Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD): Delivering High Quality Software to Your Customers Quickly

Prior to COVID, consumers had already been relentlessly engaging with brands through digital platforms, products, and services. The abrupt change that came as a result of early lockdowns, and then continued (physical) social distancing during the past nine months, have dramatically accelerated the shift to interacting with friends, colleagues, and brands through digital interfaces. This, along with the continuing evolution of customer expectations has made it even more imperative to deliver new experiences and products even more quickly while maintaining both high quality interactions and software in general. It is crucial for companies to develop software at a rapid pace that can immediately run effectively and generate value to adhere to market demands.

Companies of all industries varying from retail to financial services have incorporated software as a means of interacting with their clients or customers through digital products and services. Whether an organization has a website, mobile application, or full-blown digital products, it is vital for the company to provide their consumers with a compelling user experience that ultimately adds value to both the consumer and the company.  With the market demands today, developers need to be capable of building software quickly to both introduce and test new products and enhance existing products, services, and applications. DevOps paved the way for these capabilities by allowing for infrastructure and operations to be delivered as code as opposed to hardware, thus significantly shortening the lifecycle from idea to consumable product. However, while DevOps is foundational, it alone doesn’t allow for the speed to market necessitated by today’s landscape – this is where CI/CD comes into play.

Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery (CI/CD) is a practice that makes it possible for companies to drastically improve their software development lifecycle to meet the demands of consumers. A CI/CD pipeline builds upon agile framework and DevOps concepts, where organizations can automate many steps within the software development process to more quickly build, test, and deploy new code to customers. CI and CD are both development approaches that are usually executed in sequence – however, these practices have differentiating purposes.

Continuous Integration

Continuous Integration (CI) is the practice of development teams combining their code and submitting it into a repository; this usually occurs multiple times a day. In this process, developers run automated tests to detect any issues immediately upon each potential code change. Conducting tests at this point prior to integration of code allows for early detection and resolution of bugs and programmatically not allowing that code into higher risk environments without the bug being resolved – ultimately, saving the company time and money by identifying and resolving conflicts before any further developments are made to the software.

Continuous Delivery

Continuous Delivery is a continuation of CI that extends the automation process to more effectively deploy software. With the CD approach, product and development teams have the ability to more quickly adjust software as user feedback is generated or as the business strategy evolves. Various functions across an organization including product, development, support, testing, and operations collaborate throughout the software development lifecycle to make improvements to the end-product. The collaboration between these individuals allows for more consistency in updates to a product that are not only operational but also effective. This practice allows for organizations to rapidly release any changes and updates to their software on a frequent basis.

Benefits of Implementing Successful Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery 

CI/CD offers a number of benefits to organizations if it is implemented successfully. First and foremost, companies have the ability to release software at an accelerated rate leading to faster delivery to consumers.  This allows for quicker feedback loops to better understand what changes are adding value to both customers and the organization so Product Managers can better understand what to prioritize next.  While the deployment process is shortened, the chance of bugs is also reduced, due to the frequent testing during CI. The transparency of CI/CD gives teams visibility into which part of the software has issues further encouraging collaboration among colleagues to improve. Ultimately, the benefits provided by CI/CD pipelines lead to better end-products for organizations and more value for end-users. However, it’s crucial for organizations to avoid pitfalls in leveraging CI/CD to realize the potential value it can create; below we dive deeper into guidelines to follow throughout the CI/CD pipeline process.

Guidelines to follow in successfully leveraging Continuous Integration and Continuous Delivery Pipelines:

Focus on Small Changes

In the past, developers had been accustomed to creating code for weeks on end and conducting testing afterwards. Moving to agile frameworks began the transition to smaller, incremental changes. While practicing CI, it’s crucial that developers submit smaller amounts of code and run automated tests to pinpoint any issues within the software development process. By running tests on smaller pieces of code, teams minimize any arising issues by detecting problems immediately more quickly determining root cause.

Peer Review upon checking in Code

Code reviews are a necessary part of CI/CD. By leveraging others to evaluate the code being introduced, organizations can stop bugs before they happen. This also enables better consistency in how code is written, commented on, and unit tested to allow for better maintainability over the long term.  Developers can also learn from others through this process. Once code is reviewed and approved, a new build can be created, and tests can be run immediately.

Unit Testing

It is best practice for organizations to partake in unit testing. Conducting unit testing is the first line of defense to curtail the introduction of escaped defects into a production environment by having developers add code to test each function that they build. This tests that the specific intended function is working correctly and can be augmented by additional tests that can provide a broader perspective on the quality of the software.

Variety of Automated Tests

Automated testing is a crucial component within CI/CD pipeline; to properly test software it’s important for an organization to have an array of tests to ensure the solution is operational from an end user’s perspective. These include integration tests, functional tests, UI tests, etc.  Running a variety of these tests provides clear insights into any defects in the code, but it is important to determine what tests need to be automated to get the most return.  Although some organizations automate all testing, a mix of automated testing for the most critical use cases with additional manual testing on lower priority areas of software can suffice.

CI/CD Delivery Pipeline

Continuous Delivery (CD) should only be executed once Continuous Integration (CI) has been hardened and confidence in the processes have been built. While CI allows for code changes to be introduced to test environments more quickly, in order to realize the added value that these changes provide, those changes must also be deployed quickly to customers. However, without first building confidence in the CI aspect of the process, organizations can run the risk of introducing changes to customers that haven’t been properly vetted, thus adding escaped defects and risking a quality customer experience. Once confidence is built in the quality of code being produced through CI, organizations can begin shift to CD in an incremental fashion.

Team up with Strive to begin your CI/CD Journey!

Here at Strive, we take pride in our 3 main practice areas, Management Consulting, Technology Enablement, and Data & Analytics. Within these areas, we can help you discover and navigate if the CI/CD practice is right for your organization. Our subject matter experts’ team up with you to understand your core business needs, while taking a deeper dive into your company’s growth strategy.