The practice of continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) is fundamental to modern software development. And yet, many organizations are still using slow, error-prone, manual processes to build, test and deploy their software. Sometimes, the blocker can be engineers who don’t want to change how they’ve always done things, but most often folks in the trenches are chomping at the bit to automate. All too frequently, it is IT leadership and executives who need to be convinced that making a large investment in updating tools, training and culture will net returns greater than the cost.
If you want to change management’s mind about an investment in CI/CD, focus on making a strong business case. This may sound daunting, but it’s easier than you think. Learning a bit about how to advocate for budget and organizational change can go a long way. Just think about what life would be like if, instead of sitting in endless change management meetings, you could get your code to production simply by merging to master while automation takes care of the rest.
This article will get you started with some concrete tips you can use to get CI/CD green-lit by your leadership.
Agile and DevOps are all about breaking things up into smaller chunks. It may seem counterintuitive, but deploying more frequently equates to less risk because small changes are easier to orchestrate, troubleshoot and roll back than large complicated deployments. In that same way, you can reduce the risk to the organization by taking a DevOps approach to transformation. Rather than trying to upend your entire process, see how you can break the change up into small, iterative chunks.
Almost every large enterprise that has successfully adopted wide-spread CI/CD started with one lighthouse team. Changing everything is a tough sell. Instead, approach management with a low-risk proposal: “We’d like to run an experiment to see if we can deliver more quickly and reduce costs. We have one team that will take one small project and test CI/CD automation to see what the results will be. We can leverage open source tooling to get started at a low cost.” Even the most stingy budget holder should find the proposal intriguing.
Measure the Results
Once you’ve started to conduct your experiment, it’s important to measure what you observe. What are the differences between the old way and the new way? The more concretely you can quantify it, the better. Saying, “We went faster,” doesn’t carry a lot of weight. But if you can quantify it, your message becomes more potent. For example, “Our previous cycle time from the moment a developer begins work on a ticket to the time that code is running in production and useable was 30 days. By automating some of our manual efforts using CI/CD we have cut that to five days.”
For this part of the process there’s no need for exact numbers. Most likely if you aren’t doing CI/CD today, you likely don’t have the instrumentation in place to accurately measure cycle time. But don’t let that be a blocker. You can give estimates. “From about one month to one week,” is still a powerful story.
Some other metrics to capture that can help make your case are:
- Number of tests run.
- Code coverage in terms of percentage of code tested.
- Number of people-hours required.
- Number of defects in production or number of regressions/roll backs needed.
- Mean time to repair (MTTR): The average time from when a bug/failure is discovered in production to when the fix is running.
- Frequency of releases—how often new capabilities are available for users.
- Cost to deploy: This is a very powerful metric if you can estimate it. A good rule of thumb is: (number of people minus hours, times average hourly rate) plus (cost of assets and services required).
Aim to use three to five metrics to prove your case. You don’t want to overwhelm with data. The point is to show that things are better with CI/CD, not that you’ve gathered a lot of numbers. Use a simple before-and-after format to show the change. State the changes in terms of increased value, reduced cost and/or reduced risk. For example, “We increased value for our users by shipping 10 times more features in the same time frame, reduced deployment costs by 80% and reduced risk by increasing code coverage by 30 points from 40% to 70%.”
Couple Your Efforts to Business Outcomes
A critical element of IT success is how closely you can partner with the business. It can be next to impossible to get initiatives green-lit if the only benefit is to make things better for IT. But if you can show how some extra effort spent on IT modernization can drive results for the business, then you’ll find you start getting enthusiastic approval from leadership.
Collaborating with people outside of IT or software R&D is a career-enhancing skill every technical practitioner should strive to improve.
Get to know what efforts in sales, marketing and product are dependent on IT. For example, the sales department may desperately need additional capabilities in their forecasting tool if they are going to execute strategic deal acceleration, ensure quarterly numbers are consistent and avoid unpredictability with shareholders. In other words, the fact that your slow delivery cycle can’t get those new features on the release calendar for another three months is putting the stock price in jeopardy.
To avoid this tragedy, you can tie your CI/CD efforts to the sales outcomes. By getting to know the pain points of your sales colleagues, you can craft a powerhouse “ask” to leadership. “We’d like implement CI/CD to automate deployments for our sales data management system. This will allow us to implement new filters in a matter of days rather than months which sales needs to hit their numbers.”
Pulling It All Together
It can be demoralizing to feel like you are behind the curve. Looking at other businesses who have already adopted CI/CD it can feel like you might never catch up. If this is the case, some axioms are appropriate, such as the famous Chinese proverb from the Tao Te Ching “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” And as Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
The reality is that you are not alone. Many organizations, especially large enterprises, are relying on outdated software practices. Convincing leadership to green-light IT modernization efforts can be a challenge. Adopting CI/CD in a meaningful way does require significant investment, but there is a lot you can do to smooth the path for them and earn their support.
Begin by identifying a small adventurous team who can serve as an experimental testing grounds. Not only will their success help to convince leadership, but their example serves to light the way for other teams to adopt DevOps. Identify metrics you want to capture and be sure to instrument so you can measure the improvement. Pick a few metrics that show increase in value, decrease in cost and decrease in risk. Finally, reach across the org to collaborate with your non-engineering peers. By showing how your modernization effort drives outcomes for the business you’ll be sure to earn respect as well as additional budget to expand your CI/CD efforts.
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