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Continuous delivery is like a disruptive technology. It will change not only the way IT professionals develop and test software, but also their approach throughout the entire process. The cultural and technological changes at the heart of continuous delivery make sense when developers view them through the lean lens of continuous improvement.
This quote from Jez Humble, vice president at Chef and former ThoughtWorks principal, summed it up:
"It's virtually impossible for us to practice continuous improvement, to learn how to get better as teams or as individuals, and to acquire the skills that enable the successful creation of great products and services -- unless we focus on getting that feedback loop as short as possible so we can actually detect correlations and discern cause and effect."
Continuous delivery and its predecessors, continuous integration and continuous testing, are the processes through which software development professionals can reach individual professional goals and their organization's business performance goals. Implementing these processes will require not only cultural and technological changes, but also a shift in software development priorities. The focus will shift to give top priority to new features and functionality that can be implemented fastest. This shift in priorities may be led by the information technology organization or project management office; however, it must be accepted and embraced by the business.
This shift to focusing on delivery speed is the change that drives all other changes in the way developers and testers work; continuous delivery is the process by which organizations and teams achieve the goal of continuous improvement -- by increasing delivery speed. The goal of the continuous delivery process is to develop software in increments that are ready to be released. However, that does not mean each increment is actually released.
Here are specific ways in which software development and testing will change as continuous delivery is implemented. Organizationally, the Agile team (or the core project team if an organization is using the waterfall methodology) will no longer be the core team for code delivery. Instead of coordinating with system admins and operations, those teams will need to become part of the core. Each team will need to become intimately involved in -- and take responsibility for -- the full development, testing and delivery process. And the extended team, as a whole, will be responsible not only for the quality of the release and its integration into the base code, but also for performance and integration with other applications. This will be a major culture shift, even for the most mature Agile organizations.
From a technology standpoint, the changes to the way IT professionals develop and test are all about automation. Automation is the key to speed; the most complicated and time-consuming parts of the process must be automated. And for automation, tools are needed for every step in the process, including building and provisioning the infrastructure.
To automate the processes of building and managing different environments, development and operations will need to approach these processes as code, an approach known as "infrastructure as code." In an infrastructure as code framework, scripts are developed for provisioning and updating environments. Just like code, updating and versioning these scripts is handled through configuration management.
To reduce the cycle time of configuration management and version control, automation tools will be needed for those functions as well. Developers will need continuous integration tools to manage the continuous code commits, and they will need code review tools to automatically test the newly committed code against the codebase, as well as the new code developed for other paths through the application. And developers may need monitoring tools to track the entire process.
All testing phases will be automated, beginning with unit testing. Risk-based automated regression testing is a key process of continuous delivery. Testing must be specific to the code changes and the areas around those changes where bugs are likely to be found. Automated performance monitoring is also critical to finding performance and load issues before they affect customer experience.
By embracing the cultural and technological changes of continuous delivery, developers and testers can use it as an approach to continuous improvement.
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