Low Code: Bricks, Sticks, or Double-wide?

Author: Paul Irvine

Founder, CTO/Engineer at LocalMusicNow!

This article is all about the low-code / no-code movement in the software industry! And the remarkable parallels between building software and building homes! Okay, it’s a thinly veiled article to let you know that I know what I’m doing in the low code / no-code approach to delivering business value with the least cost vs. business objective. Low Code / No Code is not the solution to every project, but it works damn well for the right project!

House Construction Projects

House construction

The construction industry for homes has often been pointed to for project excellence – its easier to estimate because there’s a construction industry blue book for most everything. How much material to sheetrock a standard bedroom of known dimensions, and how much time and what labor types required to do it.

Oh! it sounds so appealing, right? If you’ve ever had a house built for you, you'll know that the notion sells well, but the truth is that construction projects go astray just like software projects do. LOL! I recall walking onto my new home building site to find my electrician holding two ends of electrical wire that clearly was not going to meet and join. He literally said, "I cannot put this light fitting up, because code says I am not permitted to put a splice inside a fixture casing”. That was it. He was ready to bail and tell me I couldn't put my beautiful new fan/light on an admittedly high ceiling. My general contractor had blessed the choice of the fitting, and still, we had a blocker for 'go live' during finishing. Solution? I asked my contractor if I (the homeowner) would be allowed to splice and tape inside the conduit… "Sure, you can do anything". Instructions to electrician "homeowner says it's okay, and will do it for you".

Amusing perhaps, but it illustrates that despite construction blue books, decades of industry standards, you cannot foresee all the needs and requirements and problems upfront. I had dozens of micro and macro decisions on my property during the build. Every day seemed to need a question answered, from the above wire splice to having to re-route a 300ft ditch to supply the barn, decisions that I had to make on the spot for some unforeseen condition!

So it got me to thinking about how the construction of homes paralleled software applications needs, and the title of this article should become clear now!

There’s a budget, a vision, a reality, and a schedule. How you balance those is the road to a happy project outcome. When discussing the project goals, and possible ways to solve, and the stakeholders’ various desires ( balancing location cost versus square footage of property and so on), there are four basic strategies to choose from.

Manufactured home = Off The Shelf Software

Examples: EPIC, Peoplesoft, Zendesk, JIRA

No expectation to change its fundamentals. You learn how the software works, your selection of the product probably made sure that it met your known needs fairly well. And then you can adapt your processes to suit the product.

In software, some theming and tweaking is usually available; in construction, you have the same. You can paint your double-wide inside and out. You might even be able to add on to it or change the fixtures and fittings. But you cannot change the fundamentals.

The big plus? You can have it delivered, wired, and plumbed in faster than any other method of getting a new home.


Low code: bricks

This might represent traditional custom software development. For the construction industry, these are often from scratch designed and architected homes, the expensive and anything goes solution, and built to last. The durable materials have a lot of advantages over the less expensive ‘sticks’ approach, and wow!… they do look good! (okay, I’m from the UK originally, we love brick and slate tiled homes!)

Expect the highest level of labor and skillsets required for architect design, permit approvals, sign offs, site approvals, team building, resource marshalling, … sounds a lot like classic software development, doesn’t it?!

Once the concrete is poured, and bricks are laid, they can be very difficult to change from the original design.


Low code: sticks

Like Bricks, any design is possible, but using more readily available, and easier machined standard components – lumber comes in different grades and standard sizes – and it’s a little easier to change your mind part way through the construction on some aspects.

McMansion – still a complete custom design for every aspect of the home, but the costs are reduced due to more readily available materials (lumber), and the larger labor pool that is able to work with those materials. You could think of a global brand website perhaps. This is not going to be a WordPress deployment! But you do have total control over how the world sees your new home!

ten-per-acre 3-beds – cookie-cutter design, repeatable; and plenty of skilled labor to work these. WordPress, Drupal, Wix, and many other approaches come to mind. You can take the base design, and make quite extensive customizations if you need to. I tend to think of platforms like Salesforce that can offer quick and easy deployment, but if you need, you can do quite a lot of customizing. Much more so than a manufactured home.

This build will almost certainly go much faster than bricks, using standard lumber sheets and frames. Hey, you can even drop in standard components such as fully cased windows, stairs, and so on! Sounds a lot like adding in lightboxes, and bootstrap navbars!

Modular Home Construction

Low code: modular

Ah! Finally, we get to the Low Code / No Code part!

You can purchase complete panels that are ready to assemble on-site, and in a variety of styles, costs, and designs.

We aren’t talking about just a window now, we’re talking about an entire wall with electrical and plumbing roughed in, and in some cases, finished.

My low code/no code project approach and toolset offers precisely this capability. Pull all the web ‘panels’ together, open up the water mains and electrical supply (add the data!), and I have a real working application that has business rules and does pretty much everything in my vision. Think IKEA but for software construction! A nice, very functional, secure, low-cost delivery, with lots of options that will work in many business situations, guaranteed to work ‘out of the box’.

Perfect for a rapid ‘prototype’ to see if the market is even interested in your new web application business idea; ideal for budget-conscious enterprise applications looking to grow beyond hacked together departmental spreadsheets, or get that data through security policies and practices audit!

To me, this is the Low Code / No Code Zone!

I can put up a ‘home’ much quicker and cheaper than custom sticks and bricks. I’ll get much more design flexibility than a double-wide. And it will work!

I hope you enjoyed this little ramble through my musings on more than 35 years of working with low code and no code approaches to software solutions delivery.

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