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Linking Modular Structure to Growth Groups

This text will display the direct hyperlinks between completely different cellular scaling points,
technical structure and groups. At Thoughtworks we work with many massive enterprises
every presenting completely different issues and necessities when scaling their cellular presence.
We establish two frequent issues seen in massive enterprise cellular app growth:

  1. A gradual lengthening of the time it takes to introduce new options to a
    market app
  2. Inside characteristic disparity arising from a scarcity of compatibility/reusability
    between in-house
    market apps

This text charts the journey one in all our purchasers took when making an attempt to deal with these
points. We inform the story of how their organisation had prior to now, gravitated in the direction of
right options, however was not capable of see the anticipated advantages on account of a
misunderstanding of how these options have been intrinsically

We develop this commentary by recounting how the identical organisation was capable of obtain a
60% discount in common cycle time, an 18 fold enchancment in growth prices and an
80% discount in workforce startup prices by shifting their workforce topologies to match a
modular structure whereas on the similar time, investing within the developer

Recognising the Indicators

Regardless of the most effective of intentions, software program usually deteriorates over time, each in
high quality and efficiency. Options take longer to get to market, service outages
change into extra extreme and take longer to resolve, with the frequent end result that these
engaged on the product change into pissed off and disenfranchised. A few of this may be
attributed to code and its upkeep. Nevertheless, inserting the blame solely on code
high quality feels naive for what’s a multifaceted concern. Deterioration tends to develop
over time by means of a fancy interaction of product choices, Conway’s regulation, technical
debt and stationary structure.

At this level, it appears logical to introduce the organisation this text is predicated
round. Very a lot a big enterprise, this enterprise had been experiencing a gradual
lengthening of the time it took to introduce new options
into their retail
cellular utility.

As a starter, the organisation had appropriately attributed the friction they have been
experiencing to elevated complexity as their app grew- their current growth
workforce struggled so as to add options that remained coherent and according to the
current performance. Their preliminary response to this had been to ‘simply add extra
builders’; and this did work to some extent for them. Nevertheless, finally it grew to become
obvious that including extra folks comes on the expense of extra strained communication
as their technical leaders began to really feel the elevated coordination overhead.
Therefore the ‘two
rule promoted at Amazon: any workforce needs to be sufficiently small to be fed by two
pizzas. The speculation goes that by proscribing how large a workforce can change into, you keep away from the
state of affairs the place communication administration takes extra time than precise worth creation.
That is sound idea and has served Amazon effectively. Nevertheless, when contemplating an
current workforce that has merely grown too large, there’s a tendency in the direction of ‘cargo
culting’ Amazon’s instance to attempt to ease that burden…

Limiting Cognitive Load

Certainly, the organisation was no exception to this rule: Their as soon as small monolith had
change into more and more profitable however was additionally unable to duplicate the required fee of
success because it grew in options, tasks and workforce members. With looming
characteristic supply deadlines and the prospect of a number of model markets on the
horizon, they responded by splitting their current groups into a number of smaller,
linked sub-squads – every workforce remoted, managing a person market (regardless of
related buyer journeys).

This in actual fact, made issues worse for them, because it shifted the communication tax from
their tech management to the precise workforce itself, whereas easing none of their
increasing contextual load. Realizing that communication and coordination was sapping
an rising period of time from these tasked with precise worth creation, our
preliminary suggestion concerned the thought of ‘cognitive
outlined by Skelton & Pais (2019). This includes the
separation of groups throughout singular complicated or sophisticated domains. These seams
inside software program can be utilized to formulate the aforementioned ‘two pizza sized groups’
round. The result’s a lot much less overhead for every workforce: Motivation rises, the
mission assertion is clearer, whereas communication and context switching are shrunk
all the way down to a single shared focus. This was in idea a terrific resolution to our consumer’s
drawback, however can truly be deceptive when thought of in isolation. The advantages
from cognitive load limitation can solely really be realised if an utility’s area
boundaries are really effectively outlined and persistently revered contained in the code.

