How to Create an Application Modernization Roadmap

We have written this article to aid professionals who are embarking on their first application modernization journey.

This article explains:

  • How having a smart application modernization roadmap can help.
  • How you can use the AWS app modernization framework in the process.
  • Where to start if you want to create an app modernization roadmap yourself.
  • How to create an application modernization roadmap using our advices.
Application Modernization Roadmap Creating

The cloud adoption trend has recently become so popular that businesses have started to try and systematize their app modernization processes. Continue reading to learn how you can develop a prescriptive app modernization approach for your company with creating hands-on application modernization roadmap.

To adopt a successful modernization strategy, you first need to identify your business needs and prioritize them according time-to-value, and then select a set of modernization technologies that will best fit your business objectives.

Why you might need application modernization

A lot of choices and decisions are to be made when one considers application modernization. The first items in question are the possibility, practicality and profitability of modernization all of which actually can be debatable. When it comes to apps of critical business importance, though, modernization is a quickly redeemable investment.

A changeable technological landscape compels businesses to update their legacy applications in search of faster and more frequent deployments, more reliable and resilient workloads, enhanced app uptime and resource efficiency. Those are the most obvious and transparent business benefits reaped through modernization. While one may follow these selling words, we will shed a bit of light so as to what modernization means from three viewpoints.

Cloud computing perspective

The mere fact of modernization, its degree and direction depend on the strategic vision of your app system, balanced with resources at hand and the technological market’s offers, such as cloud-based infrastructure, microservice-based architecture and serverless environments.

Older systems are not built for the cloud

Older legacy applications operate best within their intended environment, which is mostly on-premises. As you attempt to incorporate them into the cloud, aiming at boosted performance, you will, in the best case, get limited functionality. Taking their relatively finite capacities into account, we see that legacy apps in the cloud will produce more short-range performance lags than expected business outcomes, while in the long run, they may impede the systems’ operation quality and the enterprise’s cost-effectiveness.

Maintaining older apps in the cloud can be more work than it’s worth

The experience of many a business proves that lacking an elaborate all-around strategic view of the product is an unfortunate mishap. It is obvious that while obsolete legacy systems cannot cope with the current technical requirements, with time it will gradually but surely lead to a complete failure in performing expected tasks. Timely conducted re-evaluation of your app’s adapting options will ensure your system’s operation and save you time, money and effort. Speaking of the latter, app modernization relieves your developer team from treating old application-related emergent issues to devote effort to what really supports your business goals.

Market competitiveness perspective

Modern customers have the highest possible expectations concerning the services they are provided. While a company is hesitant to modernize and keep up with the market demands, it will lose clients to those which have already taken the most of the technological advancement and upgraded their business systems. Legacy app modernization is what will ensure that your business not only stays afloat in the harsh market environment but also possesses a competitive advantage over similar enterprises.

Achieve faster time to market and more agility

Older legacy applications are typically designed upon monolithic architecture which makes it cumbersome and time-consuming to upgrade such apps or deploy their new versions. The simplest way to circumvent the imposed deployment limitation is by using containers and employing such a container orchestration platform as Kubernetes. You can also make a start in modernization by following DevOps best practices: adopting CI/CD fosters and speeds up app delivery.

A more profound step into modernization suggests refactoring the monolithic legacy apps to be separated into microservices, they allow for improving separate small units within one application. Microservice architecture can be as well reinforced by the said CI/CD to enable rollback to the previous well-functioning state if an update generates concerns.

Staying relevant

The digital world offers opportunities to meet any need and achieve any goal, and how businesses grasp them is through modernization. Machine learning, artificial intelligence, and cloud-based environments are there for anyone willing to create or improve their infrastructure for it to cover the market demand and be a favorable basis for the following transformations.

An company’s global vision may include maintaining an unsupported application. It should be borne in mind that such a legacy app may fail to compete with newly released upgrades, and ultimately stop being worthwhile.

Improved user satisfaction

Legacy applications can not only be burdensome to handle for your staff but also challenging to use for your customers. App modernization brings about the interface and functionalities that definitely increase customer experience, hence your business’s reputation.

To be added is that app modernization leads to improved app compatibility with the most recent technologies and code. This, in turn, allows smooth and seamless application integration to the market in order to satisfy the existing, as well as anticipated, demand.

