Continuous Delivery and ITIL

ITIL provides several mechanisms which enable lightweight change management processes:

  • Standard changes that are pre-approved.
  • CAB (change advisory board) approvals that are performed electronically, rather than at face-to-face meetings.
  • Arranging in advance which subset of CAB members are required to approve each type of change.

ITIL follows the common-sense doctrine that each change must be evaluated primarily in terms of both its risk and value to the business. So the best way to enable a low-ceremony change management process is to reduce the risk of each change and increase its value. Continuous delivery does exactly this by ensuring that releases are performed regularly from early on in the delivery process, and ensuring that delivery teams are working on the most valuable thing they could be at any given time, based on feedback from users.

Figure 1: Traditional delivery

In a traditional delivery lifecycle, even with agile projects, the delivery cadence looks rather like figure 1. The first release can often take some time: for really large projects, years, and even for small projects typically at least six months. Further releases typically occur with a relatively regular rhythm – perhaps every few months for a major release, with a minor release every month.

In the world of continuous delivery, and in particular continuous deployment, things look somewhat different. New projects will provision their production environment as part of project inception, and begin releasing to it as early as possible in the delivery process – potentially long before the service is actually made available to users. Further changes are made as frequently as possible, so that in effect there are no subsequent major releases, or indeed minor releases – every further release is a micro release. Project managers will focus on optimizing for cycle time, ensuring that changes to the system get put live as rapidly as possible. This process is shown in figure 2.

Figure 2: Continuous delivery

Continuous delivery has several important effects both on the delivery process and on the organization as a whole. First of all, it means operations must work closely with the rest of the delivery team from early on in the project. The combined team must provision the production environment and testing environments, and create automated processes both for managing their configuration and for deploying the nascent application to them as part of the deployment pipeline.

Because operations personnel get to see the application from early on in its development, they can feed their requirements (such as monitoring capabilities) into the development process. Because developers get to see the system in production, they can run realistic load tests from early on and get rapid feedback on whether the architecture of the application will support its cross-functional requirements. This early and iterative release process also exerts a strong pressure to ensure that the system is production ready throughout its lifecycle.

Continuous delivery enables a low-ceremony change management process by ensuring that the first (and riskiest) release is done long before users are given access to the system. Further releases are performed frequently – perhaps as often as several times a day, and certainly no less often than once per iteration. This reduces the delta of change, reducing the risk of each individual release, and making it easier to remediate failed changes. Because continuous delivery mandates that each release must be comprehensively tested in a production-like environment, the risk of each release is further reduced.

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