A Business View of Continuous Delivery
Image: Muhamad Elias via Flickr
An interesting article came out recently, “Why Continuous Deployment may mean Continuous Disappointment for your Customers.” It correctly identifies the human need for a shiny, new thing every so often. And it argues that the practice of continuous deployment could lead to disenchantment with incremental updates.
The article cites examples of companies whose customers were left disillusioned by incremental additions or subtractions to existing capability.
There are at least a couple of underlying issues to explore.
- What does it mean to continuously deliver? What are we delivering, to whom, and when?
- What are my customer’s expectations? Are they being met?
First, it is important to understand that the “delivery” or “deployment” in continuous delivery doesn’t necessarily imply delivery to the end customer. The bible on the subject, “Continuous Delivery” by Jez Humble and David Farley, suggests that continuous delivery simply implies maintaining a state of readiness. The state of readiness implies you did deliver an update to someone. It did go through quality control and stakeholder approvals. However, business gets to decide the what, the whom and the when. This works really well for verticals like cloud-based software, where you might want to deliver new functionality to a select group of customers to begin with, vet that functionality, and then roll out to a larger audience. Continuous delivery doesn’t necessitate delivery of every update to the customer, the moment the code is deployed. In fact, you might deliver daily updates to only your product manager and QA team, and that is it. This distinction is subtle, but often overlooked, leading to confusion.
Second, most business-minded staff would agree that to grow brand appeal it helps to have big announcements at a regular cadence. Depending on the sector, the announcement could be yearly, or quarterly if you just have a primary product line, or at a higher frequency across several product lines. We have seen the likes of Apple announce a new phone, a new device, the one more thing, at least once a year. It builds a sense of mystique and excitement. People wouldn’t wait in lines for a new version of a phone released every month. Building anticipation is essential if you want people to sit up and take notice. In other sectors, a constant stream of updates is more desirable. We see this phenomenon with mobile apps. No big announcements required — just updates. We are used to that. Major updates still come every so often.
This also brings to bear an important issue. Customers don’t like big changes frequently. It takes time for us to get used to a new product. Some products come only at a considerable cost. A new update that arrives sooner than justified by the cost of acquisition can create a backlash. Release a new product too quickly on the heels of the last one—without advance notice—and you might cause angst in the customers who only recently bought the previous version. Loyal customers might feel burnt by the quick update. They might even abandon the brand altogether as a result of feeling the company is apathetic to them. This is especially the case with hardware products—cameras, computers and the like.
If practiced the right way, Continuous Delivery should allow marketers to balance the extremes. You can choose to release incremental updates as they become available to all customers. You can choose to limit major updates or new deliverables until you’re convinced that they satisfy customer requirements, and go for the big launch. Either way, continuous delivery can help return control to the business.
That said, there is much to learn about the impact of Continuous Delivery on a business and its customers. With customers in many different verticals, we have a great vantage point to see how this practice evolves. Our data suggests there’s a lot of movement to this practice. And we’re excited to play an important role in the shift.
To learn more about Continuous Delivery, have a look at our CD Report.