things you should consider.
- Automated tests have to be written by your team for every new feature, update, or bug fix
- A CI server is required for monitoring of the main repository and running automated tests with every new commits
- Multiple merges, at least a few times a day by your developers are required
- Early captures of regressions via automated tests mean fewer bugs that end up in production
- Easier builds are ready for release thanks to early integration solutions that detected errors
- Reduced context switching since any time a break occurs in the build, developers are notified and given ample opportunities to fix and improve it
- Significantly reduced testing costs as a result of the CI server which is capable of running hundreds of tests rapidly
- More time for the QA team to focus on developing and ideating improvements
- A well-built foundation in continuous integration and a comprehensive test suite coverage for the codebase is a must
- Automated deployment is needed, even if a manual trigger is present
- Adoption of feature flags is also a need so that customers don’t get affected by incomplete features
- More freed up time and reduced workload for your team since the sophistication of deploying software is taken care of
- The ability to push out more releases leads to an optimized feedback loop from end-users
- The calibre of your testing processes has to be excellent and well built as these will affect the quality of the releases
- Faster deployments mean more documentation that can cope with the increased speed and demand
- Feature flags become a necessity for proper coordination with other departments like support, marketing, PR, etc.
- Automatic deployments for every change mean you have the ability to develop faster without the need to pause
- Easier fixes in case of problems and fewer risks with each release
- Happier customers who get to enjoy a consistent flow of new features and products at a better quality on a daily basis instead of monthly, quarterly, or yearly
How can I begin implementing the continuous delivery pipeline?
Keep in mind that the CDP is not magic. While it is a wonderful, intelligent solution, the reason it works so well is because of high standards through continuous, daily improvement. If you want to learn more about how to level up your existing pipeline for maximum results and efficiency, you can take our Digital Product Maturity Scorecard and also read our book ADAPT.
Before we explain the steps you can take to get started with CDP, here are several conditions to be aware of:
A Pipeline requires the support of platform provisioning and configuration management
In order to get the job done without hiccups, development teams need a pipeline that’s optimized. To achieve this your CDP needs to have support in the form of platform provisioning and configuration management, having this means your team has the ability to design, maintain and disassemble complete environments either at the push of a button or automatically.
With automated platform provisioning, you can begin horizontally scaling your business and your software changes have the opportunity to be deployed and tested against properly configured and replicable environments (i.e. sandboxes).
It takes a mutual team effort from everyone to make it all work the way it should
Since we have covered the fact that the CDP connects multiple stages, it only makes sense that different groups of people be involved in the collaboration and supervision of the entire process. So, if you want to make things work properly in your pipeline, everyone has to be dedicated to ensure its success.
Focus on achieving quality first before adding any new functionality
Since the ultimate goal of the CDP is to help companies efficiently release quality products to the market in a timely fashion, it is an absolute must that you adhere to high standards of quality before even thinking of releasing a new update or functionality to the public. Don’t cut corners when it comes to this as the last thing you would want is to deliver sub-par products to your customers.
How to get started with the Continuous Delivery Pipeline
The ideal approach to getting started with the CDP is to start strategically and gradually. It is not advisable to rush into implementing the Continuous Delivery Pipeline all at once.
A recommended starting point is to evaluate your entire business framework and identify the biggest bottlenecks that are present. Once you have identified these bottlenecks in your organization, start by improving one part at a time to test and measure the improvements.
After mapping your current pipeline, use metrics such as the following to measure and understand the flow of value, and delays, and determine areas for improvement:
- Process Time. which is the amount of time needed to get work done in a single step
- Lead Time. which is the amount of time from the completion of work from the previous step until it’s done in the ongoing step
- Delay Time. which is the time when nothing is happening
- Per cent Complete and Accurate (%C&A). this represents the percentage of work that the following step can work on without needing to repeat the task. What often causes delays is poor quality in the previous steps. This metric helps pinpoint the steps in a pipeline where poor quality might be happening and leading to lengthier lead times which translate to delays in value delivery.
Align your existing pipeline roadmap to the continuous delivery pipeline
When your current pipeline is finally laid out and understood, you can then visually integrate its mapping into the model of the CDP. Doing this helps your organization clearly see how the entire flow would look once it is improved.
Determine areas for improvement
Now that you have a map of your current pipeline and the CDP, your team can begin looking for areas where improvements can be applied to reduce total lead time and boost efficiency. This step also includes looking at processing time and the quality (percent complete and accurate) of every step.
Keeping tabs on continuous delivery
When the CDP is viewed from a wider perspective, it becomes apparent just how extensive of a process it actually is. And because of its importance in the software development lifecycle, it is crucial that every single part of the pipeline is tracked and monitored, even if a large portion of it is automated. Because in doing so, you have the ability to incorporate Work in Progress (WIP) limits which help improve throughput and pinpoint and tackle bottlenecks. To do this you can make use of the Program Kanban.
Equipping the continuous delivery pipeline with DevOps
Given that the CDP is a type of delivery system which involves the speedy delivery of complex solutions within very short learning loops and high standards of cross-functional collaboration, it makes absolute sense to equip it with DevOps methods.
Now, the question is, is CDP a right fit for your organization? Let us know and comment below!