Sunday, March 19, 2017

Slicing the cake and different products

The concept of "slicing the cake" is one of the most important lessons to come out of the agile movement. People consistently neglect to apply it across products...

One solution is to have a single developer make all the changes across products. This makes sense if all the products use the same infrastructure, or all have high standards of documentation and devops. E.g. it doesn't work well if different products have different build processes that all require manual intervention. "Ownership" of individual products might then be meaningful only for code reviews and maintaining long term health of each code base.

The only other solution is to have developers on each of the products all working together to integrate early. If your sprints are two weeks long, each developer gets one week to build an initial implementation, and must be available to integrate immediately on the first day of the second week. Everyone should expect developers to refactor their initial implementations afterwards.

Sources of technical debt

All coding smells get worse over time until they are corrected.

For example, an awkward abstraction might not seem so bad when it is introduced, but as more features are added, it gets increasingly brittle and creates more bugs.

In practical software development these are the most common sources of technical debt:

YAGNI (You aren't gonna need it.)

People build things that don't end up being needed at all, or more insidiously people build things that have an overall cost which exceeds their benefit.


Existing code is organized into two parts A and B, and a new use case comes along that needs mostly B. That is, the interface to use B is awkward. Rather than improve that interface, people have their code C start using B via an extra piece of code, a B-C adapter.

Adapters are necessary when the adapted code is owned by a different team, but in that case you'd hope that the interface is well designed in the first place, or at least the integration is part of the application's job. When all the code is owned by a single team, adapters are just debt.

Special casing

A change is desired for a single specific case. The change could apply more generally, but it isn't urgent. People add new code that runs just for the specific case, because they are afraid.

This source of technical debt is particularly tempting. And sometimes it's hard to distinguish from properly avoiding YAGNI. Just as with all refactoring, good automated tests are essential.