That's Not Continuous Delivery

Continuous delivery is a powerful tool for delivering changes safely, reliably, and more frequently with less toil and burnout. CD is also the best tool for uncovering why we can’t do these. However, this is only true if we are really using CD.

CD Improves Everything

In 2017, the authors of Accelerate stated, “Continuous delivery improves both delivery performance and quality, and also helps improve culture and reduce burnout and deployment pain.”

Many of us have found this to be true. However, achieving these outcomes means really understanding what a CD workflow is. We get some tips from the authors of the book Continuous Delivery who stated these principles:

  • Build quality in
  • Work in small batches
  • Computers perform repetitive tasks, people solve problems
  • Relentlessly pursue continuous improvement
  • Everyone is responsible

They do an excellent job in their book at explaining the anatomy of a pipeline, how testing should work, and many other important patterns. In 2021 one of the authors, Dave Farley, released a companion book Continuous Delivery Pipelines where he describes patterns for multiple contexts. The problem is that people don’t read books.

Fake CD

Fake CD occurs when an organization declares victory by stating “we are doing continuous delivery!” while implementing one or more anti-patterns. This isn’t to say that teams who are working to solve the problems and haven’t reached the minimum definition are doing “fake CD.” They just haven’t gotten there yet. CD is an engineering discipline, not only a set of principles. It is a set of objective practices that enable us to safely release working solutions on-demand without drama. I’ve frequently seen organizations claim to be “doing CD” because they have an automated deployment process. CD isn’t Jenkins, CircleCI, or any other tool. It’s how we use those tools. Recently I’ve had conversations where they were claiming to use CD and no amount of explaining would change their minds.

In one instance they delivered monthly.

“The definition of CD is we can release on demand and our demand is monthly.”

No, one of the practices of CD is that we are always releasable so that we can release on demand. This isn’t about scheduled delivery. We need to accommodate unscheduled delivery in an emergency and do it safely. When challenged to pick up a copy of Continuous Delivery, they scoffed at the idea.

In another instance, they were using a hotfix process. A hotfix process is where we use an exception process to deliver change in an emergency because our normal process is too slow. This generally means skipping quality gates when there is already a dumpster fire. The practices of CD act as a forcing function to improve those gates.

“We are on the path of improvement and that’s CD!”

No, delivering on-demand without doing it safely is not CD.

We Built Yardstick

Using bad definitions of CD harms outcomes, causes organizations to set incorrect goals, and harms continuous delivery as a brand. “Oh, we tried CD but it’s was just too risky.” They did it wrong. Several of us a the 2021 DevOps Enterprise Summit decided we needed to do something to help people aim for the right target. We spent many hours hashing out answers to a question, “what are the absolute minimum practices that apply to every delivery context that define continuous delivery.” To see the benefits of CD, this minimum set of practices must be adhered to. We published the MVP for CD,, at the end of the conference. Within days we had a number of people signing on to our effort including the co-author of Continuous Delivery, Dave Farley.

We agree this is the yardstick. “You must be this tall to claim CD.” This isn’t gating or elitism. We know that doing these things improves organizational outcomes and the lives of teams. We know doing less than this will not deliver those outcomes. This is the minimum threshold. Take a look. We welcome contributions. If you agree, submit a PR and add your signature.

Written on October 17, 2021 by Bryan Finster.

Originally published on Medium