Stop Planning & Start Harmonizing Implementations

November 2, 2013

You can wait for that dream initiative or project to build a whole new set of reusable components that will magically make your teams more productive. The only issue is – it is highly likely that it will be just that – a dream. Instead of planning for systematic reuse, start executing on it by taking a few simple steps. Ask yourself the following questions:

1. Are you capitalizing on identifying and sharing common components with your department / team?

2. Is every project encouraged to continuously refactor and harmonize classes for reducing redundancies? If not, why not?

3. Do you have code that caters to common infrastructural concerns – logging, exception management, alerting, monitoring, metrics.? If yes, is their reuse mandated via common framework hooks that your developers are already using? If not, what is preventing adoption of these concerns into your development stack? Ask your developers and listen to their concerns – you will need to unearth and attack the root causes behind reuse barriers.

4. Do you utilize ad-hoc, informal pairing and code review sessions to identify and harmonize similar / duplicate / redundant classes? If you review code the first time before a project go-live, odds are you either will regret missed opportunities or bemoan the lack of time within your development cycle for making improvements. Key is to intervene early and often and front load your investments for systematic reuse

5. How do you ensure reafactoring to reuse opportunities are tracked? do you create improvement tickets and action them on a best-effort basis or are they managed as part of the product backlog of things that have to get done? If its the former, it will be difficult to make much progress. Creating and tracking tickets will will provide visibility – however, for you to make tangible progress in acting on them you need to partner with developers and development managers to action work on an ongoing basis.

These are just example questions to help you get your journey started and it should be abundantly clear that discipline and continuous alignment is key. If you don’t do anything else, just force your team to converge on a common implementation on key functionality. You will be surprised what discipline can deliver.


Refactor Code Often, Continuously, Every Iteration

March 24, 2013

Refactoring is a way to improve code quality over time using incremental set of improvements – the idea is to increase the ability to make changes safer and faster and is not meant to deliver new functionality per se. For systematic reuse to succeed, refactoring has to happen often and on a continuous basis.  Why? It provides several benefits from a systematic reuse perspective. For instance:

  1. You will learn which aspects of the code base have the most technical debt – what’s complicated to understand and extend/enhance? which parts of the codebase are difficult to verify via automated tests?
  2. See repetition more often and will eliminate redundant methods, classes, even entire chunks of functionality – over time, you will see the same capability being provided by a different library, or there is a new requirement in a project that can reuse the capability if changes were made to it etc. Finally – and this happens to me a lot – you ask yourself – “what was I thinking implementing it a certain way when there is a better approach?”
  3. Systematic reuse needs deep understanding of the domain – the team needs to tease apart different technical concerns, identify which ones are relevant for the business, and identify variations within the scope of candidate reusable components. Which brings us to the most important question – are the assumptions made earlier about the domain and the subsequent design still valid? This continuous validation and re-validation of the core underlying assumptions and design choices will ultimately decide the reuse effectiveness of the component
  4. Over time, doing this will provide the team with a valuable data on providing estimates – which parts of the codebase are tricky? which ones lack tests? which ones are bug infested? All these aspects weigh into an estimate and continuous refactoring will give the team very good insights.

So, please don’t wait for a project or a deliverable to arrive – start refactoring every day and across every project 🙂


Domain Analysis Key To Systematic Reuse

November 26, 2010

Domain analysis is a foundational capability required for effective systematic reuse. Why? There are a lot of applications your teams are working on and the common theme among them most likely is the fact that they are in the same problem domain. In order to truly bring down cost of new applications and services, it is critical that the domain is understood and modeled appropriately. Here are some specific strategies to make this idea operational:

  1. Account for domain analysis and modeling in your iteration planning. Domain analysis is necessary to understand the nuances and variation points that an application/service/process needs to realize. Discovering the right variations requires time and interactions with business stakeholders and subject matter experts.
  2. Aspire for a core set of business object definitions that can be shared across business processes and service interfaces. Without appropriate data governance, domain knowledge will either be inaccurate/incomplete or worse duplicated in an inconsistent fashion. As the number of customer interfaces increase for your services, the domain inconsistencies will lead to greater point-to-point integrations and complexity.
  3. Align overall architecture with domain variations. Your domain is rich and complex but probably varies in a known set of ways. Additionally, what varies isn’t uniform and the rate of change across these variations aren’t identical. This is significant because the variations in the domain need to be captured in your overall architecture. Products/applications in the domain need to share a common architecture – only then can components integrate and inter-operate and systematic reuse will take hold. Constantly evaluate the need for a new version of a core business entity and associated classes to manage the entity.
  4. Refactor constantly to get to intention revealing design and code. As Eric Evans illustrates in Domain Driven Design, intention revealing code is easier to understand and evolve.  It also makes it easier to address new business requirements – as the design/implementation are closely aligned with the business domain, the quality of communication (referred to as ubiquitous language) and the ability to change it both increase significantly.

This isn’t an exhaustive list – instead, it is meant to highlight the need for placing the domain in the middle of every design, architecture, and implementation decision your teams make.


