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Faster Release Cycles Create Better Software

Michael Coté & Danielle Burrow & Susie Forbath & Tyson McNulty

You’re probably tired of hearing that “software is eating the world.” We know we are! In the more than 10 years since this aphoristic piece of strategy was published, it’s come to mean that successful organizations are relying on software as their primary “storefront” with customers and how they optimize internal operations. That is, software helps them run their business better. Thus, for these organizations, improving how they do software directly improves how their business runs.

The benefits of more frequent releases are both improved quality and business outcomes. “Quality” here means fewer problems in the software through the ability to quickly resolve errors, security problems, and performance issues. “Business outcomes” is just fancy business-think language. People also use the phrase “business value.” Both phrases mean that your software helps run your organization and achieve whatever goals or mission you have, be that profit, services to citizens, or execution of a mission. These capabilities and outcomes make your software, and therefore your business, more resilient and successful.1

Despite the benefits, many organizations are held back from more frequent releases. One survey found that, for example, 48% of executives say they haven’t changed their applications in a year or more.2 This matches our anecdotal evidence over the years. What we’ve found is that these organizations are dealing with a high amount of developer toil and technical debt. People working on software spend too much time on processes that could be automated or even eliminated. Ironically, this toil builds up over time as people prioritize shipping features rather than addressing the problems in their overall software process. Although they’re able to change their software quickly at first, just like debt in real life, if this toil and tech debt are neglected, they take over and consume the organization’s ability to grow. This results in long, infrequent release cycles. A feature that seemed simple and once just took “15 minutes” now takes weeks, or even months to get in front of users.

Well, enough with telling you that there’s a problem. You’ll know if you’re suffering from the legacy trap and have a sense of being overburdened with tech debt. Let’s get on to discussing the methods we’ve seen organizations use to address developer toil and speed up release cycles.

  1. For a deeper study on this, see the book Accelerate: The Science of Lean Software and DevOps↩︎

  2. “Improving Customer Experience And Revenue Starts With The App Portfolio,” Forrester Consulting, March, 2020. ↩︎