Elevating Code Quality: The Role of Refactoring in Agile Development

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Julia Sakovich , Author at Geomotiv
Reviewed by Egor Zablotski, Director of Engineering at Geomotiv
Published: Nov 7, 2023

When you have plans to build your app, it is essential to study essential information about general approaches to software development and basic procedures that can be associated with it. To help you achieve this goal, we’ve prepared this article to explain what refactoring in Agile is and what role it has in software development projects. 

As an Agile offshore software development company, we deeply understand the importance of this process in app building and enhancement, and now we’d like to share this knowledge with you.

What Is Refactoring, and Why Is It Required?

Let's say a few words about refactoring in general before proceeding to refactoring in Agile methodology.

In software development, it is a process of restructuring programming code. But what is vital in this case is that its functionality and external behavior shouldn’t be changed.

You may have a very logical question: Why does the solution’s behavior and functionality stay the same after introducing changes to the code? The idea of refactoring is that these updates are so tiny and even insignificant at first glance that they can’t result in changing the existing functionality and, at the same time, are not enough for building new features.

refactoring methods in agile - the code refactoring process

However, all the actions in the framework of the refactoring process are aimed at improving internal code and making it cleaner.

So, should you really care about refactoring if you do not have any tangible outcome? Aren’t there any other ways to enhance the code and at the same time get some additional bonuses, such as new features, for example? Let's have a look at the benefits that it brings.

Why Refactor Code?

Code refactoring helps to enhance the design of your system. During the process of introducing changes to the code, developers can get a better understanding of the solution itself. As a result, they can continuously find out a lot of existing issues and areas for improvement. After adding new functionality to your app, developers often look at the code months later and see that it was possible to write the code in a completely different way, which would have been more accessible and more transparent for others. If it is discovered that the applied approach could be better, it is feasible to rework the code, which will help you to enhance your app and its design in general. 

Even if some insignificant issues may be left as it is, minor problems may become a disaster in the long run. That’s why, based on our experience, we can say that it is always better to introduce changes to the code timely to minimize future risks and ensure that the code complies with your best practice.

refactoring methods in agile - why refactor code

You can increase the performance and efficiency of your app. When the legacy app has clumsy code with many lines that only add extra volume, finding and fixing bugs is challenging. However, refactoring can solve this problem. By investing time and money in refactoring, you can save a lot of resources in the future. When the code is clean, it is much faster and easier to work with it to ensure the desired efficiency of your solution. What’s more, a simpler code is one of the factors that will provide a fast reaction of your app to the received requests.

Thanks to refactoring, you can make it easier for others to read your code. When developers have to enrich an app with new features, it can become a real challenge, especially if another team wrote the source code. Maintaining legacy apps with their obsolete code can become a more time-, resource-, and effort-consuming task. However, refactoring can help you make your app's code readable and easier to understand for those who didn’t participate in writing it. Moreover, refactoring is one of the easy ways to eliminate tech glitches in your code. All this is possible thanks to such actions as simplifying your code by removing unreasonable complexity, introducing smaller versions of significant functions and classes, and deleting those snippets that are not required anymore.

Refactoring ensures faster code writing. At the first moment, this statement may seem quite controversial, especially when we are talking about big projects. Refactoring takes additional time and prevents your team from finishing the project faster. Many teams prefer to devote more time and resources to writing code while minimizing their refactoring efforts. Is it a good idea? Not the best one. Though refactoring requires time, your overall speed of project realization will increase thanks to better code organization. When you structure your code more clearly by simplifying it, the work will take less time. And, of course, it is easier and faster to modify and maintain an app if it has high-quality code.

The technical debt of your code will be lowered. Technical debt is a term used to describe the costs you will need to pay for introducing improvements to your software in the future if you don’t address the existing issues just after they are detected. Businesses often want to release their software products as soon as possible without paying attention to the necessity to deal with the existing issues. As a result, the technical debt is growing. Code refactoring aims to enhance the quality of code and clean it before the problems don’t reach enormous scales. It means that it will make it possible for companies to minimize their expenses in the future.

Take a look at how we did code refactoring in one of our recent projects – optimizing the Adtech Bidding Module.

Read now

What Is Code Refactoring in Agile?

