Make sure the simple stuff is simple

Software architects solve a lot of very difficult problems but we also solve some relatively easy ones. What we don‘t want to do is apply a complicated solution to an easy problem. As obvious as that advice sounds it can be hard follow. People who design software are smart, really smart. The simple problem-complex solution trap can be an easy one to fall into because we like to demonstrate our knowledge. If you find yourself designing a solution so clever that it may become self-aware, stop and think. Does the solution fit the problem? If the answer is no, reconsider your design options. Keep the simple stuff simple. You‘ll get plenty of chances to showcase your talent when the difficult problems arise, and they will.

This doesn‘t mean that we shouldn‘t implement elegant solutions. It means that if we‘re tasked with designing a system that only needs to support selling one type of SKU based widget it‘s probably a bad idea to design for hierarchies of dynamically configurable products.

The cost incurred by a complicated solution may seem small but chances are it‘s larger than you‘re giving it credit for. Over-engineering at the architectural level causes many of the same issues as it does at the development level but the negative effects tend to be multiplied. Poor decisions made at the design level are more difficult to implement, maintain and worst of all reverse. Before moving forward with an architectural decision that exceeds system requirements, ask yourself how difficult it would be to remove after it‘s in place.

The costs don‘t stop with the implementation and maintenance of the solution in question. Spending more time than necessary on an easy problem leaves less time for when the complicated issues show up. Suddenly your architecture decisions are creating scope creep and adding unnecessary risk to the project. Your time could be spent much more efficiently making sure no one else is doing that.

There‘s often a strong desire to justify solutions with a perceived benefit or implied requirements. Remember this: when you try to guess at future requirements, 50% of the time you‘re wrong and 49% of the time you‘re very, very wrong. Solve today‘s problem today. Get the application out the door on time and wait for feedback to generate real requirements. The simple design you create will make it much easier to integrate those new requirements when they arrive. If you beat the odds and your implied requirement becomes a real one on the next release you‘ll already have a solution in mind. The difference is now you‘ll be able to allocate appropriate time for it in the estimate because it‘s truly required. Before you know it you‘ve got the reputation of a team that makes good estimates and gets work done on time.

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