How to evaluate technology options

As mentioned before, the answer to the increasing complexity of technology is to provide ever more frameworks, tools and other solutions. Everyone involved in development has to evaluate and choose among options constantly.

Quite often, we use what we know. I call this “developer laziness” and I mean that in a good way. If a tool is too complex to use or understand, it has to provide a substantial advantage to warrant convincing others to invest the time and effort to learn how to use it.

However, not looking beyond what we currently know severely limits the ability to increase the quality of our software implementation. It is especially the role of an architect to find new and better ways to improve the status quo and explore alternatives.

Comparing technology choices is a three step process:

Evaluating technology options

The steps are as follows:

  1. Make an exhaustive and complete list of categories that we can use to compare the features of each option. This list should be MECE1, which is an acronym for mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive. It’s a binary list of categories that encompass as much area as possible.
  2. With this list in hand, research answers. This includes talking to experts, reading documentation and implementing proof-of-concept mini projects
  3. Fill in the answers, prioritise, weigh categories and then come up with a conclusion.

Step 1) is a brain-storming exercise. I find it very useful to involve other members in this step. If you do so, I recommend having everyone make a list on their own and then merge the findings into a list. Having more than one person come up with categories increase the chances that our list is exhaustive. The final merge of all answers into a final list can be best accomplished by one person to keep the list mutually exclusive.

Step 2) is then best done by the expert of that field. If the technology we explore is new (which quite often it is), implementing a quick proof-of-concept is an effective way to get a “gut feel” for the technology.

Presenting Step 3) is then best done with the team and in front of the stakeholders. If the choice we have to make is substantial, the desired outcome of the process is to give the stakeholder a clear picture of the pros and cons and enable her to make an informed decision.

One question is how much time we should spend on this process. The more important the decision the more thorough we have to be. It is important to make the evaluation of technology itself a task that has resources and time allocated to it. The only way to find a good solution is to thoroughly understand the problem and that requires to give importance to the evaluation process.

I will come back to this process many times with concrete use cases.

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