The Bigger Complexity Lies Outside Technology

by Krishna on November 26, 2009

From the Domain-Driven Design Site:

[A] great deal of effort has gone into the design of networks, databases, and other technical dimension of software. Books have been written about how to solve these problems. Developers have cultivated their skills.

Yet the most significant complexity of many applications is not technical. It is in the domain itself, the activity or business of the user. When this domain complexity is not dealt with in the design, it won’t matter that the infrastructural technology is well-conceived. A successful design must systematically deal with this central aspect of the software.

Those of us with a software background have a tendency to get mired in the technical details of implementation. All of those discussions around the duct-tape programmers and unit tests and inversion of control. In some ways, it is a good debate to have. But they are just tools to do the actual work, which is to provide solutions to real-world problems.

And in the real world, there is enormous complexity. If you take a business application, there are so many rules and constraints demanded by various departments in the organization. Ignore software for a moment and think of any organization you have worked in. Remember the employee manual? That is just the start, isn’t it? There are so many other de-facto rules for inter-personal or inter-group coordination because of organizational history, etiquette, bureaucracy, etc.

Then there are outside rules by government and standards bodies, to name a couple. The sheer volume of these rules makes it very difficult for any one person to truly understand them all, let alone the inconsistencies and relationships between them. To make matters more complicated, these rules are changing always. Not everything all at once. But one rule here, one standard there — this month, that month. And your requirements keep shifting ground. There is never a fixed target.

That is the real reason why building software is complex. And it is not going to be solved simply by having a better tool or process which only help if you have somehow managed the complexity of the problem. Sometimes, the real-world complexity is, in fact, too difficult to manage. And the best you can do is take a small piece of the problem and try to solve it. Or maybe you can influence the real world to get rid of a business need like, say, end some silly bureaucratic process, and avoid the need to build a complex piece of software.

{ 1 comment }

Kevin December 12, 2009 at 11:57 pm

Perhaps we should be focusing on becoming domain experts rather than software experts. Working in a particular domain to gather experience in how the real world works will surely help in understanding the complexities of that domain. Implementation should never be a major factor in any software design. It should always be the end result of the product of a particular domain.

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