Area Pushed Self-discipline

Design (DDD)
is beneficial for organising complicated logic into manageable teams
and defining a standard language or mannequin for every. Nevertheless, breaking up an
utility into domains is simply a part of an ongoing course of. Protecting tight management
of the
bounded context
is as necessary as defining the domains themselves.
Inspecting our consumer’s utility’s code we encountered the frequent entice of a transparent
preliminary funding defining and organising area tasks appropriately, solely
to have began to erode that self-discipline because the app grew. Anecdotal proof from
stakeholders recommended that perpetually busy groups taking shortcuts pushed by
pressing product
necessities had change into the norm
for the workforce. This in flip had contributed
to a progressive slowing of worth supply as a result of accumulation of technical
debt. This was highlighted additional nonetheless by a measurable downtrend within the
utility’s 4
Key Metrics
because it grew to become tougher to launch code and more durable to debug

Additional warning indicators of a poorly managed bounded context have been found by means of
frequent code evaluation instruments. We discovered a codebase that had grown to change into tightly
coupled and missing in cohesion. Extremely
is troublesome to vary with out affecting different elements of your system.
Code with low cohesion has many tasks and considerations that don’t match inside
its remit, making it obscure its goal. Each these points had been
exacerbated over time because the complexity of every area inside our consumer’s app had
grown. Different indications got here with reference once more to cognitive load. Unclear
boundaries or dependencies between domains within the utility meant that when a
change was made to at least one, it will probably involuntarily have an effect on others. We seen that
due to this, growth groups wanted information of a number of domains to resolve
something that may break, rising cognitive load. For the organisation,
implementing rigorous management of every domain-bounded context was a progressive step
ahead in making certain information and duty lay in the identical place. This
resulted in a limitation of the ‘blast radius’ of any modifications, each within the quantity of
work and information required. As well as, bringing in tighter controls within the
accruing and addressing of technical debt ensured that any brief time period
‘domain-bleeds’ could possibly be rejected or rectified earlier than they might develop

One other metric that was lacking from the organisation’s cellular purposes was optionality
of reuse
. As talked about earlier, there have been a number of current, mature model
market purposes. Function parity throughout these purposes was low and a
willingness to unify right into a single cellular app was troublesome on account of a need for
particular person market autonomy. Tight coupling throughout the system had decreased the flexibility
to reuse domains elsewhere: Having to transplant most of an current cellular app simply
to reuse one area in one other market introduced with it excessive integration and ongoing
administration prices. Our utilisation of correct domain-bounded context management was a
good first step to modularity by discouraging direct dependencies on different domains.
However as we came upon was not the one motion we would have liked to take.

Domains that Transcend Apps

Situation 1 – ‘The Tidy Monolith’

When seen as a single utility in
isolation, merely splitting the app into
domains, assigning a workforce, and managing their coupling (in order to not breach
their bounded contexts) works very effectively. Take the instance of a characteristic request
to a person utility:

characteristic request is handed to the app squads that personal the related area. Our
bounded context implies that the blast radius of our change is contained inside
itself, which means our characteristic might be constructed, examined and even deployed with out
having to
change one other a part of our utility. We velocity up our time to market and permit
a number of options to be developed concurrently in isolation. Nice!

Certainly, this labored effectively in a singular market context. Nevertheless as quickly as we
tried to deal with our second scaling problem- market characteristic disparity arising
from a scarcity of reusability
– we began to run into issues.

Situation 2 – ‘The Subsequent Market Alternative’

The following step for the group on its quest for modularity of domains was to
obtain fast growth financial savings by transplanting elements of the ‘tidy monolith’
into an current market utility. This concerned the creation of a standard
framework (elements of which we contact on later) that allowed
functionalities/domains to be reused in a cellular utility outdoors its origin.
To raised illustrate our methodology, the instance under reveals two market
purposes, one within the UK, the opposite, a brand new app based mostly out of the US. Our US
based mostly utility workforce has determined that along with their US particular domains
they wish to make use of each the Loyalty Factors and Checkout domains as
a part of their utility and have imported them.

For the organisation, this appeared to imply an order of magnitude growth
saving for his or her market groups vs their conventional behaviour of rewriting area
performance. Nevertheless, this was not the tip of the story- In our haste to maneuver
in the direction of modularity, we had did not have in mind the prevailing
communication buildings of the organisation that finally dictated the
precedence of labor. Growing our earlier instance as a way to elucidate: After
utilizing the domains in their very own market the US workforce had an thought for a brand new characteristic
in one in all their imported domains. They don’t personal or have the context of that
area so that they contact the UK utility workforce and submit a characteristic request. The
UK workforce accepts the request and maintains that it feels like “a terrific thought”,
solely they’re presently “coping with requests from UK based mostly stakeholders”
so it is unclear when they’ll be capable to get to the work…

We discovered that this battle of curiosity in prioritising area performance
limits the quantity of reuse a client of shared performance may anticipate –
this was evident with market groups changing into pissed off on the lack of progress
from imported domains. We theorized quite a lot of options to the issue: The
consuming workforce may maybe fork their very own model of the area and
orchestrate a workforce round it. Nevertheless, as we knew already, studying/proudly owning an
total area so as to add a small quantity of performance is inefficient, and
diverging additionally creates issues for any future sharing of upgrades or characteristic
parity between markets. An alternative choice we seemed into was contributions through pull
request. Nevertheless this imposed its personal cognitive load on the contributing workforce –
forcing them to work in a second codebase, whereas nonetheless relying on help on
cross workforce contributions from the first area workforce. For instance, it was
unclear whether or not the area workforce would have sufficient time between their very own
market’s characteristic growth to supply architectural steerage or PR opinions.

