Simple Design

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:


Yagni is a way to refer to the XP practice of Simple Design (from the first edition of The White Book, the second edition refers to the related notion of “incremental design”). [1] Like many elements of XP, it’s a sharp contrast to elements of the widely held principles of software engineering in the late 90s. At that time there was a big push for careful up-front planning of software development.

Let’s imagine I’m working with a startup in Minas Tirith selling insurance for the shipping business. Their software system is broken into two main components: one for pricing, and one for sales. The dependencies are such that they can’t usefully build sales software until the relevant pricing software is completed.

At the moment, the team is working on updating the pricing component to add support for risks from storms. They know that in six months time, they will need to also support pricing for piracy risks. Since they are currently working on the pricing engine they consider building the presumptive feature [2] for piracy pricing now, since that way the pricing service will be complete before they start working on the sales software.

Yagni argues against this, it says that since you won’t need piracy pricing for six months you shouldn’t build it until it’s necessary. So if you think it will take two months to build this software, then you shouldn’t start for another four months (neglecting any buffer time for schedule risk and updating the sales component).

The first argument for yagni is that while we may now think we need this presumptive feature, it’s likely that we will be wrong. After all the context of agile methods is an acceptance that we welcome changing requirements. A plan-driven requirements guru might counter argue that this is because we didn’t do a good-enough job of our requirements analysis, we should have put more time and effort into it. I counter that by pointing out how difficult and costly it is to figure out your needs in advance, but even if you can, you can still be blind-sided when the Gondor Navy wipes out the pirates, thus undermining the entire business model.