The real cost of custom systems

A business opportunity shows up. Your priorities change.

The opportunity involves creating some new system.

Your PM has a quick meeting with the developers, and they determine it will take them 2 weeks max. You decide to put existing projects aside, and try to deliver the strategic project fast.

The lack of planning shows up in the failure to ship on time.

Then something breaks production. Everyone is upset. After wasting a week on fixing the problem, you lose the opportunity.

This is a common story of how technology risk becomes business risk.

The good news is that you can ship fast and avoid issues like this.

But first let's look at some of the hidden costs of creating a new custom system.

  1. The cost of maintenance. Your new system will be full of bugs. These will cause outages and take time away from development.
  2. The cost of short-term thinking. You will forget to consider how this system will evolve. New features will be needed, but your initial design might not allow for that. The estimated cost of adding that feature now needs a multiplier.
  3. The cost of missed learning opportunities. You did a lot of things manually in the beginning. Then you automated them. You will be tempted to automate tasks that you haven't performed manually before. You will lose on the opportunity to capture these important lessons.
  4. The cost of operations. Automation involves operations. Who is going to operate your new system? That might involve running scripts, checking alerts, or just verifying that the thing still works. Does your team have time for that?
  5. The cost of problems piling up. New systems are rarely built in isolation. You can expect them to integrate with existing services. Those interactions will have side-effects on production. These problems will take forever for your team to solve, because they will be invisible.
  6. The cost of complexity. Learning how this system works and operates with other components adds cognitive load to everyone involved. This means they might make more mistakes, which will create more problems.

New systems need planning, integration, operations, maintenance, and documentation. The real cost of a custom system is more chaos.

Your team has the competence to identify all of these issues, and more. They probably already did. But they won't tell you.

Help your team develop habits needed to raise potential issues before they cause damage.

Encourage speaking up about potential issues, pushing back, and challenging the status quo.

Make it easy for your organization to learn from its mistakes.

I hope you found this valuable

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