Situation 3 – ‘Market Agnostic Domains’

Clearly the issue lay with how our groups have been organised. Conway’s
is the commentary that an organisation will design its enterprise
programs to reflect its personal communication construction. Our earlier examples
describe a state of affairs whereby performance is, from a technical standpoint
from an
possession standpoint remains to be monolithic:
“Loyalty Factors was created
for the UK utility so it belongs to that workforce”
. One potential
response to that is described within the Inverse
Conway Maneuver
. This includes altering the construction of growth groups
in order that they permit the chosen technical structure to emerge.

Within the under instance we advance from our earlier state of affairs and make the
structural modifications to our groups to reflect the modular structure we had
beforehand. Domains are abstracted from a particular cellular app and as an alternative are
autonomous growth groups themselves. Once we did this, we seen
relationships modified between the app groups as they not had a dependency
on performance between markets. Of their place we discovered new relationships
forming that have been higher described by way of client and supplier. Our area
groups offered the performance to their market prospects who in flip consumed
them and fed again new characteristic requests to raised develop the area product.

The principle benefit this restructuring has over our earlier iteration is the
clarification of focus. Earlier we described a battle of curiosity that
occurred when a market made a request to vary a site originating from inside
one other market. Abstracting a site from its market modified the main target from
constructing any performance solely for the good thing about the market, to a extra
holistic mission of constructing performance that meets the wants of its
shoppers. Success grew to become measured each in client uptake and the way it was
acquired by the tip person. Any new performance was reviewed solely on the
quantity of worth it dropped at the area and its shoppers general.

Give attention to Developer Expertise to Help Modularity

Recapping, the organisation now had a topological construction that supported modularity
of parts throughout markets. Autonomous groups have been assigned domains to personal and
develop. Market apps have been simplified to configuration containers. In idea, this
all is sensible – we are able to plot how suggestions flows from client to supplier fairly
simply. We will additionally make excessive stage utopian assumptions like: “All domains are
independently developed/deployed”
or “Customers
‘simply’ pull in no matter reusable domains they want to kind an utility”

In follow,
nonetheless, we discovered that these are troublesome technical issues to unravel. For instance,
do you preserve a stage of UX/model consistency throughout autonomous area groups? How
you allow cellular app growth when you’re solely liable for a part of an
utility? How do you permit discoverability of domains? Testability? Compatibility
throughout markets? Fixing these issues is completely potential, however imposes its personal
cognitive load, a duty that in our present construction didn’t have any
proprietor. So we made one!

A Area to Remedy Central Issues

Our new area was categorised as ‘the platform’. The platform was
basically an all encompassing time period we used to explain tooling and steerage
that enabled our groups to ship independently inside the chosen structure.
Our new area workforce maintains the supplier/client relationship we’ve got seen
already, and is liable for enhancing the developer expertise for groups
that construct their apps and domains inside the platform. We hypothesised {that a}
stronger developer expertise will assist drive adoption of our new structure.

However ‘Developer Expertise’ (DX) is sort of a non-specific time period so we thought it
necessary to outline what was required for our new workforce to ship an excellent one. We
granularised the DX area all the way down to a set of obligatory capabilities – the primary
being, Environment friendly Bootstrapping.

