Continuous Deployment: Are you releasing poor-quality software faster?

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In recent years, quality assurance and development teams have undergone a number of changes and have adopted many new practices that promise to give their operations a boost. For example, agile testing methodologies have completely changed how QA interacts with software projects, when testing takes place and the overall quality of the final product. Under this umbrella, continuous deployment has thrived as a method to deliver features and fixes as soon as they're ready. However, is this practice really beneficial to teams?

Pitfalls of continuous efforts

The idea behind being "continuous" is one that has completely revolutionized software development projects. Teams no longer need to trek through long, laborious processes to build a monolithic program. Because of this, the quickness of their operations can sometimes mean that necessary efforts get lost by the wayside. AgileAlliance noted that it's easy to pick the wrong target and optimize for the maximum frequency of deployments, but this does not help foster a culture for better built-in quality. In fact, the infrastructure needed for continuous deployment allows for easy delivery of new features, even if a defect hasn't been identified by automated tests. This could lead to a number of issues including crashing and incompatible elements, making the new deployment unusable.

Another issue that comes from continuous deployment is that many teams don't go above and beyond to make sure that everything functions as it should. The Guardian contributors Phil Wills and Simon Hildrew noted that teams fail to keep an eye on deployments and software testing metrics as they pass through the system, making it difficult to measure a project's progress and gauge its overall value.

"The automated checks to validate a deploy are not mature enough to rely on, and we found that when people didn't manually initiate a deploy they were less likely to monitor metrics during and after it," Wills and Hildrew wrote.

Using continuous deployment the right way

Despite the potential challenges, continuous deployment can be a significant advantage for development and QA teams. Not only does it enable them to get deliverables to the market faster than ever, but it also helps foster smaller build iterations to foster a culture ripe for built-in quality. CA Technologies' Franco Mancini noted that developers are often the last to know how their code has performed. With devops continuous delivery, users can provide feedback much faster than before, and this early insight could lead to better results during the rest of the development cycle. In addition, testing often gets shortened along with the tightened delivery schedules. Agile efforts have somewhat changed this problem so that QA is involved throughout the project's lifecycle and can make better testing decisions.

Another thing that teams have traditionally worried about is stale code. In the past, developers have simply built onto one version - meaning that some features may adversely affect others without teams knowing until it's too late. CSS-Tricks noted that continuous deployment encourages teams to constantly push their code to staging environments or production. This will enable QA to test the iteration and give feedback to ensure the project works effectively once it's ultimately released to users.

"It has never been easier or cheaper to build great software," CSS-Tricks stated. "This levels the playing field between you and your competition. You need to ship new features faster than your competition while delivering better and stable long-term quality. Continuous deployment is one of the techniques that will help you to get there."

Keeping track of it all

With the fast pace of agile operations, it can be a significant challenge to stay on top of every issue and test that QA teams need to take care of. For this reason, it's essential to have a solution that tracks issues and offers comprehensive defect mitigation capabilities. Atlassian senior developer Steve Smith noted that every bug, feature request and change should have a unique ticket. This type of organization will make it much easier to track the progress of the project and can integrate well with testing efforts. Defect tracking will also make teams accountable for handling the problem and ensuring that there is no duplication of effort.

Beyond defects, QA teams will also want to have clear oversight into their testing efforts. Project testing will be much smoother with test management tools, as these solutions offer a wide variety of capabilities from manual operations to integrating with automation. They also provide a portal to effectively collaborate and ensure that tests are executed as required. The prioritization features keep everyone on the same page and guide QA teams to complete the most integral elements first, significantly improving overall quality.

Continuous deployment can be a lot to take on for some teams, but by understanding how to utilize it effectively, you will be able to create better applications and directly boost project quality across the board.