The Role of Occam’s Razor in Agile Software Development

Unnecessary complexity can creep into a project, as development continues and more features get added during the process. Resulting in a monstrous quality assurance task of reviewing a large, complex system all at the end. This complexity can be reduced if you apply the principle of Occam’s Razor to the process.

What is Occam’s Razor?

Occam’s Razor is a principle that was created by 14th century philosopher William of Occam. The principle states that from competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected. It favors simplicity over complexity until proven otherwise.

When it comes to software design, the simplest possible code to implement a desired feature is generally best. Simple code is less likely to have bugs and often results in a program that runs faster.


What is Agile Software Development?

Agile software development refers to a strategy of building and testing software in multiple iterations as the software develops one small piece at a time. The main goal of Agile is to deliver working software quickly, and bug free. This strategy contrasts with the traditional development strategy of performing Quality Assurance (QA) testing altogether nearing the end of the development process.

This relatively new development strategy, requires continual collaboration between QA testers, programmers, project managers, and project stakeholders through regular meetings and continuous feedback through each iteration. The primary benefits of Agile are twofold:

  • It is more difficult to hide project delays from managers.

  • Code errors are easier to find because a smaller quantity of code needs to be searched for problems.

How are They Related?

Agile software development can become complicated, especially later in the process after multiple iterations. The best way to minimize complications is to apply the principle of Occam’s Razor to the process. Each software team should start simple and only add complexity once the need for increased functionality has been clearly identified.

This complexity being added by frequent small changes throughout the process carefully continues to evolve the final product. This accomplishes more by doing less, saving time on making unnecessary errors and corrections. The more complexity you simultaneously add to the project, the more time it will take to implement, test and review the new additions.  Remember – the more complex the system, the higher the chance of failure.

Implementing this strategy makes the software easier to envision, build and test. Keeping things as simple as possible, also helps the stakeholders and end users because they will end up evaluating a more simple system rather than a complex one. By applying Occam’s Razor, the software development team will make faster progress and it will be easier to apply corrections as the project continues.