Code refactoring in Agile plays a crucial role and is one of the core processes that ensure the release of high-quality functionality in the framework of each iteration. As you may already know, the Agile methodology is based on the principles of continuous improvement, which is possible thanks to breaking down the entire product development into short iterations (sprints). Each iteration typically lasts for two weeks (in some cases, it can be longer), and its result should become a release of a new feature (or part of functionality) that brings value.

Agile software development teams build and adjust their work on projects based on the feedback they need from shareholders at the end of each iteration. As a result, teams can only think about a plan for the whole project realization in advance. Typically, upfront planning is a real challenge for organizations as their business conditions and requirements can be very dynamic, which will prove that their initial plans are not relevant anymore.

Agile lets teams stay flexible and constantly enhance products under development. And here, the role of refactoring can’t be underestimated.

It helps avoid code duplication, remove too large classes by splitting them into smaller ones, and pay off technical debt before building the next feature. In other words, the code refactoring process in Agile guarantees that at any moment of the project realization, you have working code that is prepared for adding new functionality to it.

We’ve talked about this methodology in one of our articles.

Read it now

Is Refactoring Used in Scrum?

Scrum is defined as an Agile project management framework. By relying on it, teams can better organize, manage, and control their work following the accepted principles, values, and practices. 

Sometimes, people believe that Agile and Scrum are just the same. This assumption is based on the fact that a core principle of Agile is continuous improvement, and Scrum is also centered around it. Such similarities are apparent as Scrum is a specific Agile methodology while Agile itself is a broader philosophy regulating how software is delivered to customers.

While flexibility and adaptability are among the top priorities for Agile in general, Scrum presupposes better structuring and less flexibility. This approach helps teams deliver excellent results faster. Scrum requires including in a team some specific roles like a Product Owner and a Scrum Master.

And with all these peculiarities, is refactoring in Agile Scrum still relevant? Do Scrum teams refactor code? On one hand, Scrum doesn’t prescribe any engineering practices at all, which means there aren’t any mandates regarding the necessity of code refactoring. On the other hand, Scrum is based on continuous improvements, and any changes that can add value to the software are positively welcomed. As code refactoring is one of the ways to implement such an approach, we can conclude that it perfectly suits the principles of Scrum.

Benefits of Refactoring in Agile Methodology

We’ve already considered the range of opportunities that developers and business owners can get, thanks to refactoring in general. Now, we offer you to summarize the advantages of code refactoring in Agile.

  • It helps to write standardized modular code that is easy to read and work with.
  • The whole team can better understand the code and its peculiarities.
  • It will be less time-consuming to add new parts of code.
  • The code design and architecture are improved while the behavior of your software is not affected.
  • Maintenance costs are lower.
  • Thanks to creating modular code, it is possible to reuse it seamlessly.

Challenges of Refactoring in Agile

Now, if somebody asks you: “Why is refactoring important in Agile methodologies?” it’s likely that you will say that it helps to ensure a higher quality of your code and make your code cleaner and more readable. But is this process flawless and straightforward to conduct? Or are there any drawbacks? Of course, nothing is perfect in this world. That’s why, before planning code refactoring, you must be aware of possible pitfalls.

  • Time. Iterations in Agile are time-boxed and always have a preliminary defined set of deliverables. Code refactoring requires time, and it can be challenging to devote enough time to it without missing the deadlines set for each iteration.
  • Bugs. Software developers sometimes fear applying any refactoring techniques in Agile because of the risks of introducing new bugs or breaking the existing functionality. Nevertheless, it is vital to understand that refactoring won’t cause any changes in functionality when adequately conducted.
  • Re-testing. It is necessary to conduct tests after refactoring to help check whether the code works as it should. It won’t be a problem if you have automated tests, but allocating time for manual testing can be challenging when they can’t be applied or you simply do not have them. As a result, developers may be discouraged from performing refactoring to avoid the necessity to conduct additional software tests.
  • Illusionary lack of necessity. Let’s admit that when something works well, we prefer not to touch it not to cause any harm. Very often, when developers see that their code functions as they want it to, they think it is better not to perform any actions with it. That’s the problem of our mindset: if you do not see errors, you do not need to consider any improvements. Nevertheless, such a position is not the best one when we are talking about software.
  • Integration. Among other challenges that developers usually name, it’s worth mentioning the necessity to integrate the refactored code across different branches. It requires additional time and effort. 
  • Backward compatibility. The necessity to ensure interoperability of newer parts of code with the previously written ones is a rather difficult task.

