CI/CD and Agile: Why CI/CD Promotes True Agile Development

What is CI/CD?

Continuous Integration (CI) is a software engineering practice in which team members frequently integrate their work via a central version control system. According to current CI best practices, teams should integrate new code at least every few hours, and ideally should integrate every code commit, approaching truly “continuous” integration.

Historically, integration was a complex and time consuming activity that was performed towards the end of a development project. CI emphasizes automation tools that enable fast builds and tests, providing fast feedback for developers and promoting code quality. Successful CI reduces the effort of software builds and code integration, allowing teams to identify code quality issues and integration errors quickly, and remediate them early in the development lifecycle.

Continuous Delivery (CD) is the automated packaging and deployment of new releases created via the CI process. Teams implementing CD can build, configure, and package new software versions and orchestrate deployment to enable immediate release to production. 

CI together with CD forms the CI/CD pipeline, which allows organizations to push code from initial development to testing, staging, and production environments, fully automatically.

What is Agile Software Development?

Agile is a software development approach that promotes creating in rapid iterations to continuously deliver working software.

Agile does not include a set of practices that define software development actions. Instead, the approach offers a way to think about collaboration and workflows. Agile offers a set of values that guide your choices regarding what you make and how you make it.

Agile software development methodologies focus on quickly delivering small pieces of working software to improve customer satisfaction. 

Agile methodologies typically use adaptive approaches and teamwork to promote continuous improvement. Agile software development usually consists of small, self-organized teams of business representatives and developers that regularly meet in person during the entire software development lifecycle. 

Agile promotes a lightweight approach to documentation, embracing changes at all lifecycle phases.

What Are the Agile Manifesto Principles?

Agile revolutionized software development. It has its roots in the Agile manifesto published in 2001, which introduced a new way of managing software projects, dramatically different from the waterfall approach that was prevalent at the time. Today, Agile principles are widely recognized and form the foundation of most software development organizations.

Although agile is now mainstream, it is still important for teams to be aware of its principles and ensure they are implementing them correctly. Proper application of agile values and the 12 agile principles can help organizations improve software quality and streamline application delivery. 

Even more importantly, when properly implemented, agile practices should improve developer well being and job satisfaction, while improving development efficiency.

Core Values of Agile Development

The four core values of agile software development can be summarized as:

  1. Focus on individuals and interactions, not processes and tools
  2. Focus on working software, not comprehensive documentation
  3. Focus on cooperation with customers, not contract negotiation
  4. Focus on responding to changing requirements, not following project plans.

The 12 Agile Principles

The 12 principles outlined in the Agile Manifesto are:

  1. Keep customers happy by delivering value early and consistently
  2. Break large tasks into smaller tasks that can be completed quickly
  3. Recognize that self-organizing teams can provide the best results
  4. Give individuals the environment and support they need to get the job done
  5. Create processes that promote sustainable efforts over time
  6. Maintain a steady rhythm of delivery for completed work
  7. Welcome changing requirements at any point during a project timeline
  8. Convene project team and business owners daily throughout a project
  9. Regularly think about how to improve efficiency and adjust development practices
  10. Measure progress by the amount of completed, customer-valuable work
  11. Continually pursue excellence
  12. Use change to achieve a competitive edge

The agile principles do not specify how technology should be used to improve development processes, and do not say anything about automation. But DevOps teams built on these principles have realized that without automating the software delivery process, true agile development would not be possible. This is where CI/CD comes in.

Enabling Agile with CI/CD and DevOps

The agile principles influenced the DevOps movement that gave birth to CI/CD. Agile’s focus is on the work of development teams, but DevOps has expanded its realm to cover additional downstream processes, including deployment and software release processes.

DevOps emphasizes the importance of breaking down silos and enabling cooperation between teams to achieve a common goal. That goal is to provide users with valuable software and a continuous stream of updates and improvements. The DevOps movement introduced continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment as practices designed to accelerate software delivery without compromising quality.

Related content: Read our guide to the CI/CD pipeline

CI/CD Promotes Iterative Development

The CI/CD pipeline aims to automate as many steps as possible in the development process, providing rapid feedback and reducing the time it takes to release software to users. Perhaps most importantly, the CI/CD pipeline provided a practical way to break large development projects into small parts, and help test and deliver them to users in an iterative manner.

The CI/CD pipeline encourages developers to commit code early and often. It automatically tests code changes, provides feedback, and allows changes to pass through the pipeline and be released to production if they meet the required quality. Thus, CI/CD allows teams to rapidly deliver software that works and provides value to customers.

CI/CD Promotes Collaboration

DevOps emphasizes the agile value of collaboration and communication. The initial focus of DevOps was on collaboration between development and operations teams, but it had a greater impact on organizations as a whole. 

CI/CD pipelines provide dashboards and notifications that enable visibility into changes made in each build. This allows DevOps teams not only to understand their progress but also to share it with all stakeholders in the organization.

CI/CD Promotes Quality

At the heart of the CI/CD pipeline are automated tests that provide quick feedback on code changes and enable confidence in build quality. Running automated tests on every commit is an important step to ensure that software is working properly, and is a prerequisite for automated deployment to production.

An important element of software quality is fast feedback. By automating steps in the release process, teams can deploy changes on a daily or hourly basis, creating a continuous feedback loop. This makes it possible to get fast feedback from customers, in order to continuously improve software and ensure every incremental change truly delivers value to customers.

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