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Case Study: Reuse at PenultimateWidgets

PenultimateWidgets has highly specific requirements for data input in a specialized grid for their administration functionality. Because the application required this view in multiple places, PenultimateWidgets decided to build a reusable component, including UI, validation, and other useful default behaviors. By using this component, developers can build new, rich administration interfaces easily.

However, virtually no architecture decision comes without some tradeoff baggage. Over time, the component team has become their own silo within the organization, tying up several of PenultimateWidgets’ best developers. Teams that use the component must request new features through the component team, which is swamped with bug fixes and feature requests. Worse, the underlying code hasn’t kept up with modern web standards, making new functionality hard or impossible.

While the PenultimateWidgets architects achieved reuse, it eventually resulted in a bottleneck effect. One advantage of reuse is that developers can build new things quickly. Yet, unless the component team can keep up with the innovation pace of the dynamic equilibrium, technical architecture component reuse is doomed to eventually become an antipattern.

We’re not suggesting teams avoid building reusable assets, but rather evaluate them continually to ensure they still deliver value. In the case of PenultimateWidgets, once architects realized that the component was a bottleneck, they broke the coupling point. Any team that wants to fork the component code to add their own new features is allowed (as long as the application development team supports the changes), and any team that wants to opt out to use a new approach is unshackled from the old code entirely.

Two pieces of advice emerge from PenultimateWidgets experience:

TIP

When coupling points impede evolution or other importance architectural characteristics, break the coupling by forking or duplication.

In PenultimateWidgets’ case, they broke the coupling by allowing teams to take ownership of the shared code themselves. While adding to their burden, it released the drag on their ability to deliver new features. In other cases, perhaps some shared code can be abstracted from the larger piece, allowing more selective coupling and gradual decoupling.

TIP

Architects must continually evaluate the fitness of the “-ilities” of the architecture to ensure they still add value and haven’t become antipatterns.

All too often architects make a decision that is the correct decision at the time but becomes a bad decision over time because of changing conditions like dynamic equilibrium. For example, architects design a system as a desktop application, yet the industry herds them toward a web application as users’ habits change. The original decision wasn’t incorrect, but the ecosystem shifted in unexpected ways.

Pitfall: Resume-Driven Development

Architects become enamored of exciting new developments in the software development ecosystem and want to play with the newest toys. However, to choose an effective architecture, they must look closely at the problem domain and choose the most suitable architecture that delivers the most desired capabilities with the fewest damaging constraints. Unless, of course, the goal of the architecture is the Resume-Driven Development pitfall — utilizing every framework and library possible to tout that knowledge on a resume.

TIP

Don’t build architecture for the sake of architecture — you are trying to solve a problem.

Always understand the problem domain before choosing an architecture rather than the other way around.

 
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