Continuous integration and delivery – the main technical debt of any problematic IT project

Every owner of an IT company strives to achieve high speed and quality of deliveries. And this is logical: the prompt update of the product and the effective use of resources ensure product competitiveness and payback. However, often in an effort to achieve results as soon as possible, the team focuses solely on developing new functionality and loses control over such an important point as technical debt.

Technical debt is a huge problem for many IT companies. In our practice, we met both small startups and large enterprises, which for this reason found themselves in a deadlock and could no longer develop the product.

So what is the reason for the emergence of technical debt? Over time, the complexity of the source code, synchronization between parts of the system, as well as logical concepts and relationships inevitably increases on a project. Accordingly, the number of factors that have to be taken into account exponentially increases too. This means that the team needs to make more and more efforts to develop the product and maintain high-quality deliveries. High efforts require significant investments of time and money, so costs will only increase over time.

Best practices of software development

Technical debt is primarily associated with best practices of software development, testing and delivery, which for one reason or another have not been implemented. Often, at the start of the project, technical leaders neglect CI/CD, automated testing, Unit testing, building a scalable architecture, product extensibility, the most important engineering metrics, the creation of competent management processes, and pay all attention to the rapid development and market launch of the product.

In our opinion, the introduction of continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) is technical debt that is of critical importance.This practice affects not only the speed and organization of deliveries, but also many other technological components of the product. For example, it is directly related to Unit testing, automated testing, and code review.

If you would like to continue developing the product in the future, eliminating technical debt throughout each iteration should become a standard practice for the entire team. Otherwise, it may lead to a situation where it will be impossible to boost functionality and increase sales. Therefore, sooner or later your company will come to the need to implement CI/CD.

Tech debt banner

Scheme of software development with implemented CI/CD

The concept of continuous integration and delivery is actively used in flexible software development methodologies, which are based on an incremental approach, frequent deliveries, and prompt implementation of changes. Automation of build, deployment and testing processes allows minimizing the number of bugs and vulnerabilities, quickly responding to detected bugs and maintaining product operability at a constant level.

In modern development trends, many different activities such as code review, Unit testing, code deployment on servers, test management, and others are tied with the product delivery process. If the CI/CD approach is not implemented on the project, all these actions are carried out manually, which requires extreme accuracy, attention and careful implementation of clear algorithms of actions. However, even this does not relieve the company from the influence of the human factor.

An important task of CI/CD is to automate manual actions. This allows you to significantly save and reduce the time and financial costs needed for the support. Also, CI/CD automatically increases the level of documentation on the project: with the development of this approach, all processes that occur during the new release are recorded.

With the CI/CD approach implemented, product development as a whole fits into the following scheme:

  • The developer writes the code, creates the necessary Unit tests for it, then adds the code to the repository (for example, Git).
  • The code is reviewed and then merged into the common branch.
  • Jenkins (or another tool for automatic builds) is used to run an automatic build of the product.
  • Build automated testing (Unit, UI and integration tests).
  • Based on the test results, the developer’s changes can be transferred to the release.
  • The updated version of the software is sequentially deployed on testing, staging, production servers, which is followed by quality control using manual testing.

Tracking of product operability in production can also be part of CI/CD and occur automatically. Additional functionality can be a toolkit for rollbacks to past stable states of the system.

Diagram of CI/CD process
Diagram of CI/CD process

The CI/CD concept integrates the best development and testing practices and related technological nuances (automated testing, Unit tests, Agile practices). The implementation of this approach on the project not only increases the technological level of processes and helps to save money, but also provides an excellent tool for the gradual improvement of culture. Unit testing and code review become a daily routine for software developers. A unified iterative delivery process ensures regular predictable releases. Eliminating risk and human error reduces stress and provides a healthy work environment within the team.

What awaits you if you decide to abandon CI/CD

Product development without continuous integration and delivery implementation is quite possible. However, over time, this leads to the accumulation of a large number of problems that are very difficult to cope with. Here are just a few examples of how the lack of automation can affect your project.

Development without CI/CD is:

our valueNon-transparent

If CI/CD is not used on your project, the work of software developers becomes unpredictable and non-transparent. Having assigned a task to a specialist, you can know the completion status only from their words. While with CI/CD configured, every stage of implementation, from commit to production, is very easy to track.

