Note - there is currently some misreading of this question, reflected in the given answers - it's referring to the removal of unnecessary detail, from requirements, not a word for 'simplifying the code', or 'simplifying the codebase'. Also I've now removed a paradoxical error that was previously present in the question

I'm a software engineer, and I often express the desire to be 'ruthless with removing detail' from the formal requirements definition for a piece of software (a formal requirements definition is a document written in English that describes the requirements of what the software will do, e.g. a user will be able to press button 'x', and 'y' will happen).

The word 'ruthless' can have an aggressive interpretation however, and I'm wondering if there's a softer sounding single word, or succinct phrase I can use to represent something more like the meaning of "rigorously remove unnecessary complexity", that is applicable to software requirements.

A term that I'm looking for would be equally useful for describing "the maximised reduction of any set of complex requirements where that reduction will lead to a reduced time to deliver those requirements in a usable form".

I sometimes use a phrase like "let's leanify the requirements", to convey my meaning. In software engineering as with other forms of manufacture, 'lean' methodology is often employed, and to do something 'lean' is to minimise the required effort for a given outcome.

There are references to 'leanify' being used by others, however its usage doesn't appear on Google Ngram Viewer:


Other terms I've come up with are similar to what I'm looking for, however they don't capture the required meaning as well as 'leanify':

  • optimally simplify
  • streamline the development
  • optimise efficiency
  • optimise the simplicity

Is there a more popularly used word that represents the concept as well as 'leanify', or that is close to it?

  • As always history’s greatest philosophers, They Might Be Giants, anticipated the question and provided the answer: the truth is where the sculptor’s chisel chipped away the lie....
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 10, 2019 at 1:23
  • 2
    Maybe pare down the code. Note that in math, a pared down proof is described as elegant. Here's a slightly judgmental expression: remove the bloat. (Sometimes we want to be judgmental....) But maybe I like this one best: tighten [up]. Sep 10, 2019 at 1:45
  • I'd appreciate any comment on the downvote as I'd like to improve/clarify the question Sep 10, 2019 at 3:56
  • 1
    could you clear up whether you want a single word with a very specific meaning (as in headline), or one or more words of varying application (as in examples, where you apply it to development instead of requirements). Also, 'lean' (from your leanify) has several overtones, especially in Software Development, do you want those too? In short: Please <sought-for-word> your requirements ! :-)
    – loonquawl
    Sep 10, 2019 at 12:15

9 Answers 9


Cull complexity (for the ruthless connotations)

Trim the requirements.

Decimate complexity (also ruthless, but in the literal sense only paring down to 9/10, so maybe not as far reaching as you'd like)

Skeletonize the requirements (i.e. reducing them to bare bones..., also image processing lingo with appropriate connotations)

Thin the requirements

Erode the requirements (only applicable if you exclusively communicate with people who are into image processing, otherwise the meaning is lost or even reversed)

Axiomate the requirements (invented word, referencing axioms as the irreducible foundations of something)

Distill the requirements (by getting rid of all the diluting fluff)

Crack the requirements (only for specific audience; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cracking_(chemistry))

Condense the requirements (Changing them from the hot-air-like gaseous phase to something much less voluminous...)

  • Thanks for the acceptance mark, but i'd actually recommend the word 'prune' that Peter Jennings brought up.
    – loonquawl
    Sep 12, 2019 at 7:57

We used to call it pruning in my day as a software engineer

Prune : to reduce something by removing things that are not necessary. Cambridge Dictionary

leanify is not recognised as an English word by the same dictionary, although it is used as a name for one or more pieces of software and a number of fitness training companies!

  • not much 'ruthlessness' in this answer
    – lbf
    Sep 10, 2019 at 15:00
  • 1
    @lbf You haven't seen my wife wield a pair of pruning shears!! B-} Sep 10, 2019 at 15:07

You’re looking to streamline the code:

To improve the efficiency of a process, business or organization by simplifying or eliminating unnecessary steps, using modernizing techniques, or taking other approaches.