Should all these challenges stop you from conducting code refactoring in Agile? We do not think so. However, they should become a reason for you to think about the correct organization of the refactoring process, better planning, and devoting enough time to all the related activities. With the right approach to refactoring, developers can leverage its advantages while all the challenges and difficulties will be minimized.

When not to Refactor

The benefits of refactoring in Agile are apparent. However, when considering the necessity to refactor your code, please remember there are situations when it’s better not to do it. Below, you can find some of the most widely spread cases when refactoring is not required, and even if you still conduct it, you won’t get the desired results.

  • You have a stringent deadline. Let’s admit that there can be situations where you have a deadline that can’t be missed. Sometimes, in such cases, it can be sensible to sacrifice the quality but to release the solution in time. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that you should entirely abandon the idea of refactoring your code. You should postpone it and conduct it after the deadline is met and the pressure on you is not so intense. 
  • There isn’t any clear understanding of where to move. When your team needs to work with obsolete code that still works but has some issues, it is natural that you will desire to improve it. Nevertheless, you often do not know where improvements should be introduced and what exactly you want to achieve with code refactoring. Without a well-thought-out plan, all your efforts to improve will bring only new problems and bugs. If you face such a situation, it will be sensible to leave everything as it is and take time to elaborate your approach to its enhancement. After studying such code better and determining its parts that should be refactored, you can do it successfully and enjoy the results.
  • You do not have sufficient test coverage. Sometimes, refactoring can bring more harm than good. This statement is relevant when only some required tests are in place. When developers have code with no proper test coverage, they need tools to ensure the code will function just as it should after refactoring. As a result, it will only be possible to see whether refactoring has brought any improvements. In such situations, postponing refactoring until the code can be tested appropriately will be feasible. The Agile methodology prompts TDD (test-driven development), and if it is applied correctly, there shouldn’t be problems of this type as developers will prepare automation tests even before coding.

Guidelines for Refactoring in Agile Methodology

The offshore dedicated development teams created by our company have rich expertise in building Agile software projects. Over the years of our work, we’ve elaborated our approaches to performing code refactoring so that it won’t negatively affect the timeframes of project realization. And we’d like to share some of our insights with you.

refactoring methods in agile -methodology scheme
  1. Only start refactoring after making sure that your code works. Otherwise, it will be a road to nowhere. 
  2. We recommend you apply a version control tool and save the final one before starting code refactoring. This simple step can bring you several significant benefits. First, you can recover the latest working version in case of any unpredictable difficulties. Secondly, after trying it out, you can return to the previous version if you are unsatisfied with your refactored code.
  3. Refactor your code only if you have automated tests for it. Refactoring without testing is just a lottery. You will never know whether your code still works after refactoring. Even if you are sure you haven’t introduced bugs, test your code. We all are just people, and we can make mistakes. Some of them (even the slightest ones) can be fatal for your software. It’s not a reason for rejecting refactoring. It’s a reason for writing tests before it.
  4. Test your code before refactoring, within this process, and after you finish it.
  5. If you won’t have enough time to run tests after refactoring, restore the previous version of the working code you had before starting to refactor it. Please never leave the code not tested after being refactored.
  6. Keep your changes small. The more significant a change you want to introduce, the higher your risk that something will go wrong. It is recommended to split your refactorings into smaller chunks. It is okay if you have multiple fragments. The key idea is not to have big ones. This approach will give you additional flexibility and avoid unnecessary risks.
  7. Never add new functionality during the process of refactoring. Refactoring is not aimed at changing the system and its output. That’s why you shouldn’t try to add new code parts in the middle of refactoring before any serious updates are introduced. Finish your refactoring first and then proceed to the following tasks. By the way, thanks to refactoring, it will become easier for you to work with the code, which means that you will spend less time building new parts of your solution.

We will be happy to help you with your project at any step of its realization!

Refactoring Methods in Agile

There are several refactoring techniques in Agile that your team can use to enhance the quality of your code. Let’s briefly consider the most widely used of them.