With continuous integration and delivery, the source code is placed in the repository every evening. At night, the update is built and automatically tested (UI, Unit tests). As a result, by the morning you will know how well the product works with the changes made. If the build is unsuccessful, the whole team will immediately receive a newsletter with this information by mail. This way you will get improved monitoring of the product status. However, only if CI/CD is implemented.

our valueExpensive

Manual build of a complex project with a large number of interconnections and additional nuances (non-trivial security mechanisms, plug-ins) requires the participation of an experienced developer, whose time will cost you a lot. With CI/CD implemented, each developer understands the build and delivery process and participates directly in it.

our valueUnstable

In the process of manual integration and building, a large number of risks and the high influence of the human factor arise. In addition, without CI/CD, it is almost impossible to establish effective automated UI and Unit testing. This means that there are no effective tools to monitor and track test coverage, there are more bugs, and the product is less stable.

our valueNot unified

If no CI/CD is implemented, the development process on the project is not described and standardized. Every software developer can work as they like. At the same time, for example, they can neglect important stages, which will negatively affect the quality and regularity of deliveries. CI/CD contributes to the documentation of processes, which promotes unification, establishment of a mandatory algorithm of actions for developers.

Benefits of applying continuous integration and delivery

Continuous integration and delivery provide:

  • Simplified diagnostics and fewer bugs.
  • Early creation of the first working version of the product.
  • Reducing the total time needed for development.
  • Improving relations with the customer and establishing a favorable psychological atmosphere in the team.
  • Predictable dates of release.

The relationship between CI/CD and product quality

Proper application of CI/CD ensures predictability and stability of the product. Several factors contribute to this:

CI/CD ensures predictability and stability of the productCI/CD ensures predictability and stability of the product

CI/CD provides for the constant application of best development practices by engineers: it establishes a single coding style in the team, as well as systematic writing of Unit tests. This approach allows checking product stability at any time. Accordingly, the cost of manual testing, as well as reputational risks during deliveries are reduced.

If frequent deliveries are implemented on your project, the introduction of CI/CD is especially relevant. In this case, you have access to more in-depth and high-quality product testing when delivered to production. Automation allows running smoke tests within short timeframes, and also conducting other types of testing, which in some cases can be critical. Naturally, this is not available when using exclusively manual testing due to lack of time. So, the risk of critical bugs in the new version of the product is reduced many times.

The use of CI/CD allows the development team to implement full-fledged test automation. In the process of implementing CI/CD, the necessary infrastructure is created to run UI autotests. In fact, if your project has continuous integration and delivery, then UI tests are run every night. Accordingly, they work much more efficiently, if compared without applying this approach. CI/CD also organizes regression testing at the system level.

Finally, an important advantage of CI/CD for maintaining product quality, but not the most obvious one, is as follows: this approach helps to cope with floating bugs, which can be reproduced with some difficulties. If bugs of this type are detected, it is very important to conduct automated Unit and UI testing as often as possible. Accordingly, with daily builds and testing, the probability of reproducing bugs multiplies.

Using CI/CD increases the team effectiveness

Having been engaged in the implementation of CI/CD on numerous projects, we have repeatedly seen how much the algorithm of work and thinking of engineers change with the introduction of this approach. Continuous integration and delivery optimize processes, thereby making specialists master new tools, as well as use best development and testing practices on a mandatory basis. This helps monitor and improve the team performance. Therefore, if you feel that your software developers do not work effectively enough or do not use best practices, you should start with the implementation of CI/CD step by step, which will organically entail important changes.

5 spheres CI/CD influences the team

1st sphere: CI/CD disciplines engineers, requires compliance with certain rules (Code Style), the use of best development practices (Test Driven Development), daily updating the common code branch, and strictly following the processes. This approach also provides opportunities for the gradual improvement of processes and increasing the requirements for the work of software developers (for example, set the following rule: the product cannot be built, if the code has not been reviewed). So, you can be sure that your team follows certain processes, important metrics are at the right level, the code works correctly and is written in the same style.
2nd sphere: Thanks to the automation of a large number of actions that were performed manually before, team performance increases and the probability of bugs in the product reduces as a result of human factor elimination. Dependence on individual team members is also eliminated: now each developer participates in the delivery.
3rd sphere: Thanks to CI/CD the team gets accustomed to carry out Unit testing on a regular basis, as this activity becomes an integral part of the development process. If developers think that Unit tests are a small auxiliary tool before the implementation of continuous integration and delivery, then after the implementation of this approach, they fully understand the value and feel the long-term effect in ensuring the quality of the product. This increases the motivation to write Unit tests, and also has a positive effect on the stability of the product.
4th sphere: Every developer feels their involvement in the release. With the CI/CD approach, the nuances of the integration and delivery processes become transparent and understandable for the entire team. Any specialist can monitor the deployment process, what bugs and difficulties arise, and how they are solved. Developers begin to write Unit tests every day, merge the code into the common branch, launch the build process, and immediately see the result of their changes. In fact, each team member is responsible for the success of the release. This helps software developers understand the impact of their work on the overall outcome. As a result, CI/CD cultivates the independence, maturity, and level of professionalism of the team and helps to establish completely predictable and high-quality deliveries.
5th sphere: CI/CD increases the involvement of founders and managers in technical nuances, as well as raises your awareness of the situation on the project. CI/CD helps non-technical specialists get versed in the nuances of the delivery process. You will receive regular reports, at any time you will be able to find out what is happening on your project, what difficulties there are in the integration and delivery processes, what status each task is in. Stakeholders and managers will easily make sure that the engineers are productive and that the work effort is correctly distributed: you will always have access to the results achieved by the team and the individual employee over a certain period of time.

