Project vs. Product Development – a Comparison

Last week I have realized that I had a blind spot: I thought that every developer is aware that selling software or delivering a product are not quite the same. As it turned out, I was wrong so I created this list to explain what I mean.

Goals And Interests In Project Development (aka Feature Factory):

  • The main stakeholder is the company paying for the features (called client further on), not the customer who is using them.
  • The responsibility for maintaining and evolving of the platform is not my job.
  • The requirements are defined by the client: I have no way to validate them because I have no contact with the users of the features. Feedback-based decisions are not possible.
  • Fast development but slow delivery.
  • Features are defined as a whole and delivered as a whole, not iteratively. Visual requirements (mock-ups) are un-negotiable because they are ordered as-is, even if the end user might not see it that way.
  • Perfection instead of usability.
  • Innovation is limited by restricted access to the infrastructure or other 3rd party services used by the client.
  • No involvement in long- and medium-term planning, as the goals of the client are not my goals. Very limited possibility to plan the architecture aligned with the strategy of the client.
  • The product my company sells is time and/or LoC. (Disclaimer: this would not be the case when working with Extreme Contracts)
  • The most important metrics are:
    • hours per week,
    • features per unit of time,
    • LoC

Goals And Interests In Product Development:

  • The main stakeholders are the end customers and the company itself (me and my team included).
  • The main goal is to identify users’ problems, develop solutions for them and solve them in the correct order. The job is no longer spending time with work or moving tasks on a Jira board, but to provide solutions.
  • Nowadays, with a large number of competitors who could appear every day, time-to-market (i.e. time) is decisive, but not at the expense of quality.
  • We own the maintenance and the evolution of the platform. It is our interest to produce high quality and robust software.
  • Through the cooperation of business analysts, UX experts, software developers and cloud experts, we are able to deliver features (capabilities) step by step, measure their benefits and decide on the next measures.
  • I can use all my skills and my company can benefit for them.
  • The user stories are written in a business-oriented manner, they can be taken literally. They document the proposed solution, can be cut into meaningful slices to be implemented quickly and reliably and to be delivered fast.
  • “Fail Fast” and “Inspect and Adapt” are the most important principles.
  • Usability, not perfection.
  • The most important metrics are:
    • customer satisfaction (measured with business metrics and the usage of delivered features),
    • lead time (time between idea and in use),
    • time to recovery,
    • change failure rate (Accelerate)

DDD is not a goal but a means

DDD (Domain-Driven Design) it is “only” one essential building block that promises an evolutionary software, a software that won’t let you down in a few years or after a few thousands of line of code.

That’s it. I could stop here, the title and this short description tell everything. But is this true, can everybody reading this relate to that? Is it helpful? I don’t think so.

During the last year, I often heard the question “how can I introduce DDD in my company?” – mostly meaning “in my dev team”. It is time to answer this question now.

Misconception number 1: introducing DDD as a goal

Misconception number 2: DDD is a dev thing, and after the devs “fix this” by applying all the patterns, all problems will disappear – and they will live happily ever after …

Let’s imagine a successful company sitting already on 1m lines of code, a lot of customers, a few teams, possibly working in silos, having frontend and backend development split. Or a younger company but with the same organization, the only difference is the effort needed to change things. This company has an agile development process (with sprints and “stories” and one Product Owner pro team etc.), but they observe that every new feature takes longer and longer. A few devs have read about DDD, read the Blue Book, and convince one of the backend teams to introduce DDD. The company agrees to let them do it because they hope that everything will be easy and fast and bug-free afterwards. So everybody is happy 😊

Fast-forward a few months: now we are at the point when the source code owned by that team was restructured nicely, with value types, entities, aggregates. Ok, the Rest API is unchanged because the frontend team is already using it and they were not involved. But the business logic ist cleaned up. The names, the language were defined by the devs – DDD is a dev thing, isn’t it? The development process didn’t change either: they get requirements to implement things without including anything built by the frontend team, the part the customer sees. For this reason, the refinements are not about customer needs but API calls and frameworks – just like before the rework towards DDD.

JIRA 1234: Please add this new flag “withVAT” to the API call generating the invoice (sounds familiar?)

What is new? Frustration: the PO does not know why the devs are asking more and more details, and the developers don’t understand why the PO does not get the meaning of aggregates and value types, etc.

Refinement: “we cannot add it to that API call, the VAT decision belongs to another aggregate! ;( ”

And what else is new? Maintaining those API routes becomes harder and harder because they do not follow the business structure but are kept as an Anticorruption Layer between the frontend and backend (team 😉).

I am sorry if I am disappointing you, it is not my intention. It is the opposite actually: to save you from this frustration after having invested so much energy and maybe extra hours to get everything perfect.

