Think Capabilities Not Technologies

August 14, 2010

There is a reason why your team builds software – most likely, you are either building a product for external customers or supporting technology solutions for internal stakeholders within the organization. Systematic reuse cannot be achieved if we focus exclusively on technologies. Focus on capabilities, more specifically, business capabilities instead.

This is a simple but significantly useful perspective to adopt. Capabilities are tangible units of functionality – regardless of implementation technologies used or systems that they are part of. When capabilities are identified, you can make more informed decisions about whether or not it is a reuse candidate. This is also handy every time there is a discussion on which part of a functionality should reside in a server component or a presentation component etc. Capabilities, when aligned with business needs, gives you the right level of abstraction when considering refactoring efforts. Are we refactoring the right capabilities from a legacy codebase? is this a capability that is useful as-is or is it only relevant within the context of a specific business process? is the current implementation assuming (aka coupling) too much about a business capability?

These are extremely relevant questions – and notice how we haven’t talked about technology implementation decisions. That is on purpose – if we are not careful, impatient technology choices could adversely constrain business capabilities. Once you are clear on the capabilities – technology decisions and need for variability, agility, and other quality attributes can be made appropriately.


5 Advantages of Using Interfaces for Designing Reusable Assets

April 24, 2010

Interfaces are fundamental to good design and more important when designing resuable assets. They provide several benefits:

  1. They model key behaviors that need to be supported – by designing interfaces, you are forced to partition a big chunk of functionality into a set of behaviors. The amount of detail in each interface varies but the very act to thinking through behaviors will provide a more loosely coupled design.
  2. Provides flexibility to change parts of a module/sub-system at anytime. This is specially relevant with projects where knowledge accumulates over time and domain understanding is unclear in during project inception. Interfaces help switch to a better implementation without adversely impacting the rest of the codebase (assuming, the contract stayed the same or only minimal changes were required).
  3. Explicitly support variability in an asset based on a defined set of behaviors. Interfaces are useful to encapsulate variations in a particular step (using Strategy), how different behaviors are combined (using pipe/filter) , or several steps in an overall algorithm (template method).
  4. With reusable assets, when you provide interfaces as contracts to your consumers – it gives you the freedom to change implementations and not break them. Note: this can be comforting but unless you ensure your consumers don’t instantiate concrete classes and don’t bypass integration-facing contracts there is no guarantee that they won’t break.
  5. Interfaces can potentially out live the implementation. This is related to #2 – as you learn new technologies, new ways to solving problems, interfaces give you the freedom to swap to a better implementation at any time. The interfaces that model domain concepts tend to be more stable as well – core business concepts don’t change overnight. However, business practices do change more frequently and the flexibility to combine and recombine concepts – conveniently captured using interfaces – is very powerful.

In a recently concluded project, I realized these benefits first-hand. The initial implementation of a search service was to go against the database directly. After a couple of iterations, we realized the need for a more effective and efficient solution – an indexed search engine. Even though the search module was used by several consumers the switch to a search engine based implementation was faster, more scalable, and most importantly, didn’t force consumers to make code changes.

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