How A system Entering a State of Legacy Affects the Product Roadmap
June 7, 2022
Legacy systems are the technological embodiment of outdated business practices and represent the state of the business world of decades past. This archaic view of business is a barrier to innovation and tends to seep its way into the product roadmap. The legacy pandemic starts with changing customer demands resulting in a period of exhausting regression followed by organizations entering a phase of chaotic maintenance. All of this will culminate in legacy driving the product roadmap.
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Welcome back to our blog series on the various aspects of legacy systems. In this post, we showcase how systems entering a state of legacy impact the product roadmap.
Before diving into the legacy-roadmap relationship, let’s establish a framework for understanding an enterprise system’s product roadmap. Every product roadmap comprises of different layers:
1. Foundation: The core or must-have features of the system (aka Core Features)
2. Differentiation: Features that add distinguishable value to end-users vis-a-vis competitive products (aka Differentiator Features).
3. Innovation: Cutting edge features often geared toward early adopters (aka Innovative Features)
The Birth of Legacy
Most products evolve over time. The driving forces include changing customer demands and an ever-increasing competitive landscape. Therefore, it’s common that previously differentiated features eventually become core features. Not only that, but some of the innovative features also evolve to become differentiated features. As a result of this fluid product landscape, systems that are not architected with modularity and extensibility will eventually run into legacy problems. And as some of us know all too well, legacy systems inevitably lead to the need for re-architecting or major refactoring.
So where does the legacy spiral start? Owing to constraints like time, budget, capability, resources, and development processes, certain features start carrying a technical debt with them. Over time, this technical debt manifests itself in driving the system towards legacy. That’s how legacy as a phenomenon is born and gradually propagates through the system.
The period of exhaustive regression
As the legacy phenomenon starts to infect the system, one of the major aspects where it shows up is in terms of the number of regression issues and the amount of time the team takes to ensure nothing is breaking whenever a new release is scheduled. As a result, the team starts building dependencies on individuals, creating unnecessary bottlenecks that are difficult to manage. When this happens, handling interdependencies becomes an issue of subject matter expertise. The team will start factoring in regression into project planning. For example, “Innovative Features” will inevitably require rigorous analysis to make sure they can be done without breaking anything. Even worse, it might even cater to any refactoring initiatives proposed for Core Features or Differentiator Features too.
The Phase of Chaotic Maintenance
The result of increasing technical debt is a never-ending phase of chaotic maintenance. In addition to the exhaustive regression, many other factors contribute towards the chaos. These include people leaving or joining the team, platform upgrades, IT policy changes, and audits/compliance requirements. As the system struggles through any major change in the above-mentioned aspects, it further exacerbates the challenge of maintaining system equilibrium.
Systems that are stuck in this maintenance phase often put software leaders in a difficult position. Is it better to maintain the status quo and simply keep the lights on? Or is it better to rearchitect, which requires a much higher budget, let alone impact on time and product roadmap? In addition to product and engineering impact, sales and marketing teams also feel the impact and are not shy to voice their opinions. If they are not able to sign new customer deals or even prevent existing customers from churning, there will be further damage to internal morale and the overall viability of the business.
Legacy Driving the Product Roadmap
As the legacy mindset infects different parts of the organization, it ultimately impacts the product roadmap. You read that right, the legacy system itself is driving the product roadmap. Determining which features to add is a function of what the system can handle. This is the opposite of what most systems and products start out to do, which is prioritizing features that deliver the greatest customer value and business impact. Frustration not only grows among leadership but also among employees and customers. As a result, discussions about system rearchitecting and reengineering become front and center. But that is not an easy decision and often gets debated and dragged on with no clear conclusion.
In our next article, we will talk about the typical apprehensions that leaders have and showcase several success stories from our own customers.