Systematic Reuse Mythbuster #1 – Reusable Doesn’t Mean Perfection

December 26, 2011

One common criticism against systematic software reuse is the myth that it implies perfection – creating a reusable asset automatically conjures up visions of a perfect design, something that is done once and done right.  Many developers and managers confuse reusability with design purity. However, reusability is a quality attribute like maintainability, scalability, or availability in a software solution. It isn’t necessary or advisable to pursue a generic design approach or what one believes is highly reusable without the right context.

The key is to go back to the basics of good design: identify what varies and encapsulate it.

The myth that you can somehow create this masterpiece that is infinitely reusable and should never be touched is just that – it is a myth and is divorced from reality. Reusable doesn’t imply:

  • that you invest a lot in big up front design effort
  • you account for everything that will vary in the design – the critical factor is to understand the domain – well enough, deep enough, so you can identify the sub-set of variability that truly matters

In the same vein, reusablility strives for separating concerns that should be kept distinct. Ask repeatedly:

  • Are there multiple integration points accessing the core domain logic?
  • Is there a requirement to support more than one client and if so, how will multiple clients use the same interface?
  • What interfaces do your consumers need? is there a need to support more than one?
  • What are the common input parameters and what are those that vary across the consumer base?

These are the key questions that will lead the designer to anticipate the appropriate places where reuse is likely to happen.  Finally, it is important that we don’t build for unknown needs in the future – so the asset is likely to solve a particular problem, solve it well, solve it for more than one or two consumers, and finally has potential to be used beyond the original intent. At each step there are design decisions made, discarded, continuous refactoring, refinements to the domain model – if not re-definition altogether.

Don’t set out trying to get to the end state or you will run the risk of adding needless complexity and significant schedule risk.


Design and Process Criteria for Investment in a Reusable Asset

October 29, 2009

Making the right decisions in the middle of an iteration or release cycle is risky and needs good judgment. Investing in a reusable asset is no exception.

What can help you take decisions on whether it is worth investing the time and effort for making a software capability reusable? The single most important factor is business relevance. Is the capability a priority for your business? Even if it is not a priority, is it one for the medium or long term? If the answer to these questions is no, you shouldn’t invest valuable resources into making your capability reusable. Yes, if it isn’t relevant, it needn’t be reusable. Assuming a capability is business relevant, there are several considerations you can think about:

Design Considerations:

  1. Do you have user stories that either directly or indirectly requires this capability? For instance, if you have a login customer user story, and you don’t have a customer component, this is an opportunity to create one. In the same vein, the login customer story itself might have variations. What are the different kinds of login that you need to support? Username/password, username/password/special verification text, email/password, username/random set of questions, username/defined set of questions etc.
  2. Do you understand the extent of variability that is required for the asset? Consider the ratio of the features that vary a lot vs. the overall functionality.  Even if you end up with a gross, high-level percentage it will help you during design.
  3. Consider specifically the aspects that vary and the number of variations you need to support. This is very critical to plan for the reusable asset. Remember, you are pursuing iteration not perfection! Draw a distinction between the variations that are an absolute must vs. ones that can be built over time. If you look back at the first point, maybe your business only needs the simple login using username and password. In that case don’t rush into building in variation support. On the other hand, if they come back and ask for multiple kinds of login you can always refactor to support variability.

Process Considerations

  1. Will the capability add significant schedule or technical risks? If so, you need to make this transparent and get clarity from your sponsors. You can explain the rationale for investing in a reusable capability if there is business relevance. Similarly, if schedule risk is unacceptable or you have other higher priority assets to build, refactor, etc. then add this asset to the refactoring list and revisit later.
  2. Will the capability introduce deployment changes? Does it need an additional resource such as a database, a configuration file, or is dependent on an external service provider? In that case you will want to run it by your production support and operations partners and get their buy-in.

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