Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A legacy application: the story of the fridge and the oven

Today I'll tell a story which inspiration comes from an overheard conversation.

The situation: you have a legacy application which you use in your organization to provide services to your customers. You have no tests. It uses proprietary libraries. Layers are nowhere to be seen. A simple change requires a gargantuan amount of code. And sweat. And chills down your back. You know it will not be able to provide the new services the business needs without a huge architectural and model change.

A possible solution: start a new project adopting an agile and iterative method, focusing on the most important architectural aspects (an UP practice) and on the most valuable features (a practice you find in many methods). Incrementally substitute the old system with the new one (an EVO practice).

The solution from the management: learn everything there is to learn about this application: it is one of our assets, and as such it must be considered. When your experience is consolidated, we'll reuse the same framework for all our new projects.

You can consider this story from two different points of view. The manager, who has no development experience or knowledge, thinks that the problem lies in the team, and fails to acknowledge all the signals the team is giving him. He is afraid and wants to keep things under control. After all, if we have provided the service so far we can go on just as well. Why venture into a new project, with all the risks that new technologies imply, first of all the team's inexperience with them? Another perspective: the management might have dealt a sale of the product within a very short time frame - this might be a confidential information - and he knows - or he's afraid that - the team will not be able to deliver on time.

In each case, most of the times an honest conversation between the management and the team can lead to find a good, if not the best, compromise: a classic win-win strategy.

One last (funny? tragic?) note: the project manager, trying to explain the problem to the management, provided this metaphore :

"Look, we have this huge refrigerator. You need an oven. You're asking me and the team to learn how this refrigerator works, so that we can embed the oven within it. What we really need is a power plug which can work for the fridge and for the oven. Why would you need a fridge to roast a turkey?"

The answer:

"Your oven will have frosting features, which no other oven has. That will be a significant competitive advantage."

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