Effectiveness and efficiency perspective

Better efficiencies

Digital transformation of your apps is meant for ultimate business performance enhancement. Applications that have undergone modernization can be updated with ease and whenever necessary; they are also propped by rollbacks, bug fixes and security patches to make the system improvement as smooth as possible. The result of modernization on this level is operational simplicity, and eventually, freed-up human resources that can be reinvested into new developments and innovations.

Developers productivity boost

The facet that tends to be overlooked in the focus on the resource-efficiency and customer satisfaction through optimal performance is developer’s experience. Modernizing legacy apps facilitates the DevOps team’s work while increasing their efficiency and influencing a product’s time-to-market.

The development environment setup in apps after modernization is much faster, leading to the increase of employees’ motivation and productivity by up to just under twice as much. Containers or modular service-based architectures, which come to substitute older monolithic infrastructures, also enable different language implementation for faster recruitment of the right developer’s team which also opens up new career possibilities for skilled and qualified staff.

Robust security

Legacy applications have been proven to expose an enterprise to security threats, based on the research conducted among the industry decision-makers. Most modern security standards guarantee the utmost safety of sensitive and personal information which correlates with the brand’s credibility, reputation and competitive standing, while older systems simply don’t comply. The anticipated outcome of modernization is patching up vulnerabilities and significantly improved security posture.

Application assessment prior to application modernization

A sure-fire way to approach an app modernization project in its early stages is to conduct an application assessment. To catalog what you already have is often one of the most straightforward ways to start a drastic transformation like modernizing a monolithic app.

To create a productive application inventory list, plot your already existing apps on an x and y axes, where one of the axes will represent the ease/difficulty of modernizing a given app, and the other will represent the increase in potential value of the application after modernization.

At the start, all current systems need to be examined so as to functional, business and financial criteria, apart from the technical one. Weighing up these factors within the assessment portfolio, a company can land decisions on which infrastructures are to be prospectively modernized, which digital transformation strategies are relevant to each app, which focus is to be kept within the preferred modernization approach, etc.

If want to dive deep into the topic of assessment for further modernization, we definitely recommend to read our article devoted to this theme.

How roadmaps improve IT modernization

Let’s imagine that you have already identified a need to kick off a modernization project for your application. Like every project in its very beginning, it will include two stages as increments of your manager’s work: the preparation and planning stage, and the project plan and roadmap stage.

Strategic dimensions of application modernization

But first, let’s explore the benefits that a truly well-thought-out plan can bring to your modernization project:

  1. Coherent product vision
    You create the modernization roadmap during the early stages of your modernization project, meaning that your team gets to work out a unified product vision, including project goals and task prioritization, from the very beginning. This approach makes your project feel coherent and predictable, and it prevents your developers from getting distracted from their main objectives.However, a unified vision does not mean your project plan is set in stone. When you start progressing in your modernization efforts, make sure to revisit and adjust your roadmap according to current conditions (a principle that we will elaborate on later in the article).
  2. Explicit goals and priorities
    Although a modernization roadmap does not expand on every task in your development plan, it provides a sense of where the development currently stands, and where it is heading. It is a visual document that acts as a guide for your modernization team that they can refer to in times of doubt to remind them of the project’s priorities and final goals.
  3. Effective communication
    Misunderstandings in the team among executives, employees, and stakeholders can lead to delays and conflicts and bring upon destructive consequences for your project. Starting off your modernization project by developing a roadmap has been proven to be one of the most certain ways to prevent that from happening.It is also easier for the stakeholders to understand the software revamp process and to establish realistic team expectations when the project objectives, timelines, and goals are documented.
  4. Realistic expectations
    When establishing project goals and timelines, try to make sure that they’re achievable. This can help you set appropriate expectations for the project’s stakeholders and team members. Research in organizational behavior shows that giving your employees attainable project goals can help keep them motivated. A realistic roadmap will help ensure that the team members can finish their tasks on time and satisfy stakeholders’ needs and expectations, and it will help you minimize delays.

Creating a modernization roadmap: where to start?

Begin building your app modernization roadmap during the project planning stage. Start off with a clear understanding of your modernization project goals and a set of success factors. Gather insight on the project scope, general start and end dates, and compile a list of tasks to be completed to reach the above mentioned project goals. You will use this information later on to create a detailed project schedule. Having determined all of these items, you can start plotting them on your modernization project roadmap.

