Long before HGTV came on the scene, back when I was a teenager growing up in a small town in south-east Texas, I used to love watching the PBS home renovation show “This Old House.” The show followed a team of home-building experts as they carefully renovated an older home over a few months time to build in the modern features people expect from their home.
What I loved to see was an old home like a quaint farm house with ‘good bones’ and how the team would respect the history of the home — it’s dormers, grooved heart pine flooring and ornate fireplace mantles — all the while making the home more efficient and convenient for the modern family.
They preserved the integrity of the home even as they made the home ready to serve a family’s needs for another several generations.
It’s that spirit of renovation and transformation that drew me to custom software development and to start Clear Measure. While I like building out a custom software package from the ground up as much as anybody, I do enjoy working with pre-existing business software to see how my team can respect its integrity while at the same time building in modern efficiencies that businesses need to stay ahead of the competition.
Here are four tips that will make modernizing your old software easier and more profitable for your business:
Wish list: At the start of every home renovation, the main host of “This Old House” would meet with the homeowners to discuss the items they wished to see in the home renovation. Given the particular age and build of the house as well as the overall budget, some of the items were achievable while others were not.
We approach our custom software projects the same way. While we’d love to build every new feature imaginable, sometimes we have to help our clients make hard decisions on what are the ‘must-haves’ versus the ‘wish-we-could-haves.’ We work closely with our clients to inventory the existing system’s functionality and capabilities (from reports produced to key operational processes) and then build a new, more modern system with the desired outcomes (improved UI, more interoperability, better security).
Blueprint: You wouldn’t dream of renovating a historic home without a blueprint prepared by a certified architect. There’s too much at stake. The same applies to modernizing your key business system, which happens to be where you do everything: order entry, operations and order fulfillment, invoicing and cash management, financial reporting, etc. A good blueprint for software modernization will keep the whole project on task, on deadline and on a budget. Even better, an experience project manager will facilitate the flow of information to each and every stakeholder and developer to ensure the project doesn’t just look good on paper but becomes the new efficient system delivering the competitive advantage that was initially dreamed.
Measure twice, cut once: I picked this tip up from watching Norm Abram on “This Old House.” You remember Norm, right? He’s the guy that did all of the precision wood work like cabinetry, crown molding and furniture. When you finally decide to invest the time and money it takes to build more efficiency into your key business apps, it pays to make sure you think about every change you hope to make and what impact it may have on the entire company. In other words, if you decide to eliminate a transaction flow from your new and improved system then be sure it doesn’t negatively impact another aspect of the business. Custom software projects can and do break down because of a failure to anticipate the consequences system changes have on the entire organization. In our case, we always say ‘measure twice, code once.’
Skilled crafts people: Every home renovation depends on having the right skilled workers, true experts in their respective trades — plumbers, roofers, bricklayers, etc. For a business software modernization to be successful, you have to get the players with right skills on the team, and they need to be experts at what they do. When trying to handle a complicated software refresh internally, you may not always have the right skills in-house. And you may not be ready to design, staff and manage a project 100% on your own.
There’s a reason why homeowners brought in “This Old House” and its team to get the job done. If your company needs a “This Old Software” team, then I recommend you do a proper vetting and ask the hard questions that address areas like whether experienced software engineers are part of the team, what their past track record is meeting project budgets and are their past customers still happy with their work?
Feedback: One of the big reasons “This Old House” has been a success for so long is the show’s continuous feedback loop with the homeowners. Every episode featured consultations with the homeowners, ranging from budget talks to real-time feedback on the progress of the home renovation. As custom software developers, we learned that modernizing a company’s existing software also requires a continuous flow of information to and from the client. We always endeavour to keep a client’s key stakeholders involved by frequently reviewing the work in progress, discussing any new design issues and asking for input on project deliverables. It’s the only way we can ensure we stay on track and deliver the outcome we promised at the outset.