Practicing Continuous Alignment – Examples

September 5, 2010

Received an email from a reader on the continuous alignment post and wanted additional examples. Practicing continuous alignment entails refactoring existing code to align assets better towards a reuse strategy.

Here are a few scenarios where refactoring opportunities can be utilized:

Horizontal logic mixed with app-specific logic: This is typically manifested in two flavors – cross-cutting functionality that is horizontal across several applications or domain-specific functionality that is applicable to a product line. Cross cutting functionality such as authentication, logging, error handling etc. can be refactored from app-specific to distinct components.

Redundant definition of business objects: maybe two or more of your projects are redefining a core concept from your problem domain and refactoring can help align them to a common definition. Once a common definition is used, add tasks into your iteration plans.

Manage application configuration: If several applications use ad-hoc set of practices to manage runtime configurations (e.g. xml configurations, property files etc.), refactoring them to use a consistent strategy would certainly make sense. This refactoring can be done one component at a time if time constraints make it harder to transform an entire suite of components in the app.


Understand Why Asset Isn’t Being Reused

July 13, 2010

Some software assets don’t get reused – question is – is the reason well known? if so, what is being done to ensure that it doesn’t happen too often? In agile methodology, the retrospective serves as a vehicle to reflect on the iteration. Reflecting on the experience overall – what worked, what didn’t work, how can the team improve and so on.

In the same token, consider retrospective for reusable assets – did the asset get used the way it was intended to be used? if not, are new use cases providing opportunities that weren’t considered earlier? In the rush to perfection, there is always a danger is adding too much complexity to an asset. Are consumers even using all that complexity? remember there is a cost to complexity – having the right level of complexity with multiple instances of reuse is a happier place to be.

When you work with the internal development team and asset consumers – ask them specifically why something isn’t working. Is it the lack of adequate documentation and/or code samples? does the asset fail because it didn’t have domain relevance? are there better (cheaper, faster, more maintainable) ways to achieve the asset’s functional objectives? is it too slow and doesn’t meet performance SLA needs? are there too many configuration options? doesn’t work well in a particular runtime environment?

You get the idea: there are specific reasons why your software asset isn’t being reused. Find out why – continuously refactor and resolve root causes to get a higher return on your software investments.


Build for Use, then Refactor to Reuse

July 11, 2010

You want to build reusable assets in an agile manner – avoiding a significant design effort upfront and evolving behavior over time.  Why? Because building for reuse involves several steps: the right abstractions have to be identified, appropriate variations have to be modeled and accounted for, and the asset has to be generic enough for use beyond a single project.

This is hard to get right the first time – often, business requirements aren’t clear from the early on making it tricky to identify reusable assets. More importantly, reuse adds project risk – specifically risk to the timeline. Always ask yourself if it is worth making the extra investment – if you aren’t sure delay commitment.

Capture possible enhancements to your codebase via an issue tracking tool and you can always assign those enhancements to future iterations. When you implement a story and you see the opportunity for making something reusable, consciously align classes and interfaces for reuse. Refactor, refactor, and keep refactoring – because only with multiple iterations is your asset going to be increase it’s reuse potential. Remember – very often, the asset would not be used as-is. It will need changes – patches, enhancements, major redesign even – before it can be leveraged across projects.


Refactoring to Reuse #5

April 17, 2010

#5 – Replace Custom Implementations With Open Source Equivalents

I realize this is a very large category with possibly several dozen examples. In this post, I will highlight this strategy using the Apache Commons IO API. Many applications require the need for accessing file data – reading input business data or even temporary file data is a common need. Typically, you have some class that opens a file, reads data line by line, and either returns a custom java object or a string buffer.

FileReader fr = null;
 BufferedReader reader = null;
 try {
 fr = new FileReader(strFileName);
 reader = new BufferedReader(fr);
 String line = reader.readLine();
 while (line != null) {
 //do something with the line of data...
 line = reader.readLine();
 }
 } catch (IOException e) {
e.printStackTrace();
 } finally {
 try {
 if (reader != null) {
reader.close();
 }
 } catch (IOException e) {
e.printStackTrace();
 }
 }

How many times have you written this kind of logic? 🙂 When you look to simplify this or want to reduce repetition, consider the Apache Commons IO library. The FileUtils class offers just the method you need for accomplishing the often needed line by line data access to a file. It is trivial to use. For example, see below:

import org.apache.commons.io.FileUtils;
//other lines of code and class declaration omitted...
String strFileName = //path to file...
try {
   File f = new File(strFileName);
   List fileDataLines = FileUtils.readLines(f, "UTF-8");
} catch (IOException ioe) {
 ioe.printStackTrace();
}

That’s it – giving you the same functionality using a far simpler interface. There are several advantages to using these libraries – they are open-source, well documented and tested, and eliminate a lot of redundant code in your application. Travel light and only code stuff that you absolutely must. As I have highlighted before – reuse and agile go hand-in-hand. Less custom code you write, less maintenance for your team.


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