Code Complete: Design in Construction

  • 6/9/2004

5.5 Comments on Popular Methodologies

The history of design in software has been marked by fanatic advocates of wildly conflicting design approaches. When I published the first edition of Code Complete in the early 1990s, design zealots were advocating dotting every design i and crossing every design t before beginning coding. That recommendation didn't make any sense.

As I write this edition in the mid-2000s, some software swamis are arguing for not doing any design at all. "Big Design Up Front is BDUF," they say. "BDUF is bad. You're better off not doing any design before you begin coding!"

  • People who preach software design as a disciplined activity spend considerable energy making us all feel guilty. We can never be structured enough or object-oriented enough to achieve nirvana in this lifetime. We all truck around a kind of original sin from having learned Basic at an impressionable age. But my bet is that most of us are better designers than the purists will ever acknowledge.

  • —P. J. Plauger

In ten years the pendulum has swung from "design everything" to "design nothing." But the alternative to BDUF isn't no design up front, it's a Little Design Up Front (LDUF) or Enough Design Up Front—ENUF.

How do you tell how much is enough? That's a judgment call, and no one can make that call perfectly. But while you can't know the exact right amount of design with any confidence, two amounts of design are guaranteed to be wrong every time: designing every last detail and not designing anything at all. The two positions advocated by extremists on both ends of the scale turn out to be the only two positions that are always wrong!

As P.J. Plauger says, "The more dogmatic you are about applying a design method, the fewer real-life problems you are going to solve" (Plauger 1993). Treat design as a wicked, sloppy, heuristic process. Don't settle for the first design that occurs to you. Collaborate. Strive for simplicity. Prototype when you need to. Iterate, iterate, and iterate again. You'll be happy with your designs.