Laws of Software Development

In speaking with people about the complexity of software development, one comparison I’ve often used to describe it is to relate software development to physical engineering. Engineering can rely on physical constants that can be expressed as formulas or constant numbers. For example, the tensile strength of AISI 1018 mild/low carbon steel is 53,700 psi. Standard gravity is defined as 9.80665 m/s2. Engineers can rely on numbers such as these to design and build objects.

In software development, complexity arises because there are very few (arguably zero) constants that we can rely on. At any given point, something can fail or not preform to specification. Life would be far easier for software developers if we could rely on a network connection always operating at a certain speed, or a CPU operating at a certain capacity, or a database never failing, or a file system never becoming full…the list goes on of the failures that could occur.  But we cannot rely on these failures not occurring and we must build in the ability to handle these failures, and this drives up complexity. Not having a defined set of laws to operate by makes it all the more challenging.

Interestingly, we find that the reverse is often true with the softer side of software development. Over the last few decades, numerous rules, laws, and heuristics have emerged from software project management that describe the nature of software development. I thought it would be fun to highlight a few of them – let me know your experiences in the comments!

Eagleson’s Law

Any code of your own that you haven’t looked at for six or more months might as well have been written by someone else.

Brook’s law

Adding people to a late software project makes it later.

Galorath’s 7th law

Projects that get behind, stay behind.

Conway’s Law

“organizations which design systems … are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.”

Hofstadter’s Law

“It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.”

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