Legacy App Migration: How Discovery Phase Speeds up Project Delivery
Superficial or improper Discovery phases can significantly harm the delivery and trust between a client and their technology partner
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In my previous article, I have already told you about statistics of successful legacy app modernization cases and reasons for failures. It is time to open one more cause that makes companies disappointed in application migration projects, postpone them, or stop halfway. From my up to twenty-year experience, superficial or improper Discovery phases can significantly harm the delivery and trust between a client and their technology partner.
Why It Can Be Fatal for a Project
By trying to shorten or simplify the discovery stage, companies get the opposite: missed deadlines, delays, and arguments with contractors.
The second issue is budget. Let’s imagine that a project was initially estimated at 30 000$, and you fixed this price in an agreement. Down the road, the actual cost rises two times. This situation poses a significant risk of contract breach during the project, especially if unexpected cost increases occur. Picture the challenge that both top managers and department heads would face when they have to explain to their superiors why a team received a deposit but left the project unfinished.
Lacking the details, any cost estimate becomes an uncertain guess. Clients who have requested prices without the necessary documentation often experience substantial variations between vendors' quotes. One firm might propose $1 million, while another recommends $100,000, leaving the client confused by the significant disparity.
To reduce this gap in cost estimation, most vendors ask for technical documentation, but unfortunately, it is frequently missing. Usually, it is impossible to recover this documentation or inquire developers about software or features because they left the company many years ago.
This scenario is challenging, but don’t panic. A precise Discovery Phase, in combination with some tips below, can cut the estimation gap to 20%, according to my background.
Arrange Complimentary Meetings
I recommend starting with 1 to 3 free meetings. During these interactions, a business analyst (BA) has to collaborate closely with the customer to understand the concept and its intended product results.
Ask the Right Questions to Set Priorities
One of the best practices involves using the Value vs. Complexity Quadrant. When determining which legacy applications to start upgrading from, prioritize those with high business value and low complexity. It means they require minimal effort and resources to implement. Systems with high value but significant effort should be reserved for future scaling. Conversely, apps with low business value and high effort to modernize are likely to fail.
Use Insights from Similar Projects
Legacy software modernization gathers a lot of options. For instance, you consider migrating to the cloud. To execute this plan, you can rewrite your applications from scratch, incorporate specific modules that connect to existing databases, or create new modules that enhance the current system.
If you, as a vendor, already have similar case studies, you are lucky because you can save your client significant time to project needed resources.
For example, the request for an in-house ERP system modernization is quite common. As a contractor, you might already know that the upcoming OS update could make the ERP system non-functional. Its outdated architecture prevented the integration of modern features. Based on past calculations with similar projects, you can provide an initial budget range much faster.
Prepare and Launch the Discovery Phase
First, through the previous dialogue and teamwork, create a Proposal for the Discovery Phase, including estimates and indicating the expected duration. Second, after the proposal gains approval from stakeholders, initiate the Discovery Phase. It typically ranges from 40 to 160 hours, depending on the project's complexity. My experience shows this time frame allows for a comprehensive yet efficient data-gathering process.
Create a Vision and Scope Document
To ensure that everyone stays aligned, the Vision and Scope document serves as a crucial roadmap, translating software requirements into terms that every software engineer can readily understand. It clearly defines the project's boundaries, providing clarity to all stakeholders about what is in scope and what is not.
This document also includes several critical subsections, such as User Roles, Security and Configuration Module, Owner Administration Module, Client Module, and any other specific details required for the project.
Suggest Minimal and Maximum Budget
Using the Vision & Scope document as a foundation, I recommend providing detailed Optimistic and Pessimistic cost estimates for a client.
An appropriate gap should not exceed 20%, but there are cases with higher risks, and this difference also can get wider. In such projects, our team combines the optimistic value with a risk percentage, resulting in the pessimistic value. When risks surpass our 20% target, we identify the reason and recommend mitigation strategies. During this process, the project manager has to engage with the client, highlighting risks and offering alternative paths.
This approach guarantees that the customer stays well-informed and can make crucial decisions based on real-time updates.
Consider the Time and Material Pricing Model
A time and material contract is an arrangement where the project's total cost is not predetermined at the outset. You hire a contractor that provides specialists at a fixed hourly or monthly rate, and the final project cost is determined based on the actual hours worked.
This approach offers flexibility in adjusting project requirements and scope, aligning well with Agile project management principles. The development process is iterative, with each iteration delivering a specific result, such as a new feature or integration. It allows you to start development quickly. You pay for the actual hours worked, with the vendor taking care of sick leave and holidays.
This pricing model in software development offers consistent rates, making budget planning easier. As a client, you can customize your level of managerial involvement and maintain regular communication with the vendor's project manager for updates and issue resolution.
In the intricate process of software development, a single mistake can lead to expensive errors. It’s impossible to avoid any risks, but a precise discovery phase provides you with a clear road map. You see possible barriers and a step-by-step guide to overcome them and reach your goal.
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