Establishing an Efficient Code Review Process
Digital transformation has substantially influenced the economy and the world, from entire business sectors to specific roles such as software developers.
As more and more businesses come to rely on digital tools, the complexity of the software built for them increases significantly. That, in turn, requires companies to advance engineering processes for the development teams to operate on the scale needed for success. With an increasing number of projects requiring the unique skill set and carefully developed experience of developers, efficient and robust code review processes become even more crucial.
A study conducted by Stripe and Harris Poll found that, on a global scale, companies spend $85 billion debugging and otherwise repairing bad code on a yearly basis. To focus more of their time and attention on activities that generate revenue for their employers, developers need streamlined processes for creating, reviewing and implementing consistently high-quality code. In fact, the Stripe and Harris Poll study found 96% of upper management respondents indicated that increasing developers’ productivity is a medium- or high-priority task for their company.
A robust code review process can reduce the time — and money — spent on bad code, supporting more productive work for developers and building a more collaborative and effective dynamic in their teams. In turn, businesses can realize a sustainable and valuable competitive advantage.
Establishing Effective Coding Standards
A coding standard defines shared guidelines and practices related to style and other foundational concerns related to a specific technology or programming language.
Developers collaborate to select these standards for each project on an individual basis. They take specifics like project timeline and overall complexity, as well as the team’s related background and experience, into account. Clear documentation of a shared coding standard can support four key objectives:
- Reducing the time spent in the code review process.
- Simplifying the onboarding of any new team members throughout the project lifecycle.
- A high degree of uniformity for all code produced by the development team.
- Compliance with industry-specific regulatory requirements. This is especially important in highly regulated industries, such as banking and fintech, automotive, medical, aviation and more.
Developers can reduce the amount of time spent on a given project as well as realize a faster time to market by relying on these guidelines. Additionally, teams can use proven, broadly applicable rules and guidance developed by industry leaders to streamline their day-to-day workflows.
While every coding standard is different, there are certain best practices that are generally valuable to keep in mind when deploying formal coding review practices:
- Frequent and consistent commits: To improve visibility and more granularly mark changes and additions to project code, regularly create pull requests from the earliest stages of feature or product function development.
- Reach consensus on feature design: Teams must establish a shared understanding of each feature’s overall design and goals prior to beginning any coding work.
- Review early and often: Frequent code review, especially early in the development process, supports better performance of the final product. It also helps provide stronger direction to project newcomers and reduces iterations of code refactoring, should the new team member not receive accurate initial direction.
- Large features split into multiple granular pull requests: Reviewing large amounts of code is a difficult and inefficient process. Branching allows each developer to split out from the original code base, avoiding situations in which substantial code changes accumulate in a single pull request.
- End-to-end feature ownership: Consistent ownership of specific features by individual developers, through involvement across the feature development process, helps build the context required to make effective decisions related to technical tradeoffs and design decisions.
A consistent coding standard must be documented in an easily accessible and shareable format. Clear communication of these coding conventions leads to:
- Improved readability of the software source code.
- Faster onboarding of new team members with consistently positive results.
Distribute Resources Efficiently With Peer Review
The earlier a development team can identify defects in code, the easier they are to correct. To enable early-stage identification of bugs and effective responses to them, companies generally turn to one of two options:
- Selecting a senior member of the development team to serve as the primary reviewer.
- Establishing a peer review process that incorporates many team members.
A primary reviewer can leverage their experience and expertise to ensure a high standard of quality across a project. Their position as the sole arbiter of code quality supports consistency, but can come at the expense of speed. With just one developer reviewing all code, the review process can create bottlenecks that halt progress and create difficulties for the team as a whole. Additionally, a primary reviewer may hold subjective opinions about certain approaches to coding. With that perspective applied across a project, more time might be spent on corrections to code that is functional, but not in alignment with the reviewer’s perspective on best practices.
By leveraging a peer review process, development teams can distribute this responsibility. With many team members completing smaller reviews for alignment with project standards and overall quality, it is less likely that such duties will become a burden or cause delays.
Peer review can also enable a number of benefits related to team culture and effective cooperation, such as:
- Delegating responsibility: With design decisions made through a collaborative review process, team members can gain broader insight into the development process as a whole and build a sense of ownership in it.
- Skill development: Junior developers and new team members can gain useful experience through code reviews with senior specialists.
- Sharing and acting on feedback: Peer reviews offer many opportunities for two team members to come together, discuss problems with code and find effective solutions for them.
Teams need to set clear expectations for the peer review process, in terms of expected timelines for completion and the format and content of the feedback. With those guidelines in place, peer review can support a more efficient development process and provide opportunities for professional growth.
Alleviate Burdens Through Automation
Automated tools can take on some of the most rote and time-consuming, yet crucially important, processes involved in code review. A knowledgeable developer could manually check code against established standards and styles, but their time is more valuable when it’s dedicated to more complex, higher-level concerns.
Using automation to address the more basic aspects of code review leads to a more efficient distribution of available resources. Automated tools to consider incorporating into a code review process include:
- Code linters and sniffers, which identify code that does not align with an established coding standard.
- Code scanners, which seek out potential issues that could lead to security issues in the future.
Final Tips to Develop A Code Review Process
The efficacy of a code review process is ultimately determined by the team working on the project. Recognizing the following common pitfalls in development, and addressing them through the rules of the code review process, can lead to more positive outcomes:
- Pull requests that incorporate both technical changes and feature implementations.
- Large reviews that include 1,000-plus lines of code changed.
- Ideal pull requests, which require the investment of too much time and effort, instead of following the “good enough” approach to pull requests.
- An unstructured, as-you-go approach to code refactoring.
Development teams must also pay special attention to a sales-focused, “let’s ship it!” attitude developing on their teams. While the temptation to quickly complete a project is understandable — it brings the application to market faster, after all — releasing an unfinished product can only lead to issues with functionality and negative consumer sentiment. Teams that utilize a peer review process, which supports shared accountability and ownership, may be more resistant to such well-intentioned but ultimately harmful desires.
As your development team establishes and defines its code review process, we recommend implementing best practices for the specific programming language you plan to leverage:
Maintaining an Efficient Code Review Process
The specifics of the code review process can vary significantly for each project. The general intent, however, remains the same: Development teams craft goals in a collaborative process, creating a mutually understood and agreed-upon set of standards that guides the project forward toward a successful resolution.
Transcenda can serve as your development partner, leveraging deep technical expertise and a wealth of development experience to support the creation of a more efficient code review process.
To learn more about how we can drive effective development, get in touch with us today.