Getting Started with CI/CD: Best Practices

Part 3 of 3

Implementing Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Deployment (CD) is more than picking tools. How you implement them is more important than what systems you use. As we discussed in part 2 of this series, your tool selections are impacted by balancing needs and budget. You could license top-of-the-line tools, use them poorly, and ultimately fail. Your workflow needs to fit your developers and infrastructure engineers, and then you have to get everyone trained in your workflow. But even beyond that is mapping effective processes that maximize the return on investment, while minimizing errors and problems. Using CI/CD best practices helps to ensure a smooth transition into the approach and long-term success with your software development.

And CI/CD process management is never over… There’s simply no single templated CI/CD pipeline that handles all deployment scenarios. So you go into CI/CD implementation with the goal of improving your delivery, step-by-step, over time. Tumble the stone! Your team will improve, your software will get better, and your customers will have a better experience.

Here are some CI/CD best practices to consider.

Think Pareto Principle

An incremental approach to automation is always a good idea. When transitioning to automated integration & deployment processes, you may find it hard to decide what to automate first. Consider automating the build process first. Then you may want to automate your unit testing to reduce the impact on developers. Start simple, but prioritize what you do next based on impact on the development team.

Measure and Monitor

Many CI/CD tools will help track your progress. How many times are we building each day (compared with a prior day)? Is deployment faster than it was last month? Should we rollback the latest deployment? Determine your success metrics, measure them, and monitor them regularly. As you automate more, adapt your measurements.

Emphasize Security

As we have learned from recent cyber threats, CI/CD systems represent some of the most critical infrastructure to protect. First, we need to isolate and secure CI/CD environments, deploying them to internal, protected networks, unexposed to the outside. And perhaps you’ve heard of DevSecOps, which considers application & infrastructure security from the start. DevSecOps automates security to keep the DevOps workflow moving quickly. allowing the least privilege possible to minimize unauthorized connections and access.

Commit Often & Reduce Branching

Developers should integrate their code regularly with the main branch of the repository. Reducing branching decreases time spent on version control and increases time spent on productive development.

Fail Early, Fail Often

We firmly believe in “shift left” testing, running more tests locally even before committing code to the CI/CD Pipeline. That is, integrating unit tests in your CI pipeline allows code to fail early in the process and avoid more expensive fails later in the pipeline, or even worse production problems. Ideally, you work in smaller update batches, release more frequently, and learn from defects before (& after…) they get into production.

Make the CI/CD Pipeline the Only Way to Deploy to Production

When you embrace CI/CD, don’t enable workarounds like alternate ways to deploy. You must commit to the process. Adapt as needed, but don’t allow alternative approaches to enter the conversation. Just say no.

Continuously Automate the Delivery Lifecycle

Continually evaluate your processes and automated and integrated tests in your CI/CD pipeline. Needs change, things break, systems evolve. Follow your metrics and use them to iterate.

Maintain Parity with Production

Differences between staging environments and production can allow releases with issues that go undetected in testing. Since CI/CD pipelines promote changes through a series of tests and environments, changes that pass one stage move into the next stage of the pipeline. Each stage is supposed to validate pushing the changes closer to production. Minimize variations to better simulate how changes would behave in production.

Prepare a Rollback Strategy

Develop a release strategy that fits your CD process to reduce risky deployments. Note, you need a release AND rollback strategy. When you release software, you can introduce software bugs or delivery problems.

Adapting CI/CD Best Practices for Your Team

By no means is our best practices list comprehensive, but it seeds your plans so you can get going. The ultimate best practice is to start simple, then expand. Listen to your team’s feedback, following CI/CD best practices as you go. The return on investment awaits teams who automate, test, monitor, and iterate. CI/CD grew in popularity, not because of its shiny packaging, but because of its dividends. Team morale improves, productivity rises, and customer satisfaction grows.

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