The tech world is facing widespread skill shortages and developer burnout. Delivering software projects at pace while maintaining quality is becoming harder than ever.

This is where a CI/CD pipeline comes in. Properly implemented, it can make your development lifecycle faster, more flexible, and more robust. And it can do all this while reducing the overall burden on your developers.

But there is still some confusion among business leaders about what a CI/CD pipeline is. People often use the term as a loose synonym for related ideas like Agile and DevSecOps. As a result, leaders can overlook its specific benefits and decide to stick with the status quo. Or they may omit vital features in their implementation, making the project a costly failure.

In this blog, we’ll break down the core features of a CI/CD pipeline and show how it can strengthen your software delivery process. We’ll also outline some best practices for successfully implementing a CI/CD pipeline.

What is a CI/CD pipeline?

A CI/CD pipeline has two components: continuous integration (CI) and continuous delivery (CD). Let’s look at each of them in turn:

  • Continuous integration is an approach to software development in which code changes are merged to a central repository daily. Every merge triggers an automated build and test process that checks for errors and flags any issues.
  • Continuous delivery automates the release of successful builds. It deploys any validated code changes to an environment of your choosing without manual input. This could be a staging environment for further QA testing or a live production environment for end users.

As the names imply, CI and CD are not linear stages but continuous processes. The aim is to get new products, features, and fixes into the hands of your customers quickly, with as little human input as possible.

The benefits of a CI/CD pipeline

By moving away from the traditional model of infrequent, large-scale releases, a CI/CD pipeline can provide significant business benefits. These include:

  • Shortening the time-to-market for new features without sacrificing quality. Automation allows you to deploy product updates faster while maintaining rigorous testing processes.
  • Discovering bugs and errors sooner. By testing smaller updates daily, you can catch bugs before further code is written on top. This avoids wasted effort from your developers and makes errors easier to identify and fix.
  • Reducing developers’ cognitive load. A CI/CD pipeline automates mundane and repetitive tasks that take up developers’ time and energy. This reduces the risk of burnout while limiting the potential for human error. Your developers will be more productive, make fewer mistakes, and have more time to focus on your strategic priorities.
  • Preventing siloing between teams. Adopting a uniform process encourages accountability and improves transparency between teams. By staying aligned on best practices, your teams can deliver better-quality code with fewer conflicts.
  • Enabling tighter feedback loops. User feedback can be rapidly incorporated into new updates and pushed live without delay. This means happier users and a more robust product.

Taken together, these benefits can profoundly impact your business metrics. By making your team more productive and your product more reliable, you reduce overall development cost while increasing customer satisfaction.

Best practices for implementing a CI/CD pipeline

The potential benefits of a CI/CD pipeline are extensive, but they are not guaranteed. If the process is not properly implemented, you may find yourself expending a great deal of effort for little return.

There are some critical steps you can take to ensure your CI/CD pipeline is effective:

  • Implement version control. Daily merges across multiple teams can lead to confusion. Every change should be stored in a version control system to ensure rollbacks can be made quickly.
  • Prioritise security. Regular updates are great for your users but can increase the risk of security vulnerabilities. Don’t leave security to your QA team — build it into your entire development lifecycle.
  • Automate as much as possible — but only if the time saved outweighs the costs. To see the biggest benefits, prioritize automating the most time-consuming tests and those with the highest risk for human error.
  • Enable regular releases. Accelerating your development cycle is all for nothing if you can’t consistently deliver new releases to your users. Functional test environments and robust QA processes will help prevent bottlenecks at the release stage.

Making the leap to an automated development process

Successfully implementing a CI/CD pipeline requires significant effort. It means incorporating new tools and processes and embracing a cultural shift in how your business operates. This is a big ask. But the risks of sticking with the status quo are even greater.

If you need support in transitioning to a more agile and automated approach to software development, we can help. As your software development partner, we can build a delivery pipeline that will transform the speed and quality of your release process. And our align, integrate, and manage (AIM) model means that our outsourced developers can merge seamlessly with your internal teams.

Get in touch to learn more about how we can support you to make lasting changes to your development process.