Composing methods

This group of methods presupposes the necessity of proper packaging of function or method code. If you have large functions/methods with complex logic, they will negatively impact the readability of your code and make it quite challenging to maintain. Thanks to the correctly chosen refactoring techniques, you can avoid such problems. What are these techniques that we are talking about?

  • Extract method. The idea behind this method is simple to explain. It includes breaking up huge functions and methods into smaller chunks. When is this method applied? For example, your long plans cover numerous logical flows in those cases. You can also opt for the extract method if the same part of the code is used in several flows. There is no need to duplicate the code. You can shift this part to a single method, and then you can just call it from all the required flows. As a result, the readability of your code will be increased.
  • Inline method. This method is applied when the code of the function or method is minimal, when the number of delegations in it is too big, or when a call of this function leads to a performance bottleneck. In this case, a method or function call can be replaced with the body of this method or function. That’s one of the ways to improve the readability of the code.
  • Replace method with method object. If you have a too-long method with numerous local variables, it won’t be possible to simplify it using the “extract” technique discussed above. In such a case, when you just can’t get rid of all these variables because of the risks that you will have just a messy new code, you can create a new class for your method. All the local variables that your old method had will be included in this class as its data members.

Moving features within objects

In coding, deciding on the proper responsibility allocation is crucial, and this group of refactoring techniques in Agile will help you do it most feasibly.

  • Move method. Introduce a new method in the class where the method is used the most. Then, the code from the old method should be moved here. The code in the first method can be moved entirely or turned into a reference to the newly introduced method.
  • Move field. If a field is used in another class more often than in its class,  you need to create a new field in this other class and redirect users to it.
  • Remove intermediaries. Delete those methods that only delegate to other objects.
  • Inline class. If there is a class that isn’t responsible for anything and has no specific functions, you can move all the features contained in it to another class.

Organizing data

Thanks to better-organized data, it will be easier to work with it. There are several ways to do it.

  • In those cases when your class contains a data field with its behavior, introduce a new class where you can place this field;
  • Replace arrays that contain different data types with objects where each element will have a separate field;
  • Remove all the associations that are not used;
  • Encapsulate public fields and introduce access methods for them.

Simplifying conditional expressions

Though it can be a rather challenging task to understand conditional logic, you can simplify it thanks to refactoring.

  • Simplify the complicated parts of the conditional (“if-then”/ “else” or “switch”) by decomposing them into separate methods (the condition, “then” and “else”);
  • Consolidate multiple conditionals that lead to the same outcome in a single expression;
  • Move the duplicated code outside of the conditional;
  • Instead of assumptions, introduce assertion checks.

Making method calls simpler

When developers must ensure the interaction between objects or objects’ interaction with the external world, they rely on public methods. These methods should stay clear regardless of the complexity of the solution itself. What are the techniques that will help you to achieve the desired results? Below, you can see some examples of them.

  • Rename the method;
  • Introduce a new parameter that will introduce the required data;
  • Remove those parameters that are not used;
  • Combine methods that conduct similar actions, and the differences between them are related only to their internal operations, numbers, or values;
  • Split one method into a couple of separate ones so that one of them will modify your object while the second one will be responsible for returning the value;
  • Remove a “hide a method” if it is not used.

Red-Green-Refactor

refactoring methods in agile - test-driven development

This method plays a significant role in Test-Driven development (TDD), which is widely accepted in Agile today. First, developers should start by writing a test. It comes even before working on the creation of the implementation code. Naturally, the test will fail. Then, they need to write only the code that will help ensure the required functionality, which will be expected to pass the test. After that, the code is refactored to look more straightforward and maintainable. This method helps make refactoring an integral part of the development process.

Instead of a Final Word

As you can see, code refactoring in Agile has the same goals as in any other development methodology. It is aimed to make the code cleaner and more straightforward to work with. However, given the specificity of Agile development in general and the principle of continuous improvement, the role of refactoring in Agile projects can be even weightier than in other cases. 

Refactoring has a lot of benefits, but you should remember that it will be possible to leverage all of them only if it is performed timely and in the right way. If a development team needs more understanding of how it should conduct the related activities, refactoring can bring more difficulties than benefits.

At Geomotiv, we are always open to new projects. Our experts can attentively analyze your case and offer the most efficient solutions for your tasks.

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