I’ve seen a lot of companies over the years launch product reinvention initiatives designed to breathe new life into their businesses, capture more market share, and in some cases “get back in the game” after a long sabbatical from continuous innovation. The latter situation is the one that tends to pose the greatest number of risks and challenges, not so much because of the sweeping technology changes but because companies that find themselves in this situation are usually there not because of a well-considered strategic plan but rather because of forced action due to a sudden market shift (or a sudden realization it has been shifting for quite some time).
Companies in this situation are often in a state of panic – they can sense their own mortality, maybe for the first time, and it’s terrifying. They are facing new competitors that are younger, have newer ideas, and less “intellectual baggage” to struggle against. That baggage, along with complacency, represents the real danger, the critical condition that should be flashing red on the corporate dashboard. The complacency, well, that’s probably no longer a problem but it may very well be what got them into this mess. However the baggage represents everything that they know about technology, about how to create software that addresses their business needs, everything from defining requirements to selecting tools and frameworks…and it’s probably all wrong.
Now, you might think that last bit was a little harsh and if you’re reading this thinking “hey, I’m one of these companies and we’ve been pretty darn successful” well, yes, you may very well have been very successful but now you find yourself facing a different reality. Your systems are no longer “high-tech”, they don’t look modern, and they’re almost certainly built with tools and techniques that make it increasingly difficult, slow and expensive [if not impossible] to extend in ways that your customers are starting to demand. Even the way in which you went about designing the system in the first place is probably out of step with today’s development paradigms.
What’s needed in this situation is a complete makeover; fresh new approaches to those business problems, new tools, technologies, and a modern agile methodology wrapping the whole thing. It’s a lot to take in and nearly impossible to do unless you can first drop that baggage we talked about. The “old way” of thinking will hold you back from change, it will cause you to make technology and tool choices not because they’re the best way to tackle the problem but because they’re more familiar. This can lead to some very bad choices and you can find yourself a long way down the path to developing that next generation product before you realize just how bad some of those choices may have been. When you’re in this situation that old adage of “you don’t know what you don’t know” couldn’t be truer.
So what are you to do? It could take months to re-educate your staff on current tools and practices and even if you made the decision to invest in that education you may not have anyone on staff with the background to select what training they should pursue. It’s times like this when you should strongly consider bringing in outside guidance. While this may seem self-serving coming from me (I do work for Magenic after all) I tell you this with no expectation that you’ll reach out to us for help but please reach out to somebody outside of your company with a strong background in delivering modern software solutions, someone with a reputation that will allow you to feel comfortable trusting their judgment. This is important because you’re going to be carrying that baggage and viewing the world through “old lenses” which will mean that your new partner may very well advise you to do things that you’re not necessarily comfortable with, don’t really understand, or both. A good partner will work very hard to make sure you understand their rational for the suggestions and frame them in a way that makes sense from a business perspective as well as a technical one.
In the end you and your partner should be able to come up with a plan that will get you heading in the right direction with the technology that best fits the application you need to create. With that initial guidance completed you may elect to keep them around to help educate and guide your development staff or you may even want to bring on additional development staff as a way of getting to market faster while still keeping the new product development knowledge in-house (if you’re in this situation you likely do have some time to make up).
However you choose to proceed beyond the initial vision and architectural discussions you’ll be far better positioned for success having brought in outside guidance than if you had continued based on your “best guess” and not knowing if you were heading straight for a virtual cliff. An outside perspective brings clarity, new experiences from a host of other companies and industries, and an opportunity for you to see your business through new lenses from a fresh point of view. Who knows, once you’ve found a trusted advisor you may want to bring them back once a year or so just to bounce around ideas, assist with new product envisioning, or help talk through “what if” scenarios before you decide to commit significant resources on new products or enhancements.