Business Dictionary

  • thanks, however the definition of streamline specifies eliminating 'steps' rather than eliminating detail Sep 10, 2019 at 3:48
  • 1
    @ChrisHalcrow the act of making something streamlined (non-business meaning) is often accompanied by making the shape more basic, and more round.
    – loonquawl
    Sep 10, 2019 at 12:37

Minimize (or minimise) the requirements may suffice, or "minimise the complexity of the requirements"


It is a rare word, and one I wasn't sure existed until I looked it up, but essentialize is defined by Merriam Webster as a transitive verb meaning:

To express or formulate in essential form : reduce to essentials

This seems to me to fit the requirement for a single verb. However I feel that "essentialize" sounds too much like a newly invented buzzword (even though Merriam Webster say that it was first used as early as 1893) and would prefer to use the expanded form and say:

"I would like to reduce the requirements to their bare essentials"


"Pare down" seems to fit in your context -

Pare down

: To reduce the size or amount of something by gradually taking away parts of it.


Another definition -


: With no unnecessary features; reduced to a very simple form.


Taking lbf's example, you could say -

Frustrated, he set about to pare down unnecessary requirements from the software.



It means to ‘cut it out, remove completely as with a knife’.


All evidence of her was excised from his life, as he strove to forget her very existence

The surgeon excised the tumour with precision.

The project manager excised every unnecessary task from the schedule, to allow the proect to succeed.



ruthlessly remove unnecessary complexity

As in: OED

to rend unnecessary complexity

to remove (a thing, occasionally a person) by force. To tear, pull, or rip (something) away from its proper place or current position

Tear, rip, and rend are all synonyms, but it's a question of degree. Of the three, rend implies the most violent separation. Betrayed by a friend? It rends your heart (figuratively) right out of your chest.

And from Code Complete. Google Books

  • Thou Shalt Rend Software and Religion Asunder

  • Religion appears in software development in numerous incarnations-as dogmatic adherence to a single design method, as unswerving belief in a specific formatting or commenting style, or as a zealous avoidance of global data. Whatever the case, it's always inappropriate.

  • rend is somewhat related to lean in the lexical field ... in the kitchen! Otherwise it's a word I don't see used.
    – vectory
    Sep 10, 2019 at 11:23
  • limited to the kitchen?
    – lbf
    Sep 10, 2019 at 12:31

"ruthless" implies lack of remorse, of rew and can only be had if the act is unjustified. Removing cruft when doing so has been justified should not demand rew. As such, your title question is a paradox, unless you mean not to justify whether a piece was needless.

Anyhow, justification is most often not absolute, but will require compromise. optimality is often a function of compromises.

I am not aware of the cultural lingo. In terms of bringing out the trash you could just say clean up, which incidentally is akin to Ger klein "small", cp. for analogy fine, perhaps tidy.

Trying to think of a violent metaphor, like chop, cap, crack up (especially as far as cruft is concerned), crunch (crunch time has another connotatikn I'm sure), I think the least negative would be to strip. to strip-down would mean to salvage, as if to resurect the gems from a wrack or overwhelming mountain of trash.

Almost synonymous, but with a sporty aspect would be trim, trim down, a little more naturalistic would be prune (as of the out-growth of a tree). If the thicket is dense, you lighten it up (don't light it up though) and become enlightend. To untangle a mess, loosen the knots. With a BBM (big ball of mud) lose the cruft, or you will lose it.

Relatedly, if you admit certain reductions in favour of simplicity, this could be called truncating. The word root means "to cut" perhaps "to drench, quench"; A trench historically delimited frontlines, forests, forts; So if you limit the complexity, that's quite defensive and justified.

  • Thanks @vectory, however Googling for 'ruthless' gives a definition beginning 'having or showing no pity or compassion for others', so your statement is incorrect that the title is a paradox. I've fixed a different paradoxical reference that I previously made, and I like 'strip down' - thanks. Sep 10, 2019 at 4:05
  • 1
    I was unfamiliar with cruft. I looked it up. Apparently "remove the cruft" is a thing. I guess one could also coin a new word, de-cruft. Sep 10, 2019 at 7:56
  • @ChrisHalcrow but isn't rew a form of pity? The semantic field revolves foremost around a ruhless criminal; A ruthless reformer is rather called a ..?
    – vectory
    Sep 10, 2019 at 11:21

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