Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Journey into Software Excellence

I am back in the blogosphere after a seven month hiatus. It was about time I get my blogging act together. Software development has never been so much fun. In this post, I will share some thoughts on using tools, methods, and practices that can really help in your search for software excellence from the initial prototyping of the user interface to deployment.

  1. With the rapid proliferation of mobile and desktop devices, adopt a Responsive Wed Design (RWD) strategy to reach the largest audience possible.
  2. Create responsive sketches, wireframes, or mockups and apply usability guidelines during the initial prototyping. The NHS Common User Interface (CUI) Program is a good example of usability guidelines for healthcare IT applications. also has many interesting resources as well.
  3. Perform usability testing to test your design ideas and obtain early feedback from future users of your product before actual development starts. Use metrics such as the System Usability Scale (SUS) to assess the results.
  4. Carefuly select the right HTML5, CSS3, and Javascript libraries and frameworks. The Single Page Application (SPA) architecture is becoming popular and can provide a more fluid user experience.
  5. Consider "Specification By Example" and Behaviour Driven Development (BDD) tools like Cucumber-JVM to create executable user stories.
  6. Pattern languages like Domain Driven Design (DDD) can help you avoid a "Big Ball of Mud" in architecting your software. DDD concepts such as "Strategic Design", "Bounded Context", "Published Language", and "Anti-Corruption Layer" can help you put your architecture in the right perspective, particularly if there is a need to support industry interoperability standards such as HL7 and IHE. However, beware that the practice of DDD has evolved over the last 8 years and new lessons have been learned particularly in the area of "Aggregate" design. So keep up-to-date with new developments in the field in order to leverage the experience of the community. I also found the concept of "Hexagonal Architecture" very helpful in visualizing the complexity of an architecture from different angles.
  7. Consider a peer review of the architecture using a methodology like the Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method (ATAM).
  8. Embrace Polyglot Persistence (the use of different persistence mechanisms such as relational, document, and graph databases within the same application). However, use the right application development framework to make this easy. Beware of the peculiarities of modeling data for NoSQL databases and remember that "Persistence Ignorance" is not always easy to achieve in practice.
  9. Add a social dimension to your product by integrating the user experience with existing social networking sites that your users already belong to.
  10. Make your application more intelligent through the use of techniques such as Machine Learning (e.g., a recommendation engine), ontologies and rule engines (e.g., automated reasoning), and Natural Language Processing (NLP) (e.g., automated question answering). As Richard Hamming said: "The purpose of computing is insight, not numbers".
  11. To enhance the user experience, adopt HTML5, SVG, and Javascript-based graphing and data visualization techniques for data-intensive applications.
  12. Consider the benefits of deploying the application to the cloud and if you decide to deploy to the cloud, factor that into your entire design and development process including the selection of development tools. Choosing the right Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) provider can facilitate the process.
  13. Create a Continuous Delivery pipeline based on the core concept of automated testing. Leverage tools like Git (Distributed Version Control), Gradle (build), Jenkins (Continuous Integration), and Artifactory. Continuous Delivery allows you to go to market faster and with confidence in the quality of your product. Save infrastructure costs by using these tools in the cloud during development.
  14. Although there is still a place for manual testing, all tests should be automated as much as possible. In addition to the traditional unit tests (using tools like JUnit, TestNG, and Mockito), embrace automated cross-device, cross-browser, and cross-platform user interface (UI) testing using a tool like Selenium.
  15. Web services and performance testing should also become part of your build and Continuous Delivery pipeline using tools like soapUI and JMeter respectively. Performance testing should not be an afterthought.
  16. Adopt automated code quality inspection with tools like Sonar, Checkstyle, FindBugs, and PMD. This can supplement your peer code review process and can provide you with concrete code quality metrics in addition to automatically flagging bugs (including insecure code) in your code base.
  17. Write secure code by carefully studying the OWASP Top Ten. Adopt OWASP guidelines related to security testing and secure code reviews. Perform penetration testing to find vulnerabilities in your application before it is too late.
  18. Do your due diligence in protecting the privacy of your users data. Put the users in control of their privacy in your system by adopting standards such as OAuth2, OpenID Connect, and the User Managed Access (UMA) protocol of the Kantara Initiative. Consider increasing the strength of authentication using multi-factor authentication (e.g., two-factor authentication using the user's phone).
  19. Invest in learning and training your development team. Software excellence can only be achieved by skilled professionals.
  20. Relax, have fun, and remember that software excellence is a journey.

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