Monday, March 28, 2016

The Pit Of Success

Over the last decade or so I've worked on a lot of teams chartered with building APIs, web services, and/or micro-services that were consumed by external and internal software. When building something that's composed into another system you're inevitably going to have to make design decisions which, if used incorrectly, will not have the desired effect on the system.

A few years ago a former co-worker of mine introduced me to a concept that helped change how I approach solving for this problem. That concept was called the Pit of Success. In it's most basic form the pit of success can be defined as follows:

Pit of Success: being easier to do the correct thing than it is to do the incorrect thing?

So how do we create a pit of success with the products we build? Here's some simple tips.

Solve for the 80% case out of the box

By default the software should solve for the 80% use case. Often this can be accomplished by simply creating reasonable defaults for configurable parameters. The way I like to solve for this is by asking myself the question "what is the out of the box behavior?"

Make the developer do work to harm the system

Most of what we do on the web involves creating, updating, or deleting data. Occasionally we have to build things into a system that can have harmful if used incorrectly. In these particular cases you can create a Pit of Success by making the developer do work to enable the potentially harmful feature or use the potentially harmful API.


Be conscious of the platforms and frameworks that you're working with. Don't invent new conventions that don't add material value to the system. Use idioms and patterns that are natural to the developers of that platform.

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