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Leadership Best Practices for Migrating Legacy Applications

Migrating enterprise software systems to modern languages, platforms and libraries is a deeply challenging process with many risks and matching potential rewards.

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3 Traps to Avoid When Modernizing Your App

Modernizing software is the process of introducing new technology to enhance or expand your current software assets. Modernization projects are typically driven by new market opportunities that drive revenue or technology innovations that reduce cost.

Modernization projects can and do face the same challenges of any other major IT project. Did you know that half of enterprise software projects go over budget by 50% or more? Additionally, those that are delivered are either delivered late or with only a third of the features by the due date. You can ensure your project is not one of these statistics by avoiding the top three traps described below.

  1. The project is not tied to sales or revenue goals

Most businesses we work with struggle with developing an ROI-based goal as part of the project mission statement. A project without a clear mission and definition of success will always miss its goals regardless of the quality of talent involved. How could you possibly hit a target that isn’t defined by measurable outcomes? Since Modernization projects by their nature retain and grow revenue, the ROI should already be defined in terms of anticipated revenue retained and predicted revenue growth.

The following tips will ensure success by anchoring your project to measurable goals:

  1. Define revenue retention and growth in terms of dollars over time.
  2. Define and quantify the benefits of delivering the project earlier (i.e. “Speed-to-market matters because…”).
  3. Write a short definition of success from a revenue and timing perspective and incorporate within the project mission statement.

  1. There is no Minimal Viable Product

Dreaming up a product feature list is relatively easy. Determining the least amount of work possible to achieve the mission and goals of the project is what is rather difficult. The creation of the Minimal Viable Product (MVP) is a critical step to project success.

There will be competing interests and differing perspectives and these will need to be resolved in a series of team meetings before a consensus on a MVP can be achieved. If your project has not resolved these, then your project teams will be pushed and pulled relentlessly throughout the project depending on which authority figure is speaking in any given meeting. Without an MVP you might as well double your budget, triple your timeline, and prep HR to start looking for new people to replace the talent that just walked out the door!

The following tips will ensure you translate your project mission and goals into a tangible Minimal Viable Product (MVP):

  1. Create a small representative panel of decision makers that will make the final call on the MVP.
  2. Test each feature to validate that it directly supports the project mission and goals.
  3. Resist the temptation to do more than the minimum. You can always do future releases!

  1. Scope Creep kills your speed-to-market advantage

“Scope Creep” is a term used to describe the addition of new software features beyond the original scope of the project. It can undermine project success in multiple ways. When a team creates a plan to achieve revenue goals and establishes a budget & timeline, then expectations will be set within the business!

As the scope expands it changes expectations that impact delivery. This has a psychological effect on the team as achievements are delayed. Humans like to feel success and when teams cannot win because expectations keep changing, then enthusiasm and productivity will erode. Yank it away from their grasp and they lose faith that they can succeed.

There are three “Scope Creep Scenarios” that we encounter on almost every project:

  1. When the features were being defined, nobody brought up feature XYZ. (Refer to #2. Creation of an MVP means the feature set is defined!)
  2. A visionary on the team is not being held accountable to what is attainable within the mission, goals and timeline of the project. (Again, refer to #2. It should be extremely difficult for any one person to change or grow the MVP.)
  3. Other business groups are looking to leverage this project to force their own agenda. This is particularly true if the project is perceived as succeeding or using innovative technology. Stay strong and focus on this project!

Focusing on avoiding these three traps will increase the likelihood of project success, both meeting deadlines and delivering a working application. Staying true to the Minimal Viable Product is the most critical of all.

Tim Michalski

Tim Michalski is the founder & CEO of Lighthouse Software, a legacy software support and modernization firm that specializes in the delicate transition from older, reliable software systems to newer, modern technologies.

At the age of 8, Tim resolved to be an entrepreneur. At the age of 13, Tim discovered the creative power of computer programming when he received his first computer and learned his first programming language. For nearly 30 years since that day, Tim has passionately devoted most of his conscious hours towards becoming an expert software engineer and experienced entrepreneur. In that time, Tim built Lighthouse Software from the ground-up and championed the cause of restoring existing technology investments with iterative modernization over time to lower risks and gain a competitive advantage for his clients. Clients include numerous Fortune 500 companies to small technology firms in banking, healthcare, and government.