The “Shift Left” Approach: A Heuristic Breadth First Search Analogy

In the realm of technology and software development, the phrase “shift left” has gained significant traction. At its core, the “shift left” approach emphasizes the importance of addressing issues and tasks earlier in the development process. This proactive strategy can lead to more efficient, effective, and successful technology implementation projects. Let’s delve deeper into this concept and understand its parallels with the heuristic breadth-first search.

“Shift Left”?

“Shift left” is a philosophy that encourages developers and teams to tackle potential challenges and issues at the earliest stages of a project. Instead of waiting for problems to arise during the testing or deployment phases, the idea is to anticipate and address them during the planning and development stages. This can lead to fewer surprises, reduced costs, and a smoother implementation process.

Analysing the Existing Codebase and Desired Outcomes

Before diving into a new project or adding features to an existing one, it’s crucial to analyze the current codebase. This involves understanding its strengths, weaknesses, and potential areas of improvement. By doing so, teams can identify existing technical debt and areas that might become bottlenecks or pain points in the future.

Once the current landscape is clear, the next step is to define the desired outcomes. What is the end goal? What business value is the project aiming to deliver? By having a clear vision, teams can align their efforts and ensure that every step taken is in the right direction.

Defining Slices of Work

After understanding the starting point and the destination, the journey can be broken down into manageable slices of work. Each slice should:

Deliver Business Value: Every slice should have a tangible benefit, whether it’s a new feature, an optimization, or a bug fix.

Incrementally Increase Solution Maturity: As each slice is completed, the overall solution should evolve and mature, getting closer to the desired outcome.

Reduce Technical Debt: With each slice, any existing technical debt should be addressed, ensuring that the codebase remains clean, efficient, and maintainable.

The Heuristic Breadth First Search Analogy

The process described above can be likened to a heuristic breadth-first search (BFS). In BFS, we explore all the neighbouring nodes at the present depth before moving on to nodes at the next level of depth. Similarly, in the “shift left” approach, instead of diving deep into one aspect of the project, teams tackle a broad range of tasks that deliver immediate value. This ensures that the most pressing issues and valuable features are addressed first, providing quick wins and immediate benefits to the business.

The heuristic aspect comes into play when we prioritize these slices of work based on their potential impact and value. Just as heuristics guide search algorithms to find the most promising paths, our understanding of the business needs and technical challenges guides us in choosing which slices to tackle first.


The “shift left” approach, when combined with the principles of analysing the existing landscape, defining clear outcomes, and breaking the journey into valuable slices, can transform the way projects are executed. By drawing inspiration from heuristic breadth-first search, teams can ensure that they are always moving in the right direction, delivering value at every step, and building solutions that increase the overall maturity of the codebase.

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