Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Refactoring for sale


Among the technical list given by Mikael Boman in his post dedicated to product owners, "Practice #4: Refactoring" is for sure, the most difficult to agree with. Version control system, Continuous integration, Automated testing are concepts around tools, consequently their deployment has a visual, understandable, palpable result, so there is no worry justifying their costs.

If you don't get the Practice #6: Collective code ownership, wait for a few years until developers leave your company and then you will get it.

Simple design:
While the indicated article focuses on product owners, the simple design concept is obvious to many of us, but developers could feel it as a bridling of their creativity. While we all need to establish a software knowledge culture, where ideas around code design and patterns are understood, we face a dilemma when it comes to asking for simple creation. I didn't find a good way to recommend, but practices like pair programming and code review can mitigate the ugly and the glittery code. A developer conversation while looking at the code, will free the product from the lack of conception or avoid the all "design patterns" in one "software product" idea.

Refactoring:
Previous to entering into the agile/lean world, I didn't find a proper solution to justify a moment to improve the code. Then, based on Lean concepts, I felt desperate because spending time on refreshing the code could be understood like a waste. But the only reality resides in understanding the technical debt and the product complexity.
Some people will argue the refactoring must be embedded in the development tasks and will state that concerned developers will perform this activity by themselves. But such behaviour could hide the iceberg from the product owner or give him a great argument to play the ostrich.
Refactoring must be understood, and the product owner must commit to spring cleaning the code.
If some tasks related to code refactoring are present in the product backlog, it means:
  • Developers have an understanding of the code, so the concerned component is not something anybody would touch anymore due to its ugliness, but only a huge number of code lines that smell bad.
  • Product owner has stepped back, understood the complexity of the component and admitted the technical debt must be lightened,
  • The regression linked with the refactoring will be mitigated by guardrails, like unit tests or user scenario rechecks by testers. Because the testers will have to valid the refactoring tasks, they would have discussed the impact and the use cases affected by this work with the developers. They will not discover the regression nightmare later after a refactoring decided by the developer on his own.
Sources:
Pragmaticmarketing: Six technical practices you should know about
Scrumalliance: The top six technical practices every Product Owner must know about
Wikipedia: Code refactoring
Wikipedia: Design pattern
Martinfowle: MF Bliki: refactoring
Theagileexecutive: Technical Debt: Refactoring vis-a-vis Starting Afresh « The Agile Executive
Infoq: Refactoring is a Necessary Waste
Agileinaflash : Agile: In A Flash

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