Japanese carmaker Toyota was one of the first companies to embrace a theory called Kaizen. Never heard about it? It’s a productivity philosophy that is all about deliberate, continuous improvement. In Software Land we have something similar, it’s called the AgileMethod and Continuous Delivery is an important part of it (we wrote a blog about Agile development before, go here if you missed it). The main principle is the same for both theories however; they’re based on constant evolution and improvement. Here’s why we think you should embrace Continuous Delivery now.
Once Upon a Time
Back to the car business for a second. The moment our Japanese friends at Toyota first introduced the Kaizen philosophy, their production and delivery quality immediately went up. Whenever there was an issue, a solution was usually found within hours, resulting in a high-quality end product that was reliable, safe and consistent in its functioning; every car buyer’s dream.
Now, in the early days of software development, updates and improvements only came about when a new version was to be rolled out. It was the rise of the internet that changed everything. Software evolved into apps that were used on smartphones – and software quality, robustness and security were now tested every hour instead of every year.
At first, software development companies found this fast pace difficult to cope with. But then someone discovered that certain (Kaizen) concepts from the manufacturing industry could be adapted to enhance the speed and efficiency of the development process. What’s more, development and operational teams could be brought together and work closely with each other.
Just like standardisation and automation helped Toyota reach amazing levels of quality, so too did it benefit software development companies to speed up their processes in attending to customer needs and in ensuring a stable program throughout.
Continuous Delivery in a Nutshell
When it comes to agile software development, Continuous Delivery revolves around 4 key elements: Build, Deploy, Test and Release. Each element is governed by the following basic principles.
Built in Quality
This means you reduce mass inspection done in a separate queue and incorporate it into the development cycle: it’s about trying to automate as much as possible.
Work in Small Batches
Don’t wait for a month’s worth of code. Instead, take the bugs or bits in small sections and release them step by step. This makes it a lot easier to tackle a problem, if there is one.
Generally speaking you want to keep in mind that the computer should perform the repetitive tasks and that the people are there to solve the (potential) problems. Every member of the workforce is constantly on the lookout for improvement and everyone is responsible for the end product.
There are many reasons why companies decide to work in an agile way. But for now, let’s have a look at the main benefits of a Continuous Delivery minded organizational structure.
1. Lower Risk
Continuous Delivery is about constant improvement. You don’t wait until you’ve got the end product – no – you test your software right from the start. All this testing and bug analyzing will help you streamline developments and updates into smaller increments that can be launched faster and gradually with less stress.
What’s more, the transparency between the operations and development staff guarantees a smooth flow; from identification to rectification and eventually the launch to the customer. In other words: the fact that you’ve been testing and improving your software straight from the start means there is a lower risk of unexpected – and unpleasant – surprises when you launch your product.
2. Faster Time to Market
Traditional software development models can take weeks or months to reach the end of a project. With Continuous Delivery a project is not divided into different individual stages, all the elements of a software delivery lifecycle – build, deploy, test and release – are ongoing activities. This means developers can correct and improve things immediately if need be, making the process as a whole more efficient.
3. Higher Quality & Lower Costs
Here’s an example of how Continuous Delivery can help you get a higher quality product at a lower cost. Let’s go back to our car example again. How expensive would it be if you’d have to wait until the car is fully assembled before you can correct an error that has been made at the start of the assembly line? We’re no car experts, but we’d say it would cost you – a lot – of money. Depending on the issue, you’d have to completely dismantle the car, or probably hundreds of cars, to replace whatever it is that needs replacing.
Now imagine we’re at the Toyota Motor Corporation in Toyota, Japan. An assembly worker spots the faulty part, gets his manager to stop the line, finds out what’s wrong and replaces the faulty part. This employee just singlehandedly saved the company a lot of time and money, just because Toyota uses Kaizen as one of its core business principles.
4. Happier Teams
This one shouldn’t come as a surprise really. If you’ve got less last-minute dramas to solve, because you’ve tested and improved your software throughout the entire process, your employees will have less stress. This in turn will lead to a lower burnout rate, less conflicts at work and generally just happier employees. A classic win win we’d say!
Our Own Experience
Here at Gapstars, we’ve been among the ‘Kaizen Believers’ for a long time. Our nimble organizational culture has helped us to 1) be more agile towards changing customer requirements and to 2) guarantee a consistently high quality of service and delivery. Even with our main development teams based in Sri Lanka, the agile approach has helped us to build a tight knit and transparent team of people who do not feel overwhelmed – or understaffed- by the workload. Kaizen has become our company philosophy when it comes to providing remote IT solutions for our clients.
A Final Word
Human beings are a lot like animals. We like our habits, we like order and consistency. Once we’ve got our own little routine, most of us don’t like to change it. It’s this natural resistance to the unknown that often is the biggest hurdle we need to overcome when we adopt a new culture or work process.
When it comes to your organization ‘going Agile’, the first and most important turnaround needs to be in the management’s mindset. Sure, change can be challenging, but keep in mind that the benefits will pay off in the long run and that your company – and your workforce – will be so much better for it.