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API Design Review Process

Why

We believe in APIs and in the API Economy. We are just at the beginning of our journey to an API driven company. There is no clear roadmap how to reach our goal. For sure it will be ways in which we stumble, sometimes fail but hopefully succeed in the end.

There will be pros and cons how to handle and apply the style guide to real projects. There are many things to learn and to share with another. We have to keep improving the style guide, review process, and tools to capture our evolving knowledge and experience.

To formalize the learning process we decided to establish the API Design Review Process. Each new or refactored API MUST be reviewed through this process.

Feedback

We have now done a couple of API design reviews. Please give us feedback how we can improve this process!

Review process

Who is responsible for scheduling the review?

A representative of the project team that creates the service MUST contact the CTO office. In most cases the representative is the API designer/architect.

How to plan the review?

It is the responsibility of the team to plan their resources for the API review and to talk with the team leaders of CTO office to organize reviewers. Together they decide on the appropriate time box for the review.

Tooling

Currently we use a private GitHub repo for each API review. The README.md should contain the following informations:

  • Purpose of the API
  • Links to the API description
  • Start date of the review
  • End date of the review
  • Mandatory reviewers including state
  • State of the review itself
  • Conclusion

API description

It is necessary to provide a formal description of the API to review it. The API designer has to provide a Swagger description (prefered) or an equivalent description. Providing a running system or a mock to work with the API is highly appreciated.

Reviewing the API

It is up to the API designer and reviewer how to perform the review. It is a good idea to schedule a meeting and step through the API and talk with the reviewers about the functionality and intention. That's a good way to cut down review times because questions and missunderstandings can be solved immediately. Others prefer to review the API without a formal meeting.

Changes requests are stored as issues in the GitHub repo. Each reviewer has to update his personal review state in GitHub.

Mandatory vs optional reviewers

During the review planning at least two reviewers will be fixed. The mandatory reviewers are explicitly named in the GitHub review repo.

Each review is open for feedback from a wide group of other people. That includes all interested architects, team members, and clients that will use the API. The CTO office informs - per default - all architects on pending reviews. The team is free to add optional reviewers of its own.

How issues should be raised and addressed

We use the GitHub issue mechanism for a transparent communication during the review. Each issue must be categorized as follows:

  • Must change: Must be changed in the API design and implementation
  • Improvement: Should be changed. Depends on the team
  • Question: For Questions/Discussions and clarifications

Please use Github labels for the classification.

Time boxed reviews

The review is time boxed. It starts at a given date and - more importantly - it ends at a predefined date. The outcome of the review is documented in the GitHub repo README.md.

When is an API reviewed and can be implemented?

After finishing the API review there will be some change requests for the API. Most of them might be easy to fix/change and the API designer should do that immediately during and after the review. Other changes may need more effort and planning how to address them.

The next steps and the the conclusion how to proceed with the change requests is written down in the conclusion section of the GitHub repo README.md. The implementation can start after finishig the review.

Learnings from the review and feedback to the style guide

After each review the API designer/team should provide a feedback issue in the API style guide project and mark it with the label feedback. The feedback has to cover at least the topics

  • How helpful was the API style guide for your design process?
    • Which sections especially?
    • What did you learn for future API designs?
  • How to improve the style guide itself?
    • Which information do you miss?
    • Which guideline do you not agree with?
  • How to improve the API review process itself?
    • What can we improve regarding tooling, planning etc.

How to measure success for the API review

There are two goals in an API review

Improve the API itself

It's not that easy to measure the improvement of the API. It is best to look at it from a client perspective. How costly (in time and effort) is the programming against the API for a developer? Can you quantify it and imporve on the KPI?

Learn to design APIs

This is even harder to measure than the one above. If you can think of a good way to measure our ability to continously improve our API Deisgn skills and processes, we would love to hear it.