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Pay As You Go

An age old and recurring source of contention in software-intensive system development is the issue of deciding how much time to spend coding and how much time to spend writing documentation artifacts. The figure below shows three patterns of development: BDUF, CADOB, and PAYGO.

Pay As You Go

Prior to the agile “revolution“, most orgs spent a lot of time generating software documentation during the front end of a project. The thinking was that if you diligently mapped out and physically recorded your design beforehand, the subsequent coding, integration, and test phases would proceed smoothly and without a hitch. Bzzzt! BDUF (bee-duff) didn’t work out so well. Religiously following the BDUF method (a.k.a. the waterfall method) often led to massive schedule and cost overruns along with crappy and bug infested software. Bummer.

No Bee Duff

In search of higher quality and lower cost results, a well meaning group of experts conceived of the idea of “agile” software development. These agile proponents, and the legions of programmers soon to follow, pointed to the publicly visible crappy BDUF results and started evangelizing minimal documentation up front. However, since the vast majority of programmers aren’t good at writing anything but code, these legions of programmers internalized the agile advice to the extreme; turning the dials to “10”, as Kent Beck would say. Citing the agile luminaries, massive numbers of programmers recoiled at any request for up front documentation. They happily started coding away, often leading to an unmaintainable  shish-CADOB (Crappy Architecture and Design Out Back). Bozo managers, exclusively measured on schedule and cost performance by equally unenlightened corpocratic executives, jumped on this new silver bullet train. Bzzzt! Extreme agility hasn’t worked very well either. The extremist wing of the agilista party has in effect regressed back to the dark ages of hack and fix programming, hatching impressive disasters on par with the BDUF crews. In extreme agile projects where documentation is still required by customers, a set of hastily prepared, incorrect, and unusable design/user/maintenance artifacts (a.k.a. camouflage) is often produced at the tail end of the project. Boo hoo, and WAAAAGH!

As the previously presented figure illustrates,  a third, hybrid pattern of software-intensive system development can be called PAYGO. In the PAYGO method, the coding/test and artifact-creation activities are interlaced and closely coupled throughout the development process. If done correctly,  progressively less project time is spent “updating” the document set and more time is spent coding, integrating, and testing. More importantly, the code and documentation are diligently kept in synch with each other.

An important key to success in the PAYGO method is to keep the content of the document artifact set at a high enough level of abstraction “above” the source code so that it doesn’t need to be annoyingly changed with every little code change. A second key enabler to PAYGO success is the ability and (more importantly) the will to write usable technical documentation. Sadly, because the barriers to adoption are so high, I can’t imagine the PAYGO method being embraced now or in the future. Personally, I try to do it covertly, under the radar. But hey, don’t listen to me because I don’t have any credentials, I like to make stuff up, and I’ve been told by infallible and important people that I’m not fit to lead 🙂

The only way to learn how to write is by wrote.

  1. Ray
    October 21, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Good programmers always did some design followed by some “demo” implementation.

    Though on many BDUF programs the schedule to produce the “design” documentation was so tight that the program itself seeded its own problems. “Design” in waterfall method was trying to make it more formalized and creativity was factored out.

    Some people might think that your BDUF diagram an exaggeration, I worked on project where finishing the design documentation constituted 80% completion of the software process. It was no where near complete

    • October 21, 2009 at 8:28 am

      Hi Ray,

      All of my dorky diagrams can be considered exaggerations, or outright lies. That’s why I say that I “make stuff up” every once in a while. Maybe I should preface every post with that disclaimer :^)

  2. Andre Adrian
    June 9, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    PAYGO sounds nice. I do it too. It helped me to build some above average systems.

    • June 9, 2011 at 7:56 pm

      Thanx Andre. It’s simple and makes sense, but why does it seem that not many people and groups do it? It’s either a ton of documentation, or no documentation.

  1. October 28, 2009 at 4:43 am
  2. April 11, 2010 at 1:03 am
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