Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Die Complexity! Die!

I've mentioned it before but I feel the need to do so again. What is it with developers and complexity?


You know when in a film or cartoon, a character opens an innocent-looking door and all manner of horror and noise belches out, so they quickly slam the door and the noise stops? I got another blast of that kinda thing recently - innocent-looking website, foul twisted complex horror beneath. Why does this happen?


My current theory boils down to a three-legged milking-stool of failures:


  1. Developers move on and can't/don't/won't pass on all their knowledge. Replacement developers have to read between the lines (or worse, read bad and/or out-of-date documentation) and are doomed to repeat the past, slightly worse each iteration. Rinse and repeat

  2. Developers love doing new stuff. At least, the good ones do. They love to cover a pristine whiteboard with boxes and arrows. Who doesn't love the purity of a codebase that consists only of interfaces? No implementation means no ugly real-life workaround warts! The trouble is, we can't all be developing new frameworks all the time

  3. Lastly, and most controversially, The Agile Process, or rather, the blind adherence to some aspects of it, can be blamed. I'm talking Sprints here. It seems like in the effort to shoe-horn a large piece of work into a too-short sprint cycle, the lethal one-two punch of doing a half-a[rs]sed job and chalking up a load more technical debt to actually do it the right way* has become an acceptable outcome. It isn't

The solution? BAN Complexity in your development team. Stamp on it the instant it makes a first tentative push out of the soil. Make it a priority amongst the team members to simplify any new feature to the utmost. Exercise and extend the Boy-Scout Rule to make each and every code commit an incremental improvement in straightforwardness.

How will this help address the milking-stool of coding horror?

  1. Simpler code groks faster so new devs don't need all the handover baggage
  2. Developers can still show their design skills, but at de-baroquifying designs. Surely that's a whole lot harder than over-engineering?
  3. And finally, if you can't change your sprint durations (and if not, why not?) then lower complexity should go hand-in-hand with higher velocity. There must be no Tech Debt. Ever


(*) In some mythical far-off time when the schedule does allow for longer-term work to be completed...

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