Speed and stability can’t be an either-or choice in software development. Competitive advantage depends on designing a release pipeline that delivers a stable product with iterative, continuous improvement.

For several years now, the State of DevOps report has proven this. High performers have hundreds more deployments per year than low performers, with much shorter lead times. At the same time, they restore service significantly faster and see a 0-15 percent change failure rate. That’s compared to 46-60 percent for low performers.

Designing a strategically aligned release pipeline is business-critical. But it’s not something you can build overnight. Nor is there a cookie-cutter approach you can follow. (If it were that easy, there’d be no low performers.)

So, in this post, we’ll explore how to interrogate your requirements to craft your bespoke successful release pipeline.

Get a minimum viable pipeline and build from there

We’ve already covered the value of a properly implemented CI/CD pipeline. It starts with continuous integration. Getting this right ensures fewer bugs are shipped to production, improving stability. It also makes building the release more straightforward and reduces testing costs.

Next comes continuous delivery. This is where you begin building automation and widen the scope of your test suite. This reduces the complexity of deployment and allows for more frequent releases. Here you start to build speed.

Finally, you can move towards continuous deployment. This requires solid CI/CD pipeline maturity and a robust testing culture. The payoff is your users experience constant improvement to the software they use.

This is the high-level roadmap. It marks the key milestones but doesn’t give you the route to reach them. For that, you need to interrogate your business needs and product goals.

Connect your strategic goals to your pipeline design

Every software developer will have the following goals:

  • Align with business objectives
  • Mitigate risks
  • Continuously improve quality and efficiency

It’s your job to scrutinize how your release pipeline can support them.

1. Align with business objectives

How do your internal stakeholders define success? Do they value speed over stability? Are they looking to close user feedback loops faster? Or do more complex compliance standards, such as those in healthcare or finance, trump the need for speed?

And what does a successful experience look like to users? For example, enterprise tech customers want predictable timelines to support change management. Games tech customers, however, will appreciate rapid responsiveness to reviews and issues.

2. Mitigate risks

Effective release planning means identifying and mitigating potential risks. In terms of pipeline design, this might mean:

  • Identifying tests prone to human error and prioritizing them for automation.
  • Moving towards a more iterative release process. More minor releases mean fewer risks and simpler rollbacks if there is an issue.
  • Or, if continuing to bundle updates into larger releases suits your product, you might adopt release branches to balance agility and risk.

3. Improve efficiency and quality

Building better testing suites and implementing automation into your release pipeline can improve efficiency and quality. But opportunities exist beyond your code too.

Let’s say you move towards more regular releases. This will impact the efficiency of other workflows in the business. As a result, your pipeline will need to flag major feature releases to marketing. They will need certainty around those release schedules and time to prep comms.

And stable, effective code is great, but if the change it delivers interrupts a user’s workflow, it does nothing for product quality. This can be as simple as moving a button people use multiple times daily. Or as complex as changing where key functionality sits within an application’s architecture.

Keeping the user front and center means factoring user acceptance testing into your pipeline. In addition to this, integrating constant user feedback will help you prioritize builds and minimize disruptive deployments.

Release process best practices

As you build a picture of your successful release pipeline, it’s also worth remembering a few universal best practices.

Define ownership and create pre-flight requirements

Consider where ownership sits at every stage of your pipeline. Then define and document what the responsible party is responsible ****for. Process documentation ensures consistency and accountability, and gives you a foundation for continuous improvement.

Ensure DevOps collaborates with QC

As you move towards a continuous improvement model, the feedback loop between DevOps and Quality Control (QC)gets more critical. You need a learning culture, rather than a process that relies solely on passing code back and forth. This means ensuring team members:

  • Feel empowered to raise issues as soon as they see them,
  • Take responsibility for addressing them,
  • And feel a sense of urgency and joint ownership for the success of every deployment.

Choose the right tools

The ‘right’ tools mean the right tools for your business and needs. A successful release pipeline can encompass several tools, from code repositories to automated deployment. To ensure they support your pipeline effectively, you need to consider integration capabilities, ease of use, scalability, and compatibility with your existing systems and platforms.

Manual versus automation

Your ideal pipeline may contain considerable automation, but it’s not a shift you should make all in one go.

Ensure you have a justifiable business case for each implementation. Create a list of automation candidates and prioritize those that are easiest to implement and offer the greatest return on investment. For example, repetitive and burdensome tasks, those that could add speed by running overnight, or, as mentioned earlier, workflows prone to human error.

Supporting your success

Every developer wants to be benchmarked as a high performer. Building a release pipeline that delivers that kind of success isn’t easy, but it’s what will differentiate your product.

At Success Software, we help teams design release pipelines aligned to their unique requirements. Our align, integrate, and manage (AIM) model helps us get to know your business, industry, and customer needs. And we work with you to strike the right balance between upfront investment and long-term benefit.

Critically, we also ensure your teams have everything they need to pick up and maintain any system or process we put in place. So, should our engagement end, your pipeline will continue to deliver.

To learn more about how we can support your successful software release pipeline, get in touch with the Success Software Services team today.