How to start implementing CI/CD yourself

The implementation of continuous integration and delivery is a rather complex and time-consuming task that requires special attention from the founder and daily efforts from the team. However, as our experience shows, this activity is quite feasible without the help of third-party consultants or companies. But only if you deeply understand all the nuances of the process, as well as have the support of strong technical specialists. If this is your case, we suggest using the following plan:

Together with the developers, prepare a description of the deployment process that will be understandable and accessible to the entire team
  • a) Analyze how each part of the deployment process can be automated. If you find that you can't build your project with a single console team, that's a very bad sign. In this case, run the activity to visualize the process of building your product. To do this, you need to create a document that will record all the actions performed by your team to prepare the build (both manual and automated). Highlight all automated actions in green, everything that is not automated ‒ in yellow.
  • b) Based on the analysis, prepare a plan that will describe what steps need to be taken to automate the build process.
  • c) Allocate 20-30% of the time of your iterations to automate manual actions in this process. After 2-3 iterations, you will see the first results.
Proceed with the gradual implementation of CI/CD. This stage may include the following activities and tasks depending on the project:
  • a) Continuous integration of the frontend and backend parts of the application.
  • b) Implementation of automated Unit testing.
  • c) Configuring automated deployment in a test environment.
  • d) Configuring automated deployment on a Live server.

If the team does not support your idea or you have encountered difficulties, you can contact us for advice on comprehensive implementation.

How can we help you?

Our company has a wealth of experience in the painless implementation of CI/CD without unnecessary costs and stress for the team. At the initial stages, we deeply analyze the delivery process in order to understand the weaknesses and strengths of the project, identify technical debt and prepare a plan to eliminate it. Also, our team organizes the preparation of the necessary accompanying documentation and the conduct of practical preparatory work by the DevOps engineer. Next, we proceed to the iterative implementation of CI/CD, overcome learned helplessness and team resistance. We implement the full cycle of continuous integration using Jenkins/Hudson (and any other CI/CD tools), automate the build process using Maven, Gradle, etc. If necessary, we use Docker and other container technologies to automate deployment.

By implementing CI/CD, we improve the technological side of the product, as well as contribute to the optimization and improvement of processes on the project. Experience shows that the earlier you invest in the implementation of CI/CD, the more money, time and effort you can save. At the same time, the first significant results from the transition to this practice will be seen a few months later.

Our company has experience in establishing continuous integration and delivery on completely different projects. In particular, we can help with the implementation of certain stages or provide a range of services. We have expertise in the following areas of work related to the implementation of CI/CD:

  • Integrated implementation of CI/CD processes from scratch.
  • Development of the existing CI/CD process.
  • Autotests integration in CI/CD.
  • Optimization of the strategy for using the version control system (Git).
  • Optimization of the delivery process through CI/CD.
  • Solving accompanying business problems (painless expansion of the development team).

Case №1

The customer's company did not apply continuous integration and delivery, as well as automated testing. Writing Unit tests was a rare practice: the code coverage was about 10%. Accordingly, any attempts to develop the product and implement changes caused a large number of bugs. The delivery process was manual and required much resources, both financial and time expenditures. Constantly occurring bugs and delays in releases led to a state in which further development of the product was impossible. Technological difficulties also affected the team's productivity: engineers lost faith in the success of further work and were not motivated to implement improvements. At the same time, the founder was also dissatisfied with the work of the team, as a result of which the atmosphere on the project was toxic and difficult. The customer wanted to speed up and simplify the processes on the project, as well as to achieve high-quality and stable product deliveries. To achieve the goals, our team joined the project. We had a task to implement and configure CI/CD. It was also necessary to solve the problem of mistrust between the founders and the team .
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Case №2

The complex B2B system had a large codebase with a non-trivial, intricate architecture and mixed code layers (business layer, database, controller, UI). There were almost no Unit tests, product quality control was not carried out on a regular basis, and only manual testing was used. The principles of continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) were not implemented on the project, the product was built and the servers were updated manually, which negatively affected the speed of delivery. Constantly delayed releases caused dissatisfaction of the business owners and end customers. The situation was complicated by a lack of proactivity and technical leadership on the part of engineers and the technical debt accumulated over the years. Initiatives to introduce new engineering practices that benefit the project in the long term were not given due attention, so the developers faced learned helplessness. Our team was involved in the project to comprehensively improve the situation. We worked on the implementation of continuous integration and delivery, process transformation, the introduction of automated testing, as well as changing the culture on the project.
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