Software’s Groundhog Day: Why We Rebuild What We Replace
Updated: Nov 2
All software has a lifecycle. And whilst many are familiar with the traditional Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC) that focuses on planning, creating, testing, and deploying applications, few understand the organic, often repeated cycles that organisations go through in practice. This lifecycle is more nuanced and speaks to the human aspect of software development and the challenges companies face over time. Let's dive into this True-to-Life Software Development Lifecycle.
The Unravelling Threads of the Past
At this stage, organisations find themselves with old, often cumbersome software systems. The business domain knowledge that once drove its creation is a distant memory. Documentation? Sparse, if it exists at all. The team maintaining this relic is often under-resourced, under-trained, and facing dwindling motivation.
Dawn of a New Era
Faced with the grim reality of the legacy system, organisations opt for an overhaul. Here, there's a fresh budget, cutting-edge technologies, a motivated team, and a promise of a brighter digital future. It's an attractive proposition that brings forth a wave of talent eager to make their mark.
The Silver Lining Before the Storm
This phase is marked by excitement and rapid progress. Development begins on a lean note, often with a steel thread to establish the core idea. The high-value, low-complexity features are rolled out first, creating an impression of rapid achievement and progress. Stakeholders are impressed, users are delighted, and the team's morale soars. Everything seems golden.
The Fading Glitter
As the project advances, mid-value and mid-complexity features follow suit. The once 'new' technologies are now commonplace. The thrill of the challenge diminishes, technical debt piles up, and a sense of stagnation sets in. With original team members leaving and replacements coming in without a complete knowledge transfer, gaps begin to appear. The development becomes more gruelling as the team wades into the intricacies of low-value, high-complexity features.
An ironic twist: the very system that was once the harbinger of change and progress is now termed "legacy" by its own team. As they grapple with past design decisions, progress gets two-faced – one step forward with a new feature, two steps back to redo an old one. The initial euphoria has vanished, replaced by the sombre realisation that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Retaining talent becomes an uphill battle.
Back to Legacy
After significant time and resources, the new system finally mirrors its predecessor's capabilities. But the cycle is eerily familiar. The software's technical quality, domain expertise, talent pool, and morale are reminiscent of the very challenges the organisation hoped to escape. And as whispers of another overhaul begin, one realises the cycle has come full circle.
The True-to-Life Software Development Lifecycle is less about software and more about the people, decisions, and time. It's a testament to the human elements in technological endeavours: our ambitions, our challenges, our resilience, and our perpetual quest for the 'next big thing.' Recognising this pattern is the first step towards breaking it. Only with proactive measures, continuous learning, and genuine commitment to sustainable development can organisations hope to avoid repeating history.
We'd love to hear from you. Does this cycle resonate with your experience? If you've managed to navigate these challenges successfully and break the cycle, what strategies or practices did you adopt? Share your insights, stories, and suggestions in the comments below. Let's learn from one another and forge a better path forward.