How To Reduce Change Failure Rate & Build A Bulletproof Software Delivery Process

Table Of Contents

Every time you hit "deploy," is it a thrilling launch or a gamble that might blow up in your face? 

If those production changes keep causing more headaches than growing the business, it's time to get serious about your Change Failure Rate.

Let’s forget the buzzwords for a minute. 

This isn't just about metrics; it's about those late nights, broken weekends, and the sinking feeling when a "quick fix" turns into a full-blown crisis. 

Together we need to ditch the chaos and build software you can actually trust – and give your team a break in the process!

Alright then, here are a few ways to lower your CFR and find the peace of mind that's been missing from your release cycles.

The Hidden Costs of High CFR

Every time your software fails, you chip away at user trust and your reputation.

Those minor glitches and "whoops!" moments add up.

Before you know it, your customers are wary of every update, and start looking for alternatives.

  • Innovation Suffers: When teams are constantly putting out fires, creative problem-solving and bold initiatives get pushed perpetually to the back burner.
    Low CFR protects the time and space for the execution of long-term business vision.
  • Low Talent Retention: Top engineers want to build systems they're proud of.
    A constant stream of outages and rollbacks is a major red flag from a fulfillment standpoint. With time more and more of these are going to cause a feeling of “I’m not making a real difference/impact” in your engineer’s hearts.
  • Brand Value Goes Down: When your software develops a reputation for unreliability, competitors seize the market. Each user who has a negative experience is a missed opportunity to expand your market share.
    And more importantly, each negative review spreads much faster than a positive one.

The Path to Strategic CFR Reduction

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when I say that the best tools in the world won't fix a broken release process.

So, we need to build processes that help us make reliability a shared responsibility, not just a tech team headache.

  • Pre-Release Safeguard Process: We must treat code reviews not as a formality, but as a critical step towards pushing secure features into production.
    Encourage a culture where constructive feedback on pull requests helps catch bugs early, reducing the likelihood of production failures.
  • Deployment in Multiple Stages: CI/CD pipelines should evolve beyond simple step automation.
    'Pause points' should get backed into the process to help with test result validation, and manual approval to help catch issues before they hit your users.
  • Visibility Helps with Mitigation: Early warning signs often exist before a full-blown outage occurs (slow response times, error spikes etc).
    Check if your monitoring tools are configured to trigger alerts based on such deviations, allowing your software team to intervene before disaster strikes.
  • Pentesting Is Good For You: Waiting for real-world incidents to expose risks is, well, risky.
    Introduce deliberate disruptions in staging environments to validate the self-healing and failover mechanisms you've designed.

Small fragile pillars coming together in a process that has failsafe mechanisms in place is what makes the complete system antifragile, or at least close to what we can call antifragile.

Culture Shift: From Fear of Failure to Embracing It

Seneca, the famous stoic philosopher said “You don’t need a change of environment but a change of soul”

Your team's mindset is arguably your best weapon against a high CFR.

Here are a few ideas on how to cultivate a winning culture.

  • Postmortems as Learning Rituals: Establish a structured process where every failure is dissected to collaboratively identify system & process improvements. Share postmortem reports to prevent recurring issues.

  • "Fix It Forward" Incentive: Reward engineers not just for hotfixes, but for the proactive refactoring and test case improvements they implement to prevent similar failures from happening again.

  • Leadership Sets The Tone: Publicly acknowledging failures, celebrating the root cause analysis process, and consistently emphasizing CFR reduction sends a powerful message.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: A team that is afraid to air their dirty laundry publicly is not a world class team. That confidence to work on the mistakes and failures will come from the leadership and culture!

Analyze In-Depth, Don't Just Track CFR

“What gets measured, gets managed.” but in order to manage we must analyze things in depth.

Tracking CFR without deeper analysis is a missed opportunity.

With us? Alright, let’s move on.

Sharing a few pointers to consider.

  • Pinpoint Bottlenecks: Is the majority of your CFR caused by a particular component or subsystem? This shows you a critical area for architectural improvements or more robust testing.
  • Predict Burnout: Teams consistently battling high CFR are going to get burnt out sooner or later, in turn affecting your complete software delivery process.
    Proactively offer additional resources, process refinements, or automation support to prevent full-blown team exhaustion.
  • Hidden Dependencies: If seemingly unrelated changes trigger failures elsewhere, it's a sign that your system's architecture is tightly coupled; which simply means you need to focus on modularization efforts to improve stability.

CFR is Contextual My Friend

We must remember that CFR is not a one-size-fits-all metric.  

You can consider the following factors when defining targets.

  • Industry-Specific Risk: Healthcare, finance, and other sectors where downtime has grave consequences demand a meticulous approach and a lower CFR target.
  • Team Maturity: Newer teams may need higher initial CFR allowance while establishing the processes. Support them with training, mentorship, and targeted tools to drive that percentage down over time.
  • "Good Enough" vs. Excellence: Determine whether your goal is simply minimizing user pain, or establishing your product as the benchmark within your niche. This will help you define what is good enough to ship.

TL;DR

As you can probably guess by now, CFR reduction is a continuous journey.

If you allow me to plug in a cliché here: “CFR optimization is a marathon my friend, not a sprint.

Oh also if you'd like to dive deeper in DORA metrics here is a post to get you started.

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