People Independence and the Atomic Test

You will often hear the terms "People Independence" or "Institutional Memory" used as a management reason for the creation of the huge volumes of paperwork often created in a BDUF (Big Design Up Front) project. The idea of course is that the presence of the documentation allows the organisation to use developers interchangeably.

For developers, documentation is extremely useful for the those who come after, even if it's you in 12 months time. This documentation however is only useful if it's up-to-date. Unfortunately in most cases it's written, read and never looked at again.

When I was consulting, and prior to my introduction to Agile practices, I often worked with organisations that didn't particularly want to spend time on documentation. This wasn't because they believed it wasn't useful, it was more a cost saving method. Still wanting to provide future developers some form of documentation I became an advocate for heavy commenting of code. Hence, the code became the documentation.

With my introduction to Agile practices a few years ago the idea of "documentation in the code" has moved on to incorporate and focus on atomic tests. The application of the concept of waste from Lean Software Development on formal documentation also supports the use of atomic tests as documentation (unless the documentation provides some other value than the fulfillment of the process).

So does code (test cases) as a replacement for formal documentation meet the requirements of managers who are looking for "People Independence"? It does if they are looking for a way to fulfill the need to pass on knowledge to future developers. In addition the added benefits of atomic test on quality and confidence for future developers to make changes and maintain current functionality is immeasurable.

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