Why Does Clean Code Matter And Why It Is More Cost Effective In The Long-Run

by Dave Erickson
9 mins read
  1. Development
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If you are a developer, then you have most likely heard of the concept of “Clean Code”. Maybe you heard about it, and said to yourself, “I always write clean code”. Or maybe you said to yourself, “Well, I use lots of comments, so it is not so important how clean my code is.”I If you are not a developer, then you just might assume all code is clean code, or that code is code as long as it works.

Well, Clean Code is a lot more than that. It is a way of life as much as a way of coding. Unfortunately, Clean Code is not something that all developers write. There are many reasons for that, such as education, misunderstanding what Clean Coding is, cost constraints, time pressures, etc.

Probably the biggest reason Clean Code is not written by all developers is the lack of understanding by many people in the development chain as to why Clean Code Matters and is More Cost Effective In The Long-Run.

Developers, Product Managers, Product Owners, Business Owners and Accountants all affect whether a digital product’s code is Clean Code, or simply just another mess of digital code confusion full of tech debt, broken functions and poor performance.

Many people in the development chain are conditioned or trained to think that functional code written quickly is the most cost effective form of coding. Many of these people are not developers, but managers and owners. They think that if the code does what it is supposed to do, and it has no known bugs, then it is done and that is cost effective.

They think that because they don’t understand how many developers actually develop code. Nobody writes perfect code from their mind to their fingers on the first try. Most developers need to try different ways of coding a solution, then test it, and re-write till they have code that functions. This may have to be done with more code, with the thought that once it is all working, that they will go back and clean it up later.

The problem is that developers are pushed to develop the next solution, or they are told that if it functions, additional time will not be budgeted to “clean it”.

What many people don’t realize is how many resources, time and money are lost each year on poorly written code. Very educated people have a hard time seeing that the extra resources, time and money on the front-end to develop a Clean Code based digital product will pay off in a great saving of time and money later on in the development phase.

So, let’s start at the beginning. What is Clean Code? There are many definitions, but Martin Fowler, I think said it in the most blunt way “Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand.” This is one definition, code that other humans, particularly other developer humans can understand. Robert “Uncle Bob” Martin said it should not be “rude”. That it is code that respects others, is easy to read and understand, code that doesn’t make others have to struggle to understand it, add to it or change it.

Clean Code can be as code that is “crafted”, a Clean Code developer is a developer who takes his time to craft a perfect piece of code. Code that was crafted by a developer who took joy out of the process and accomplishment of writing concise and understandable code that’s easy to write, read, and maintain.

Ask any developer, do you write Clean Code, and they will all say yes. The reality is that the time and economic pressures don’t really allow most developers to spend the time to write truly Clean Code.

The following are 4 main points about why “Clean Code” is faster and more cost effective than quickly written inferior quality code:

Simple Is, As Simple Does – Simplify Code

One of the hardest things for a developer is to keep things simple. They have pressure to solve several problems at once, while coding quickly as well. This can lead to complex code trying to do too much as quickly as possible.

By focusing on one thing at a time, and by keeping the code and the solution as simple as possible, you find you can solve the problem faster, the code will be a higher quality, functions will be less complex and other will work on the code much faster since it is simple and easy to figure out.

By keeping it simple, that means there is less repetition, and that again means less time, easier to read. Repetition is rude as far as Uncle Bob is concerned.

Let’s Take A Test – Test-Driven Development

Clean Code acts like the foundation of a building, it makes the code easier to work with. On top of that foundation are many aspects of the digital product development process. One of those is testing. A key aspect of Clean Code is testing, in particular the concept of Test-Driven Development. Automated testing, unit testing, CI, TDD and other forms of testing, if used and implemented correctly, can be the most efficient way to elevate the quality of code.

When testing with Clean Code, there is an immediate time and cost saving vs. working with messy code. There are two main effects: 1) it is faster to set-up and do testing on simple code and 2) it is faster and easier to refactor and elevate the quality of Clean Code using the test results. Again, less work and higher quality is possible if Clean Code is the base.

Tuning It Up – Maintenance

Code maintenance is like the quiet child that everyone forgets about. Clients and companies are so focused on getting a digital product developed they forget that once it’s done, the code will need to be maintained. Things don’t stand still for long in the digital technology space, and code can become out of date and start having problems running on devices and platforms as they mature and develop.

Maintenance is most often seen by companies as a hated chore, and a cost that shouldn’t exist, and developers don’t like it because they are focused on another project, or they are maintenance developers and there is a lot of messy code they have to work on.

That is why Clean Code needs to be code that other developers can quickly and easily read. It is a foundation for maintenance, since it is clear in its intent and logic, it is easier and faster to update and debug for a developer who did not write it in the first place. Maintenance is a long-term cost nobody seems to think about, but Clean Code can make it a much smaller cost than messy code.

It’s So Heavy – Technical Debt

As mentioned, sometimes or maybe many times; product owners, project leaders, company owners decide to focus on speed and delivery deadlines when directing their development teams. The result is usually messy, confusing code that is justified by the directive of “let’s make it work, we can fix it and refactor it later. That need to refactor code is a Technical Debt, or Tech Debt.

It would surprise you how much Tech Debt can build up in a digital product development project over time. The cost of refactoring all that code ramps up exponentially, and it can be overwhelming and very costly. It can also be very demoralizing, especially if the code was really messy and hard to work with, then the developers refactoring that code may get frustrated.

This is a case whereas, much as the importance of the deadline might be super important, the best course is not to rush it and create more Tech Debt. You will have to deal with that debt later, and that will be much more costly than if the original development pace allowed for Clean Code from the beginning.


The bottom line is that it is better to budget into a digital product development project; the time and cost to hire Clean Code producing developers, then trying to go for cheap, fast and messy code. Clean code will most always cost less in the long run, and will result in a higher quality product throughout all phases of development and release.

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