NY Times IT capitalizes on continuous delivery to move faster
Author: Marc Frons
I think we really need to slow down.
That is one sentence you probably will never hear uttered by a typical CEO. In fact, almost all companies want to move faster. They want to develop more products more quickly and otherwise radically shorten the time it takes for an idea to become a product.
Yet many companies make the mistake of assuming moving faster is merely an act of will, like going on a diet or saving more of your paycheck. In fact, the reasons product development seems to drag on forever or technology projects take too long have more to do with underlying processes, technology and culture than a failure of will. That’s what I discovered after spending a few months analyzing our technology and product development processes at The New York Times. It was then that I had an uncomfortable conversation with my CEO. “You know,” I said, “I think we really need to slow down.”
The second part of that sentence, I suppose, is why I’m still CIO of The Times. “We need to slow down so we can speed up,” I said. And to move faster, we need to stop a lot of what we’re doing so we can implement ‘continuous delivery’ (CD). CD and its cousin, ‘lean product development,’ have been all the rage in Silicon Valley since 2011, shortly after Jez Humble and David Farley published a book by that name, and Eric Ries came out with “The Lean Startup.” But those concepts were still fairly new to most East Coast companies two or three years ago, when I first proposed that The Times adopt these methodologies.
Slowing down in order to speed up
The complicating factor, however, was that to implement CD, we would have to stop at least half of our new development projects. That was initially a tough sell to a business hungry for new products and enhancements to existing ones. But fortunately, The Times CEO and other executives agreed, persuaded by the promise of at least 30 percent faster development times.
We laid the groundwork during the summer of 2014. Then, in October, with the help of ThoughtWorks, a consultancy that specializes in CD, we began to retrain our teams. For the next three months we throttled back new development on many, but not all, teams as we standardized and automated as many aspects of our process as we could. And while we are by no means finished (not that anyone is ever finished), the results have far exceeded our most optimistic expectations. Here’s a bit of what we’ve seen:
- Dramatic improvements in the number of releases we put into production.
- Significantly faster speed of release and delivery. One team reduced its release time from seven days to 35 minutes.
- Higher quality of code in terms of lower errors in production. We cut the number of errors in production by more than half.
As the rest of our teams implement CD throughout 2015, we expect to see even greater speed in releasing new code. But CD is also supporting the next phase of our evolution as a lean product development organization.
Moving faster with lean methodologies
The dream of many large companies is to operate more like a startup. We want small, dedicated teams to build new products unburdened by legacy code and the myriad dependencies and roadmaps of other teams. Yet we also want them to take advantage of all of the technology services we already have in place and not reinvent the wheel.
It seldom works out that way. These teams either go off on their own and end up wasting time replicating existing technology with a few important differences or grow frustrated waiting for other groups to get their acts together. But the problem is almost never the people involved – it’s the underlying technology and processes, which haven’t been designed for that kind of structure.