‘I Feel The Need … The Need For Speed’

As any engineer will tell you, in the world of software development there is a constant pressure to produce high quality applications and systems at as fast a pace as is physically possible. However there is a common saying that you can have quality or you can have speed, its not possible to have both. As the development pace increases a point will be reached where the quality of work produced will take a hit and begin to decline.

Whilst many developments may impose the impression that you are in control of a bus that must travel over a certain level where even the slightest decrease in this pace will cause a bomb to explode and lead to utter carnage and mayhem, it is sometimes necessary to make the conscious decision to slow down.

The large majority of people will tend to lean closer to one side of the scale or the other. Advocates of speed strongly believe that providing solutions at a rapid pace to fulfil contracts and business deals will allow them to stay competitive and gain interest from even more users. On the flip side advocates of quality, if left without direction, could spend months or even years ‘perfecting’ their work.

Some of the best development teams are made up of a mixture of those who crave speed and those who insist on quality. The drive of the speed freaks can help to keep the quality advocates grounded and focused on progressing the project rather than waste time on continuously reworking code over and over again just to make it run a little better. In the same vein, the focus of the quality advocates will help to remind the advocates of speed that it may be necessary to slow things down on occasion.

The risk of using such an arrangement is that it is easy for both parties to get blindsided by their preferences, especially in high pressure situations, which can result in internal conflict that will need to be resolved before any more progress can be made.

The balance of speed vs quality really depends on a number of factors, the system being produced, the type of development and the intended target audience. For example when developing applications for mobile devices speed can overrule quality as, although annoying, regular updates are almost an expectation and rapid releases help to keep applications relevant and trending. On the other hand when working on systems, such as flight control and train braking systems, where potential software failures could result in serious harm or injury, quality must always come first. It is imperative that these systems work correctly from the moment they are implemented.

No matter which way the balance of speed vs quality sits for the duration of a project it is important to manage the expectations of the client. They must be made aware from the very start how prioritising one over the other will impact the progress and outcome of the development. There are methods of shortening the development time with as little impact to quality that have become popular in more recent years, however the client must understand that they will reduce the scope (the total set of features that make up the development) of the final system.

Approaches such as Agile and SCRUM focus on delivering a working solution by delivering the highest priority requirements first. By utilising such an approach the client will be able to release a functional system in a reduced period of time, fulfilling the speed element, and if desired further improvements to performance and additional features can be addressed at a later time.

For much of the work we do here at Zircon, quality is paramount as it involves safety related systems or systems that are required to function reliably to provide real-time data 24/7. However, we do have clients and projects where delivering functionality in a small timeframe is of equal or greater importance. By performing activities such as stand up meetings and code reviews on a daily basis, we strive to improve the overall quality of the work we produce without adding the weight of heavy formal processes on our engineers.