Adaptation versus evolution

Many organizations fall into the trap of gradually increasing technical debt and reluctance to make needed restructuring modifications, which in turns makes systems and integration points increasingly brittle. Companies try to pave over this brittleness with connection tools like service buses, which alleviates some of the technical headaches but doesn’t address deeper logical cohesion of business processes. Using a service bus is an example of adapting an existing system to use in another setting. But as we’ve highlighted previously, a side effect of adaptation is increased technical debt. When developers adapt something, they preserve the original behavior and layer new behavior alongside it. The more adaptation cycles a component endures, the more parallel behavior there is, increasing complexity, hopefully strategically.

The use of feature toggles offers a good example of the benefits of adaptation. Often, developers use toggles when trying several alternate alternatives via hypotheses-driven development, testing their users to see what resonates best. In this case, the technical debt imposed by toggles is purposeful and desirable. Of course, the engineering best practices around these types of toggles is to remove them as soon as the decision is resolved.

Alternatively, evolving implies fundamental change. Building an evolvable architecture entails changing the architecture in situ, protected from breakages via fitness functions. The end result is a system that continues to evolve in useful ways without an increasing legacy of outdated solutions lurking within.

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