Why You Need Coding Standards For You and Your Team! Of the teams I talk to, maybe 30%. It’s not like the rest don’t have any sort of internal guidelines — they just haven’t been codified.
Instead, these teams are keeping track of these ideas in their heads, trying to implement them as they write and review code. But as a result, they’re not consistently followed.
All of this leads to those 30% of teams having less debate during reviews, less friction in styles and approach, and less tech debt. Because you really should have clear-cut rules that all your code should follow.
Best Practices and Consistency Have Real Impact:
It might seem like a given that having consistency and best practices across your codebase is a good thing. But what is the actual cost of having inconsistent code throughout your project?
Future development is going to be slowed down:
If there are different styles, structures, or design patterns used in the codebase, then a developer is always going to have to spend extra time to consider which way they should implement new functionality, and they’ll have to untangle the logic behind why the same thing is implemented in two different ways when trying to understand the current code.
More bugs are going to be introduced:
Using multiple, inconsistent approaches is going to significantly increase bug risk throughout your project because there’s an increased risk that you miss out on covering all of the approaches used when using new functionality. On top of this, it becomes harder to review or create test cases for multiple different approaches used across the project and makes it easier for things to fall through the cracks.
It’s harder to onboard new team members.
One of the biggest hurdles in onboarding a new developer to a project is getting them up to speed in understanding the existing codebase. But if the approaches aren’t consistent in how that code is structured, then that onboarding time is going to be even longer than usual. If it’s too complex, onboarding can be almost impossible.
So far in this article, I’ve used a couple of terms a few times without fully defining them — specifically Best Practices and Standards. I use the two terms Best Practices and Standards interchangeably, and I am referring to any rules you and your team agree should be followed across your codebase. A great first step is to use the standards that are widely accepted for your language and frameworks, e.g., PEP8 for Python. Then the next step is to also establish some rules that are specific to your project and your domain. These aren’t mutually exclusive, and you’ll want to have both of these styles of rules in your project.
Having Best Practices Isn’t Enough — You Need to Codify Them
As you start to establish best practices and standards you want your team to follow, you need to ensure that they’re actually being followed. Ideally, your team is applying these standards while they’re writing new code, but you also need to be able to check against them throughout the development process — especially during code reviews. But this is almost impossible if these code standards aren’t clearly codified. Without a readily available outline of how to approach and how not to approach certain situations, your team isn’t going to be able to always make sure all of your code is following these standards. By turning them into a living document, you’ve created a resource that your team can reference throughout the development process to help increase long-term efficiency.
A quick note — I’m not suggesting here that your team mindlessly follow a series of rules that are mandated in a top-down approach. Developing a set of best practices/standards should be a collaborative process from the whole team where you discuss what approaches you want to take and pros and cons to different options. These standards also need to be a living document that grows, evolves, and is revisited both as your codebase grows and as the underlying technologies you’re using change.
Why Don’t Teams Codify Their Standards?
Given the costs of not having clear code standards as a team, why do so many engineering teams not have clearly articulated sets of best practices?
Initial time investment:
It does take time to build up an initial set of standards you and your team agree on. But you can start small, with just a few standards you agree on and then build from there. Things like auto-formatters are great places to start, because they take out an entire class of inconsistency. And the long term time savings of establishing consistent approaches will outweigh the upfront time costs many times over.
Worrying about conflict.
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