What is DDD: a paradigm, a rule set that helps you to build an evolutionary software. Like Mathias Verraes says

This can only be achieved if DDD stops being a “dev-stuff” and starts leading to a common way to discuss features, behaviors, and capabilities.

And why not? DDD means not only aggregates and value types; the essential component is the ubiquitous language used in your domain by the business people, by the customer. And apropos customer: DDD aims to solve the customer’s problems and be known in the teams applying DDD. Why not create a whole team handling those needs, from the UI (or even UX) to the delivery? (this move would also change the “somehow agile” development process in a real one, based on feedback and experiments instead of a prepared backlog covering the next three months)

We live in a great time: the accumulated knowledge and the evolution of the software industry in the last 25 years give us anything we need to build resilient, sustainable and maintainable software that won’t “die” slowly if we are careful and happy to learn. What do we need?

  1. Visual modelling technics to discuss and learn the business (like Event Storming, Impact Mapping, etc.)
  2. Crunching and defining stories aiming to solve customer needs, always with the Ubiquitous Language (like User Story Mapping, BDD)
  3. A paradigm to make decisions based on the Business Domain, not on hopes or wishes (strategical DDD to write the right code)
  4. A guide for organizing the teams to achieve good teamwork, less cognitive load and smooth development process (Context Maps from DDD)
  5. Open feedback culture to create psychological safety
  6. A set of patterns to organize the code (DDD again)
  7. A bunch of practices to write the code right: TDD, refactoring, pairing, mob-programming
  8. Trunk-based development (aka Continuous integration) and continuous delivery to reduce the lead time (the time from the idea to the usage, also to the possibility of feedback) and to reduce the MTTR (Mean Time To Recovery)
  9. Mature 3rd party services to fulfil all the other needs when offering digital products. Now we can focus entirely on our business proposal (AWS/Azure & co, Observability, etc.)
  10. The readiness and willingness to learn the business we want to improve and the corresponding company culture supporting this.

This list is my Silver Bullet. All items on it are essential, and all of them exist. Most of them had a significant value for itself but the sum of them? Wow, they give us a real chance in this rapidly changing world with all its competitors running after our slice of cake.

Book List (And Other Resources)

Basic Resources For Developer

  1. The Pragmatic Programmer – by David Thomas, Andrew Hunt
  2. Test-Driven Development: By Example – by Kent Beck
  3. Code Complete – By Steve McConnell
  4. Refactoring: Improving the Design of Existing Code – by Martin Fowler
  5. Fix The Small Things – by Kent Beck
  6. Working Effectively with Legacy Code – by Michael Feathers
  7. Ian Cooper: TDD, where did it all go wrong (Video)
  8. Some Underrated Elements of Success for the Modern Programmer – J. B. Rainsberger
  9. 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know – by Kevin Henney

Architecture (and Business)

  1. Domain-Driven Design: Tackling Complexity in the Heart of Software – by Eric Evans
  2. Martin Fowler’s Blog
  3. Community Collection of Maps, Heuristics, Methods and more – Open Source
  4. Encouraging DDD Curiosity as a Product Owner – Zsófia Herendi – KanDDDinsky(video)

Resources For Everbody Caring For Product(Project) Development and Strategy

  1. Impact Mapping: Making a Big Impact with Software Products and Projects – by Gojko Adzic
  2. Specification by Example: How Successful Teams Deliver the Right Software – by Gojko Adzic
  3. The Bottleneck Rules: How To Get More Done at Work, Without Working Harder – by Clarke Ching
  4. Agile Conversations – by Douglas Squirrel and Jeffrey Fredrick (there also is a Meetup to practice)
  5. Nick Tune’s Strategic Technology Blog
  6. Accelerate: Building and Scaling High-Performing Technology Organizations – byNicole Forsgren, Jez Humble, Gene Kim
  7. Team Topologies: Organizing Business and Technology Teams for Fast Flow – by Matthew Skelton, Manuel Pais
  8. The Software Architect Elevator: Transforming Enterprises with Technology and Business Architecture – by Gregor Hohpe
  9. Visual Collaboration Tools – by many

Crime, History

  1. The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering – by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.
  2. Your Code As a Crime Scene: Use Forensic Techniques to Arrest Defects, Bottlenecks, and Bad Design in Your Programs – by Adam Tornhill
  3. The Phoenix Project – by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford
  4. The Unicorn Project – by Gene Kim

THE FIRST IDEAL: Locality and Simplicity

THE SECOND IDEAL: Focus, Flow, and Joy

THE THIRD IDEAL: Improvement of Daily Work

THE FOURTH IDEAL: Psychological Safety

THE FIFTH IDEAL: Customer Focus