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The Role of Continuous Integration in Agile

Many terms concerning the automation of the software delivery life cycle (SDLC) can be confusing, definitions murky, and abbreviations easy to forget. Today, let’s cover what role continuous integration has in Agile. We’ll dip our toe into continuous delivery, continuous deployment, and even DevOps, without drowning in the deep end of technicality.

What is continuous integration?

Continuous integration (CI) is the restructuring of the software development and delivery cycle to support many small changes, as opposed to a few large ones. It automatically moves code through the build and test environments of the SDLC, given the code passes the necessary checks. The tests in the test environment can be automated, or you can choose to require human approval, or both.

After every stage, feedback is sent to the developer. If any tests fail, the code is sent back to developers.

Because code automatically moves from one environment to the next, many manual tasks are eliminated from the developers’ workload. With fewer mundane manual tasks, developers can focus on more enjoyable, value-adding work. And because the delivery lifecycle doesn’t have to wait for human intervention, bottlenecks are eliminated and time to delivery is faster.

Additionally, any errors are found easily and resolved quickly because small batches of code are released frequently.

Continuous integration has many benefits, including:

  • Rapid integration
  • Improved visibility
  • Increase coordination and communication
  • Improved quality
  • Reduced risk
  • Fast resolution of issues
  • Reallocation of resources to strategic objectives

Ultimately, when continuous integration is incorporated into a SDLC well, your team can establish a fast, reliable, and sustainable development pace. This not only benefits your IT team, but the business as a whole.

If you are currently in an Agile-only position, begin by adopting continuous integration into your pipeline.

As your development team starts to reap the benefits of continuous integration, working more efficiently, effectively, and at a higher quality, move further down the pipeline with this continuous mindset and adopt continuous delivery.

What is Agile?

Agile is a methodology based on the practices first outlined in the book Agile Manifesto and its 12 principles. It is a mindset, rather than a set of strict protocol. Agile focuses on people, with fundamental values including teamwork, self-organization, and accountability.

Agile is frequently contrasted with the older waterfall methodology. It was developed to better deliver software, focusing on collaboration, communication, and constant change.

Additionally, an Agile mindset stresses testing, gathering feedback, and adjusting as a primary method to developing and delivering the best software. This means small batches of code are released frequently so feedback can be collected, and any corrections can be quickly made.

What is the importance of continuous integration in agile?

Continuous integration is integral for an Agile methodology. Agile and the frequent delivery of code can only be achieved if there is a CI/CD pipeline in place to automate manual processes for developers and streamline the process of writing and delivering code.

When Agile and continuous integration are combined, the SDLC can be transformed and many of the disadvantages from the old waterfall methodology can be eliminated. Ultimately, this results in efficient and rapid deployment.

However, levels of bureaucracy can dampen the progress of continuous integration and Agile. The code delivery process takes an increasing amount of time with every additional layer of approval required. These delays impede innovation and organizations are unable to respond quickly to external changes.

Most importantly, the creativity of the development team is hindered by these levels of bureaucracy. As a result, it can be difficult to retain valuable employees as they move on to organizations where they can work on more value adding projects rather than moving a small software change through approvals.

The extended approval process and hindered creativity of developers delays the delivery of value to customers.

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Is continuous integration enough?

Continuous integration is a step toward Agile. Although the adoption of continuous integration is a rather large step (a leap for many organizations), continuous delivery (CD) must be part of the transition. Without both continuous integration and continuous delivery, manual tasks will continue to slow you down and hinder any benefits of Agile you may hope to experience.

Unfortunately, many organizations believe they have adopted a full CI/CD pipeline when they have not. Instead, they have implemented continuous integration and either only partial continuous delivery, or none at all.

If you notice your process of writing and delivering code is not streamlined, or you observe bottlenecks or delays from manual testing and approval processes, you may be one of these companies.

Go beyond continuous integration to eliminate these slowdowns by adopting a full CI/CD pipeline.

Not only will your developers, operations, and QA teams benefit, but your external customers will benefit as well. This streamlined process allows for faster delivery of high-quality features. You will also be able to quickly respond to and correct any bugs.

Truly Agile development goes beyond to also include continuous deployment. Continuous integration means developers’ code changes are automatically merged to a shared repository several times a day. Continuous deployment means applications are automatically updated after changes are passed by QA. Ultimately, the goal after the adoption of full CI/CD is continuous deployment, that is a fully automated release pipeline where changes are deployed into production without human intervention.

What is the difference between DevOps and Agile?

Both Agile and DevOps include CI/CD and are focused on collaboration and transparency. Lines between these two methodologies can easily be blurred and the terms are often used synonymously.

In the previous section, we explored how continuous integration, continuous delivery, and continuous deployment are necessary to streamline your SDLC and experience the full benefits of Agile. However, Agile is a mindset so you can be incorporating Agile practices without adopting all these processes.

Agile is primarily concerned with individuals, rather than tools. Its focus is on aligning teams and product development with the needs of customers.

DevOps, on the other hand, focuses on increasing collaboration between Dev and Ops and promoting processes including CI/CD and test automation. Continuous integration is viewed as the first step in the adoption of DevOps which will inevitably lead to continuous delivery.

This is not to imply that DevOps is not concerned with teams and customers. The processes of DevOps result in increased communication between two otherwise siloed groups and streamlined processes that lead to happier teams and better end products for customers.

The adoption of DevOps is accelerating as more and more companies are looking for a method to quicken their SDLC, bring greater value to customers, and improve business outcomes.

Previously, Agile was adopted with hesitancy as it was questioned as a fad. Today, DevOps is being adopted quite pervasively, although some remain hesitant as they had been with Agile. With time, we may come to think of DevOps as we currently look at Agile: a solution to the SDLC that allows companies to develop and release software with less time, decreased costs, and fewer headaches.

As you can see, Agile and DevOps are similar in many ways. They are not competing schools of thought, but rather, methodologies with different focuses that can be used simultaneously to complement each other and enable successful execution.

(If you’d like to learn more about DevOps, here are some basics.)

Is it time to adopt Agile?

Adopting Agile takes time, resources, and commitment. But once the team has embraced the new methodology and adapted, both the team and the business will begin to reap the rewards.

The upfront costs and time quickly pay off as business value flows quickly from developer to end product. Organizations that incorporate Agile with a full CI/CD pipeline are able to retain top employees, innovate faster than the competition, and wow their customers.

Ready to adopt Agile and/or DevOps? Well, it all begins with continuous integration.

See how other companies adopted DevOps.

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