With any frequent framework there may be an inevitable studying curve. A great developer
expertise goals to scale back the severity of that curve the place potential. Smart
defaults and starter kits are a non-autocratic means of lowering the friction felt
when onboarding. Some examples we outlined for our platform area:

We Promise that:

  • It is possible for you to to rapidly generate a brand new area
    with all related cellular
    dependencies, frequent UI/UX, Telemetry and CI/CD infrastructure in a single
  • It is possible for you to to construct, check and run your area
  • Your area will run the identical means when bundled into an app because it does

Word that these guarantees describe parts of a self-service expertise inside a
developer productiveness platform. We due to this fact noticed an efficient
as one which allowed groups that have been centered round end-user
performance to focus on their mission moderately than preventing their means
by means of a seemingly infinite checklist of unproductive

The second obligatory functionality we recognized for the platform area was Technical
Structure as a Service
. Within the organisation, architectural features additionally
adopted Conway’s regulation and because of this the duty for structure
choices was concentrated in a separate silo, disconnected from the groups
needing the steerage. Our autonomous groups, whereas capable of make their very own
choices, tended to want some facet of ‘technical shepherding’ to align on
rules, patterns and organisational governance. Once we extrapolated these
necessities into an on demand service we created one thing that appears like:

We Promise that:

  • The most effective follow we offer will probably be accompanied
    with examples that you may
    use or precise steps you may take
  • we’ll preserve an general
    image of area utilization per app and when wanted,
    orchestrate collaboration throughout verticals
  • The trail to
    manufacturing will probably be seen and proper
  • We are going to work with you”

Word that these guarantees describe a servant
relationship to the groups, recognizing that everybody is
liable for the structure. That is in distinction to what some may
describe as command and management architectural governance insurance policies.

One final level on the Platform Area, and one price revisiting from the
earlier instance. In our expertise, a profitable platform workforce is one that’s
deeply ingrained with their buyer’s wants. In Toyota lean manufacturing, “Genchi Genbutsu” roughly interprets to “Go
and see for your self”
. The thought being that by visiting the supply of the
drawback and seeing it for your self, solely then can you know the way to repair it. We
discovered {that a} workforce with the main target of enhancing developer expertise should be
capable of empathise with builders that use their product to really perceive
their wants. Once we first created the platform workforce, we didn’t give this
precept the main target it deserved, solely to see our autonomous groups discover their very own
means. This finally triggered duplication of efforts, incompatibilities and a scarcity
of perception within the structure that took time to rectify.

The Outcomes

We’ve informed the story about how we modularised a cellular app, however how profitable was it
over time? Acquiring empirical proof might be troublesome. In our expertise, having
a legacy app and a newly architected app inside the similar organisation utilizing the identical
domains with supply metrics for each is a state of affairs that doesn’t come round too
usually. Nevertheless fortunately for us on this occasion, the organisation was massive sufficient to
be transitioning one utility at a time. For these outcomes, we evaluate two
functionally related retail apps. One legacy with excessive coupling and low cohesion
albeit with a extremely productive and mature growth workforce (“Legacy monolith”). The
different, the results of the modular refactoring train we described beforehand – a
effectively outlined and managed bounded context however with ‘newer’ particular person area groups
supporting (“Area-bounded Context App”). Cycle time is an effective measure right here
because it represents the time taken to ‘make’ a change within the code and excludes pushing
an app to the store- A variable size course of that App kind has no bearing on.

Cell App Sort Cycle Time
Legacy Monolith 17 days
Area Bounded Context (Avg) 10.3 days

Even when cycle time was averaged throughout all area groups in our second app we noticed a
important uplift versus the Legacy App with a much less skilled workforce.

Our second comparability considerations optionality of re-use, or lack thereof. On this
state of affairs we look at the identical two cellular apps within the organisation. Once more, we evaluate
one requiring current area performance (with no selection however to put in writing it
themselves) with our modular app (capable of plug and play an current area). We
ignore the frequent steps on the trail to manufacturing since they don’t have any impression on what
we’re measuring. As a substitute, we concentrate on the elements inside the management of the
growth workforce and measure our growth course of from pre-production ‘product
log out’ to dev-complete for a single growth pair working with a designer

Integration Sort Avg Growth Time
Non-modular 90 days
Modular 5 days

The dramatically completely different figures above present the ability of a modular structure in
a setting that has a enterprise want for it.

As an apart, it’s price mentioning that these exterior elements we’ve got excluded
also needs to be measured. Optimising your growth efficiency could reveal different
bottlenecks in your general course of. For instance, if it takes 6 months to create a
launch, and governance takes 1 month to approve, then governance is a relatively
small a part of the method. But when the event timeline might be improved to five
days, and it nonetheless takes 1 month to approve, then compliance
could change into the subsequent bottleneck to optimise.

One different benefit not represented within the outcomes above is the impact a workforce
organised round a site has on integration actions. We discovered autonomous
area groups naturally seconding themselves into market utility groups in an
try to expedite the exercise. This, we imagine, stems from the shift in focus of
a site squad whereby success of its area product is derived from its adoption.

