What is the most underrated aspect of software development and why is it measurability?
Designing and developing software is complicated. I have heard there might even be a full industry gathering experts in this domain, and that it could be doing well. Not sure if it will ever be a thing. All joking aside, theories about the optimum way to approach software development are numerous and constantly evolving, which is excellent. Today however, I want to talk about an underrated concept, especially within the realm of software development: measurability. Despite online dictionaries results, I’m pretty sure I just made up that word, or at least the concept attached to it vis-a-vis software development, so let me define it.
What do you mean by measurability and why should I care about it?
Within the realm of software development, measurability can be catalogued in the same category as other transversal high-level concepts, that must be considered at each and every step of the development process, such as user experience, performance, scalability, re-usability and security. Measurability in this sense is the idea that each and every feature of you develop for your software can be measured for popularity and efficacy in order to ultimately evaluate its necessity. That is a lot of y-ending words, which should have convinced you already. Hoping it didn’t, let me explain you why it is important to consider. First, I believe that the importance of these types of high-level concepts does not need further justification: we have all witnessed software failures when their development ignored one of these key concepts, security being the one making the front page most often. The impact of measurability is more subtle but nonetheless crucial. Without measurability, decisions you make about feature prioritization or design become irrational. For instance, if you are developing an API that contains multiple methods of access, if you are unable to measure their popularity or efficacy you will end up with either features that are being costly maintained for no benefits to your end user or features that are massively used by necessity but incrementally building your end user’s frustration. This is a very simple example but it illustrate an underlying notion that we rarely see in the world of zeros and one: irrationality. Indeed, a piece of software is usually extremely rational and quantifiable, which makes evaluating performance, scalability, security or even re-usability a relatively easy mathematical problem. With the advent of software popularization we see user experience has been on the forefront of Agile development, making customer feedback a key piece of feature release. What I am proposing here is to go one step further. Whenever developing a feature for your software, one should ask himself: how will I know if this feature is necessary or not? How will I test for it?
Implementing measurability acknowledges the fact that you are operating in an uncertain environment, which inherently makes its implementation uncertain. That being said, a good starting point is to measure its use and performance and then compare it to the other features you develop. This measurement and analysis can be done using trace or audit mechanisms, which, bonus, you should implement anyway to cater to security. A more robust approach would be to first select the metrics you want to measure for each software feature and have a dedicated module to implement measurability over those metrics. You may think it’s an overkill but with the advent of scalable and cheap storage, why not do it?
Beyond software development
Big Data, monitoring, analysis data science, all of these concepts are design to increase the world’s measurability, and they are definitely what everyone talks about now. And while the idea of being data driven in any aspect of our lives, from corporate management to personal fitness, it has yet to really make an impact within the realm of software development, or at least the tools dedicated to measurability only are scarce. That being said, making rational decisions does not seem to be as appealing to me as it is for the rest of the world, which could explain this scarcity.