Effective Ways to Avoid Code Quality Issues

Effective Ways to Avoid Code Quality Issues

We all know that software products require code to make the magic happen. But what people often forget is that the code is a product of its own. It constantly needs to be interpreted, changed, updated, added to, and sometimes even cut out and marketed for its stand-alone value.

There are a few examples of code quality checklists out there. I’ve taken the liberty to simplify and create my own:

  • Impactful: The code must deliver something to a user group that helps the business.
  • Clear: Humans who are not the author have no problem understanding the code.
  • Efficient: The code does as little as possible to achieve the desired output.
  • Well-Tested: It stands up to a battery of well-thought tests at each layer of performance.
  • Extensible: Developers have no problem adding features without issues.

This is great philosophy, but this article is about practicality. How do you achieve high-quality code based on these standards? Here are 4 key steps:

  • Set Team Guidelines
  • Test Thoroughly
  • Review Regularly
  • Communicate and Motivate

1. Set Team Guidelines

Style Guide

It is critical for code quality that standards and uniformity are maintained. Start with widely-accepted language standards. Discuss best practices for how to write human readable (or self-documenting) code, and create a guide with your team.

Commenting and Documenting

This is all about ensuring the clarity of your code for new or outside developers. Your team should know where, when, and how to comment. In general, it is best to comment if, and only if, it provides real value.

Sharing Work

Make sure there are clear expectations for sharing work. This will reduce chances of duplicating efforts. It also creates a space where code reviews (either as a team or peer-to-peer) are much easier to do, lifting the skillset and the code quality of the entire team.

2. Test Thoroughly

Layered Testing

There need to be well-defined, purposeful tests written at every layer of the code, especially unit testing and integration testing. Consider switching to test driven development to hardwire this best practice into your processes. And as much as possible, get these automated.

User Testing

As a product manager in my heart, I argue this is the most important test. Yes, the product manager should only be asking for impactful software to be built. However, if the end product of the code doesn’t meet the needs of the user, it just isn’t worth worrying about code quality.

3. Review Regularly

Team Reviews

These reviews should cover the code as a forum to learn as a group what to model their code after and what practices to avoid. They should also cover the style guide and the sprints as a way to constantly iterate the processes that are supporting writing high-quality code.

Peer-to-Peer Reviews

Set up a buddy system with similar level engineers or mentorships with senior and lower level engineers. Using both of these systems will keep attention focused on code quality, lift the overall skills of your developers, and lift the overall code quality of your team.

Refactoring

Refactoring can be difficult to perform regularly, but what it the point of studying code quality without implementing it? The best way to refactor code is to do it constantly and little-by-little. For a more in-depth look at refactoring check out Code Refactoring Best Practices: When (and When Not) to Do It.

4. Communicate and Motivate

Prioritize Aspects of Code Quality

Not all code will score 100% across all the metrics of code quality. Make sure you communicate with your team on every project to ensure everyone knows the priorities and expectations around code quality.

Drive Understanding to Non-Software Stakeholders

Like it or not, the people we build software for do not know how software works. Make efforts to educate outside of the software group about the risks of bad code. Drive the company culture to one that values the time, process, and benefits of maintaining high quality code.

Vision and Motivation

No matter how many good ideas and processes you have in place, if individual contributors don’t buy in, none of it matters. Make sure you are building a culture that rewards success and follow best practices of team leadership that keeps teams driving toward common goals.

Summary

The best way to achieve impactful, clear, efficient, well-tested, and extensible code is to:

  1. Set team guidelines for style and best practices of the code.
  2. Test thoroughly with automation within the code and paying special attention to the user’s acceptance.
  3. Review regularly as a team and in pairs to stay focused on code quality priorities and identify areas for improvement.
  4. Communicate effectively inside and outside of your software team to get everyone driving toward the same goals.