We found two concentric suggestions loops which impression the speed of adoption. The
outer, an excellent integration expertise from the patron of the area (i.e. the app
container). This can be a developer-centric suggestions loop, measured by how simply the
client may configure and implement the area as a part of their general
brand-specific product providing. The inside, an excellent finish person expertise – how effectively
the general journey (together with the built-in area) is acquired by the patron’s
market buyer. A poor client expertise impacts adoption and finally dangers
insulating the area workforce from the precise customers of the potential. We discovered that
area groups which collaborate intently with client groups, and which have direct
entry to the tip customers have the quickest suggestions loops and consequently have been the
most profitable.

The ultimate comparability price mentioning is one derived from our Platform area.
Beginning a brand new piece of area performance is a time consuming exercise and provides
to the general growth price for performance. As talked about earlier, the
platform workforce goals to scale back this time by figuring out the ache factors within the course of
and optimising them – enhancing the developer expertise. Once we utilized this mannequin
to area groups inside our modular structure we discovered an over 80% discount in
startup prices
per workforce. A pair may obtain in a day actions that had
been estimated for the primary week of workforce growth!


By now it’s best to have fairly a rosy image of the advantages of a modular structure
on cellular. However earlier than taking a sledgehammer to your ailing monolithic app, it is
price making an allowance for the restrictions of those approaches. Firstly, and certainly most
importantly, an architectural shift equivalent to this takes a whole lot of ongoing time and
. It ought to solely be used to unravel severe current enterprise issues
round velocity to market. Secondly, giving autonomy to area groups might be each a
blessing and a curse. Our platform squad can present frequent implementations within the
type of wise defaults however finally the alternatives are with the groups themselves.
Naturally, coalescing on platform necessities equivalent to frequent UI/UX is within the
curiosity of the area squads in the event that they want to be integrated/accepted right into a market
app. Nevertheless, managing bloat from related inner dependencies or eclectic
is difficult. Ignoring this drawback and permitting the general app to
develop uncontrolled is a recipe for poor efficiency within the arms of the client.
Once more, we discovered that funding in technical management, along with sturdy
guardrails and tips helps to mitigate this drawback by offering
structure/design oversight, steerage and above all communication.


To recap, at the beginning of this text we recognized two important supply
issues exhibited in an organisation with a multi app technique. A lengthening of
the time it took to introduce new options into manufacturing
and an rising
disparity between different related in home purposes
. We demonstrated that
the answer to those issues lies not in a single technique round technical
structure, workforce construction or technical debt, however in a concurrently evolving
composite of all these elements. We began by demonstrating how evolving workforce
buildings to help the specified modular and domain-centric structure improves
cognitive and contextual load, whereas affording groups the autonomy to develop
independently of others. We confirmed how a pure development to this was the
elevation of groups and domains to be agnostic of their originating
utility/market, and the way this mitigated the consequences of Conway’s regulation inherent with
an utility monolith. We noticed that this variation allowed a client/supplier
relationship to naturally happen. The ultimate synchronous shift we undertook was the
identification and funding within the ‘platform’ area to unravel central issues
that we noticed as a consequence of decoupling groups and domains.

Placing all these elements collectively, we have been capable of display a 60% discount in
cycle time
averaged throughout all modular domains in a market utility. We additionally
noticed an 18 fold enchancment in growth price when integrating modular
domains to a market app moderately than writing from scratch. Moreover, the concentrate on
engineering effectiveness allowed our modular structure to flourish as a result of 80%
in startup prices
for brand spanking new domains and the continuing help the ‘platform workforce’
offered. In real-terms for our consumer, these financial savings meant having the ability to capitalise
on market alternatives that have been beforehand thought of far too low in ROI to
justify the trouble – alternatives that for years had been the uncontested domains
of their opponents.

The important thing takeaway is {that a} modular structure intrinsically linked to groups might be
extremely helpful to an organisation beneath the proper circumstances. Whereas the
outcomes from our time with the highlighted organisation have been wonderful, they have been
particular to this particular person case. Take time to grasp your individual panorama, look
for the indicators and antipatterns earlier than taking motion. As well as, don’t
underestimate the upfront and ongoing effort it takes to deliver an ecosystem like
that which we’ve got described collectively. An in poor health thought of effort will greater than
probably trigger extra issues than it solves. However, by accepting that your state of affairs
will probably be distinctive in scope and thus resisting the pull of the ‘cargo cult’: Specializing in
empathy, autonomy and contours of communication that allow the structure on the
similar time, then there may be each cause you possibly can replicate the successes we’ve got



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