Modernization promises the benefits of a modern, cloud-based tech stack, including remaining competitive, innovating quickly, supporting mobile, and reducing security risks. Yet app modernization initiatives are fraught with complexity. Sadly, over 75% of modernization projects fail, according to multiple studies conducted on mainframe and application modernizations.
Executives, architects, and technical teams must be aware of the warning signs that a modernization project is starting to go sideways. Here are ten app modernization mistakes to avoid to increase your chances of a successful initiative.
1. Shortcutting modernization readiness homework
The devil is in the details regarding app modernization. While limited documentation, technology expertise, or even historical context for changes in the legacy application are common problems, the more significant risk with application modernizations is the inability to scope the project properly. Making assumptions rather than conducting an actual modernization readiness assessment often leads to underestimating the size and complexity of the technical debt and hence, the overall effort required for the modernization. As a result, the project is set up for failure before it even begins.
2. Treating application modernization like a typical software development project
Nothing could be further from the truth. These applications typically run critical parts of the business, and modernization efforts must be managed in parallel to support the day-to-day business operations. Unlike the typical greenfield development lifecycle, where many engineers make many small incremental changes to one program or function at a time, a modernization project makes wholesale changes to millions of lines of code simultaneously and repeatedly. Planning a modernization project like a greenfield project is a huge mistake.
3. Assuming a good migration tool is the only key to a successful modernization
Machine-driven migration tools are crucial to modernization projects, but they are just a piece of what makes a modernization project successful. These tools are akin to best-of-breed compilers and their role in greenfield application development. Yes, we need a good compiler, but without the well-established best practices of DevOps, no compiler by itself can ensure the successful completion of a software development project. So yes, we need good migration tools, but they must be integrated into holistic modernization processes that help bring migrated code to production quality, see it through to production release, and retire the legacy application.
4. Overreliance on code migration tools
Piggybacking on the above, teams always investigate the available code migration tools. Automated code transformation takes care of only a third of the work in a complex modernization project with many moving parts and stakeholders. Without integration of migration tools with CI/CD build pipelines, defect management, test management, code synchronization between parallel development and migration tracks, project management, analytics, reporting, and more, it will be impossible to successfully manage such complex projects and see it through to completion.
5. Underestimating the difficulty of modernizing a moving target
Applications that require modernization are often live/running systems that undergo development – bug fixes, enhancements, feature requests, integrations, etc. – based on the needs of the business. Halting development or freezing the application code isn’t feasible, especially when today’s modernization projects average sixteen to twenty-four months or more. The biggest Achilles heel of modernization is the inability to keep up with the rate of change happening to the application while it’s undergoing modernization.
6. Trying to modernize everything at the same time
The end-state is clear. A modernized application will use modern technology, be cloud- and mobile-ready, and embrace current UI/UX best practices. But the system to be modernized is typically monolithic and was developed with what today would be considered obsolete software development practices. Trying to tackle this challenge all at once significantly increases the risk of failure as it drives up the demand on resources, time, and costs and ultimately erodes the trust of senior executives and project sponsors. Instead, develop a minimal viable product, or MVP, modernization roadmap. An incremental approach will still result in a wholesale modernization, but it’s being done piecemeal. This incremental approach makes the modernization more manageable, trackable, and measurable and de-risks the entire project.
7. Not having project visibility
Large-scale, complex application modernizations often require internal resources and several external partners with specific migration expertise. The work is usually managed via spreadsheets, Gantt charts, project management or collaboration tools, and constant status calls. Outside the project management activity, the modernization work occurs in various development environments siloed to the teams working in their particular areas. So despite everyone’s best intentions, modernizations are fraught with miscommunication, delays, and project bloat, costing more money and time. These challenges must be acknowledged and addressed as part of the overall modernization strategy and, where possible, solved with modernization lifecycle management solutions.
8. Tracking the wrong modernization success metrics
Some metrics show project progress but may not be success indicators. For example, measuring the number of migrated lines of code or how much code compiles doesn’t mean the code is actually running. Additional metrics that track the progress of the modernization are how much code is executing or code coverage, the impact of a new version of a code drop, and the overall project trends.
9. Claiming victory too early
Once the modernized application is in production, it’s tempting to sunset the legacy application as quickly as possible. After all, maintaining legacy applications takes resources that could be deployed on other strategic initiatives. However, the modernized application must be exercised in production for enough time to ensure that the migrated code operates as expected in the day-to-day operations. Sunsetting the application too early prevents a quick remigration using updated automation rules and instead forces a development team to prioritize, schedule, and address these issues manually during a development sprint.
10. Ignoring employee impact
Modernization is more than technology. It often triggers a fundamental shift in development processes and team organization, with many companies adopting DevOps principles, cloud deployment, and modern development best practices. It’s a sea change for the developers who are maintaining the legacy application. Therefore, it is essential to consider and plan for the impact on employees post-modernization.
About Synchrony Systems and our app modernization technology
We have reimagined how application modernizations are executed. Our technology has helped some of the world’s largest brands with assessments, readiness analyses, roadmaps, application migrations, and application transformations. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.