I’m reading books on TRIZ and becoming enthusiastic about its potential for software development industry. Yes, it is not clear how to apply it directly, since TRIZ focuses on technical systems, but I believe we can apply general rules and even have solution patterns in the future.
TRIZ has several patterns of evolution. Here are my thoughts about the most interesting patterns and their applicability to software development.
Evolution toward Increased Ideality
Every system generates both useful effects and harmful effects and every system has costs.
Ideality = Benefits/(Cost + Harm)
Software system is not an exception. If we take a project management software, it helps us stay on track, plan work and see progress. What is the cost? Well, it takes time to add data into the system. It takes time to find useful information. So the system wastes our time. An Ideal Project Management Software (I use big letters to stress its ideality) will add data from various sources fast and provide all information we need in 2-3 clicks.
The other hidden costs? A learning curve is often significant. Migration to other project management software is not easy and painful. Customization sometimes impossible or very expensive. All that should be (and will be) resolved in the future.
Each new technology follows a S-curve pattern. Slow early adoption, sharp growth with mainstream adoption and finally slow growth to a full saturation.
source: An Introduction to TRIZ
In software development there are plenty of examples. OOP went mainstream years ago and it is not sexy anymore. REST services grows sharply, mobile industry grows sharply, Agile adoption is mainstream now. It is more intresting what is cooking in early adoption phase right now, what will change the future of software development. Is it TRIZ and problem solving techniques? Is it Continuous Delivery? I don’t know, but we’d better keep our eyes wide open and discover trends as early as possible to ride the wave.
Uneven Development of System Parts
“A system encompasses different parts, which will evolve differently, leading to the new contradictions.” Every software system has various parts such as modules, layers and components. If you think about that, you will remember many cases when one part of a system was improved significantly, while other parts of the system stayed as is. Very often this significant improvement leads to new, unexpected innovations and total re-work of existing modules.
Let me provide an example from TargetProcess. We decided to re-write plugins. We were not satisfied with the existing architecture and we were going to find a more efficient approach. We stopped by ServiceBus pattern and implemented the solution. However, then we faced a new problem: how to create UI for new plugins. It was solved via Mashups and it was totally unexpected from the beginning. Now Mashups are a part of TargetProcess and people can do very interesting things via Mashups.
Increased Complexity then Simplification (Reduction)
That is my favorite maybe. “There is a tendency for systems to add functions that at first increase complexity but over time collapse into simpler systems that provide the same, or more, functionality.” It is so common for a software system to become more complex, to add new features, more features. There is even a term for that, coined years ago: bloatware. This law clearly advises the natural path of evolution, and Simplification phase is crucial. However, usually simplification never happens and software product dies.
I can clearly see this pattern in TargetProcess as well. Initially it was a pretty simple product with a few features. It grew into a quite complex yet powerful agile project management software with many integrations and customization options. In worst times we had about 100 different screens in the system. Everything could be done differently and somethimes you had to visit several screens to complete a single action .
We started Reduction phase last year. We are re-working all the functionality and we have a clear vision on how to shrink all the complexity into 10 screens or even less. It is really cool to see the way and to follow it. It is fun and you have a genuine feeling of the “right way”. We fearlessly removed features that are almost not used, yes. But interestingly enough, new, fewer screens will provide even more functionality than the old ones.
I believe this is the path all software systems should follow. More complexity, more functionality, then Simplification and Reduction.