the necessity of software design

when designing software many aspects come into play and design plays an important role as part of the decisions made at the product level. there is a balance between effort and flexibility that is sometimes linear: quick and simple will hit a wall at some point and will most probably will not scale nor will it be easy to change key features and/or layout. these design decisions extend well beyond a choice for the right MVC backend and frontend framework, nor does it apply to the choice of the data warehouse and wether it should be relational or pure noSQL or a hybrid.

as a product one builds starts having more users interact with it and data is accumulated – requirements change and evolve constantly. staying agile in that respect makes sense, especially in the initial startup phase. in general, issues that may come up can be mitigated if the product is well designed. like everything else in the world software, there is a delicate, zen like balance between effort and efficiency.

dude where is my code?

so the users LOVE the right side bar and would like to add a couple of more navigation items. awesome. hmm… which file is that menu created? let me quickly consult with the guy who coded it… oh wait, he is no longer with the company… you know what, i can easily start the debugger and move about the code until i see something that makes sense… common practice? probably. efficient? certainly not. rule of thumb is, that it should be obvious as daylight where changes should be made and everyone maintain these rules, otherwise things get so messy that the most simple improvements are a pain. good code organization and well documented methodologies that are taught to the team and well explained are an important step

context and boundaries

so you have found the code segment where you think the changes should live. great.  before you refactor it , answer this question: are you clear on what this code is suppose to do? the expected input and output? is it clear what the code is NOT suppose to do? each code segment should live on it’s own, unit testing and all, where it’s very clear what this method is aimed to achieve. no guessing.

software fragility

nir i’ll be happy to take care of that ticket. just know that if i change that controller the other view will break and we’ll have to take care of that and then there’s this other controller… unfortunately it’s common to see software break incredibly with minor changes (especially frontend). this is why both unit and functional testing are critical, but that’s for another post.

development scalability

when one developer’s code commit breaks one function, ideally it will not impact other developers who are working on other regions of the code. ideally code integrations will include less merge conflicts and will be resolved smoothly. this is one good reason to switch to git if you haven’t done so yet.

deployment

updating your product maybe a very delicate process, especially if the model changes and you need to update the current schema and still be backward compatible to hold the current data sets for a live target.  now consider your product is white labeled to 50 customers where different version of the products are deployed to different servers, and ideally you may require to roll back or quickly update critical bugs. the complexity of maintaining these machines grows exponentially without a proper deployment strategy.

productivity

this is one important metric to wrap your heads around and be able to benchmark your team. as you build your system what is the effort required to add this specific feature? is the investment linear in terms of time and capital? does good design help people be more productive?

complexity

as the system grows the requirements will change because you get good feedback from your end users and what you thought you knew a year ago has not turned obsolete. supporting multiple and different code bases, the requirement for higher availability, redundancy, better performance and backward compatibility are all requirements that come down the pipe as your platform and client base grows.

some final thoughts… when it comes to design we now know that some prior planning and careful thinking can go a long way.

the bottom line is that the product owner needs to stay focused on what the business requirements are. the product should only solve the problems it is designed to solve so the time dedicated to development is better spent.