When building a software product, there’s no universal approach or a single ‘right’ way to do things. It takes the combined effort and expertise of the development and design team, and effective, direct communication with the client to create a product that performs according to expectations. But often, excessive engineering casts an expensive shadow over the development process.
By excessive engineering, or overengineering, we mean solving problems that are not relevant to a particular project. It can be well-intentioned or it can result from the team’s lack of experience or miscommunications. Either way, solving non-existent problems poses a serious challenge to the product. Overengineering may lead to a delayed release, budget inflation, and a poor-quality end product.
The need for programmers is growing, and accordingly, new professionals are starting engineering careers, and new tools and frameworks continue to flood the industry. So it’s safe to say that the overengineering issue isn’t likely to go out the window any time soon.
If you want to build a robust product that functions exactly how you imagined, you should be aware of this problem, know how to spot it, and more importantly, how to avoid it. In this post, we talk about why developers tend to overengineer and look at the practices that help eliminate redundant development.
The term itself has been a red flag for programmers for quite a while. Back in 2008, Max Kanat-Alexander, author of Understanding Software, noted that developers threw this word around all the time but there was no official definition. What he proposed as a definition is still the most referred to today:
When your design actually makes things more complex instead of simplifying things, you’re overengineering.
Now the term has a Wikipedia page, multiple implications, and a fair few memes dedicated to it. While its connotations can be subjective, the essence remains the same: overengineering is not about complicating things per se but rather about solving unnecessary problems.
Overengineering in development means writing code that solves problems the client doesn’t have.
It’s tempting to use one more tool, try another approach, or design an additional feature just in case or because a developer is keen to do so, but it overcomplicates matters if that extra tool, approach, or feature isn’t relevant to the product’s purpose.
This classic meme shows how far a project can stray from real needs.
Kanat-Alexander also distinguished the two most common overengineering practices:
Overengineering sounds bad in theory, and it’s even worse in practice. Let’s see how excessive programming, detached from reality and your business needs, can affect your project.
An overengineered solution often leads to the following consequences:
Sounds dreadful, right? Now, let’s see why it’s such a common problem and how to avoid it in web development.
What creates the foundation for overengineering? There are several common reasons for fighting with the wind instead of catering to particular business needs:
Another classic meme about developers overcomplicating things.
As you can see, the factors that contribute to overengineering are divergent: from personal reasons like boredom at work and an individual programmer’s desire to broadcast their exceptional skills to team organisation reasons like inadequate communication, planning, or issues with prioritisation. But all these factors depend on the working environment in a development company and the methodologies applied to project management.
Let’s discover how development providers can address overengineering and what you, as a product owner or stakeholder, can do to eliminate redundant development.
To make sure your product is delivered on time and functions as specified, you need to carefully select a development team and be as involved in each stage of the process as possible. Here are the ingredients that make a recipe for development success:
As overengineering is actively discussed in the tech community, developers often share thoughts on how to avoid it:
Remember these points when speaking to the developers you may hire. Most importantly, you should feel like the team understands your idea and your visions align. This way, you are likely to avoid overengineering, work in a healthy, cooperative environment, and get the best possible version of your product.
Coding solutions that don’t solve actual problems or ignore business requirements for the sake of technological advancement or complexity is overengineering. And it’s a pressing issue for many projects that get delayed or even ruined because development becomes unrealistic and strays far from the client’s vision.
As one developer succinctly put it, overengineering is like snoring: no one thinks they do it. It’s true that overengineering can be tricky to spot, but there are ways to avoid the issue. When searching for a development team, find out if they have similar projects in their portfolio, ask how they build their processes and how much you will be involved. The latter point is important because understanding your goals and communicating them to the team is half the battle.
At MadAppGang, we always learn the ins and outs of a project’s context and its goals so that we can deliver according to the client’s current expectations. We care about scalability, but we don’t predict possible future requirements without input. In our view, these can only be introduced by the client.
If you want to build a software solution, and you don’t want a bunch of unnecessary complexities, drop us a line, and we’ll discuss your needs and the scope of your project.
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