The Longevity of Interim Solutions

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In most systems and teams you will find software that is somewhat dis-integrated from the system, that is considered a draft to be changed sometime, and you will hear developers complaining about these. The drafty, interim solutions that we create have a much longer life than we assumed.
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Why do we create interim solutions?
Why do we create interim solutions?
Typically there is some immediate problem to solve. It might be internal to the development team, some tooling that fills a gap in the tool chain. It might be external, visible to end users, such as a workaround that addresses missing functionality.
Typically there is some immediate problem to solve. It might be internal to the development team, some tooling that fills a gap in the tool chain. It might be external, visible to end users, such as a workaround that addresses missing functionality.
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The implication of an interim solution is that it is not fully integrated into the production code, or does not follow the standards and guidelines that shaped the rest of the code. The reasons are many and varied, but the key to an interim solution's success is simple: It is useful.
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An interim solution is not fully integrated into the production code, or does not follow the standards and guidelines that shaped the rest of the code. The reasons are many and varied, but the key to an interim solution's success is simple: It is useful.
Interim solutions, however, acquire inertia (or momentum, depending on your point of view). Because they are there, ultimately useful and widely accepted, there is no immediate need to do anything else. Whenever a stakeholder has to decide what action adds the most value, there will be many that are ranked higher than proper integration of an interim solution. Why? Because it is there, it works, and it is accepted. The only perceived downside is that it does not follow the chosen standards and guidelines — except for a few niche markets, this is not considered to be a significant force.
Interim solutions, however, acquire inertia (or momentum, depending on your point of view). Because they are there, ultimately useful and widely accepted, there is no immediate need to do anything else. Whenever a stakeholder has to decide what action adds the most value, there will be many that are ranked higher than proper integration of an interim solution. Why? Because it is there, it works, and it is accepted. The only perceived downside is that it does not follow the chosen standards and guidelines — except for a few niche markets, this is not considered to be a significant force.
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Is this a problem?
Is this a problem?
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The answer depends on your mileage and your stake in the production code standards. However, this is probably the wrong question to ask. Remember that we are talking about a solution. It may not be your preferred solution — it is unlikely to be anybody's preferred solution — but the motivation to rework this solution is too weak.
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The answer depends on your mileage and your stake in the production code standards. When the systems contains too many interim solutions, its entropy or internal complexity grows and its maintainability decreses. However, this is probably the wrong question to ask first. Remember that we are talking about a solution. It may not be your preferred solution — it is unlikely to be anybody's preferred solution — but the motivation to rework this solution is too weak.
So what can we do if we see a problem?
So what can we do if we see a problem?

Revision as of 10:10, 24 July 2009

In most systems and teams you will find software that is somewhat dis-integrated from the system, that is considered a draft to be changed sometime, and you will hear developers complaining about these. The drafty, interim solutions that we create have a much longer life than we assumed.

Why do we create interim solutions?

Typically there is some immediate problem to solve. It might be internal to the development team, some tooling that fills a gap in the tool chain. It might be external, visible to end users, such as a workaround that addresses missing functionality.

An interim solution is not fully integrated into the production code, or does not follow the standards and guidelines that shaped the rest of the code. The reasons are many and varied, but the key to an interim solution's success is simple: It is useful.

Interim solutions, however, acquire inertia (or momentum, depending on your point of view). Because they are there, ultimately useful and widely accepted, there is no immediate need to do anything else. Whenever a stakeholder has to decide what action adds the most value, there will be many that are ranked higher than proper integration of an interim solution. Why? Because it is there, it works, and it is accepted. The only perceived downside is that it does not follow the chosen standards and guidelines — except for a few niche markets, this is not considered to be a significant force.

So the interim solution remains in place. Forever.

And if problems arise with that interim solution, it is unlikely there will be provision for an update that brings it into line with acceptable production quality. What to do? A quick interim update on that interim solution often does the job. And will most likely be well received. It exhibits the same strengths as the initial interim solution... it is just more up to date.

Is this a problem?

The answer depends on your mileage and your stake in the production code standards. When the systems contains too many interim solutions, its entropy or internal complexity grows and its maintainability decreses. However, this is probably the wrong question to ask first. Remember that we are talking about a solution. It may not be your preferred solution — it is unlikely to be anybody's preferred solution — but the motivation to rework this solution is too weak.

So what can we do if we see a problem?

  1. Avoid creating an interim solution in the first place.
  2. Change the forces that influence the decision of the project manager.
  3. Leave it as is.

Let's examine these options more closely:

  1. Avoidance does not work in most places. There is an actual problem to solve, and the standards have turned out to be too restrictive. You might spend some energy trying to change the standards. Apart from starting a tedious endeavor with unclear outcome, it will only be effective for some future interim solution, not for yours.
  2. The forces are rooted in the project culture, which resists volitional changes. It could be successful in very small projects — in particular if it's just you — and you just happen to clean the mess without asking in advance. It could also be successful if the project is such a mess that it is visibly stalled and some time for cleaning up is commonly accepted.
  3. The status quo automatically applies if the previous option does not.

Do not fall on the dark side of cynicism while trying to overcome the interim solutions you created. May you be granted the serenity to accept the things you cannot change, courage to change the things you can, and wisdom to know the difference. [1]

By Klaus Marquardt


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3


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[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_prayer

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