Ideas for creating application modernization roadmap

After going through the vital preparation stage during the planning phase, plot the app modernization information you gathered on your application’s roadmap timeline. The timeline should usually include project goals, tasks, assignments, and fixed start and end dates. Project roadmaps can align with your project timeline either according to phases of the project lifecycle (e.g., initiation, planning, implementation, and closing), or the entire project’s timeframe.

The most common ways to use the modernization project roadmap are to communicate with the project team about tasks to do and goals to meet, to make prioritization decisions, and to measure progress across objectives. The details on your modernization roadmap can either be more overarching or more granular — it depends on who you are presenting the roadmap to, and what kind of information you need to communicate to them.

Some project managers create their roadmaps with spreadsheets or presentation tools. An Excel or PowerPoint template can be a convenient starting point for visualizing early plans, but once your work becomes more elaborate as you add details to it, static documentation can become pretty hard to format and update in real time.

Project management software and purpose-built roadmapping tools should fulfill most of your potential project road map requirements. With those kinds of tools, you can enter your project’s details once, and then tailor the different display versions to suit the needs of different audiences.

If you decide to build your roadmap using specialized software, look for any convenient tool that will allow you to display and customize the following elements:

  • View project timelines
  • Set goals and success metrics
  • Track activity across pillars of work
  • Display project phases, milestones, and dependencies
  • Break down tasks with assignees and due dates.

Is there a difference between a project roadmap and a project plan?

Yes, definitely. Project plans are used to plan and manage and control project execution, while a project roadmap serves as a big picture of the project life cycle.

Project roadmaps and project plans are both considered important, distinct tools. Project managers often use both a roadmap and a plan for any project they lead. They usually create the roadmap to establish the strategic overview of the project first, and then break down the goals written down in the roadmap into specific task-level steps.

Project plans usually serve as internal tools for teams because of how much detail they provide. Managers use project plans to assign responsibilities, track activities and resources, and overlook daily progress across teams.

A project roadmap is considered vital in project management because it is a tactical list of objectives that identifies your project’s main goals and general stages. A solid project roadmap can positively impact your planning process and strengthen your project in general. You can use the bigger-picture view of the roadmap to efficiently create a detailed project plan that defines specific resources, budgets, and activities required to complete the project. This is why we recommend developing your project roadmap before compiling the project plan.

Essential elements of an application modernization roadmap

Every project can be considered to consist of three fundamental components: strategy, scope, and timeline. Application modernization is no exception to this rule.

Essential elements of an application modernization roadmap

To have a clear understanding of what each element of this approach stands for, answer the following questions related to your project:

Strategy –
What do you want to achieve through modernization?

It’s important to understand what your project drivers are, to communicate those drivers to your team and stakeholders, and to correctly prioritize them (preferably according to time-to-value). Each additional driver potentially adds time, costs, scope, and risks to your already complicated migration. A good modernization strategy would be to set the right realistic expectations at the early stages of the project. This approach enables organizations to reduce technical debt and eventually operate at scale, and it opens up opportunities for trying different modernization approaches.

Another one of the main keys to modernization success is alignment of requirements across stakeholders and teams. Performing IT modernization often requires collaboration between different teams across the organization. These teams might have individual priorities and/or other projects that might have already commenced. If these teams are working across different timelines and with different priorities, it makes it more challenging to agree on a coherent modernization plan.

Scope –
What do you want to modernize?

We recommend investing some time in thoroughly defining the scope of your project by working your way backwards from your target modernization business outcomes. The scope might change as you work on the project, because large-scale modernization comes with many unknowns. These unknowns could come in the form of systems that have become part of the archeology of the environment with little to no understanding of their relevance, or production incidents that cause delays and changes to the plans you have made. The solution would be to have room for flexibility and develop backup plans to avoid stalling the project when unforeseen circumstances occur.

Timeline –
When do you need to complete the modernization?

A solid timeline helps set realistic expectations and encourages the teams to make sure that their individual project plans and budgets are aligned with the overall modernization goals. It’s important to find out any disagreements as early as possible in the project – fail fast and address the issues with the right stakeholders to ensure that everyone on the team is in alignment with the common vision.

Many programs start with an initial goal that’s based on a fixed deadline, and they don’t plan for extra requests that can suddenly come from stakeholders who want to resolve outstanding issues and problems. In some cases, these issues could have been present in the source system for years, but have become artificial blockers only during modernization.

Modernization activities always affect business application functionality. What might be perceived as a small upgrade can have a major effect on the whole project’s timeline.

To get the most out of your modernization project, your modernization roadmap should be aligned with the project’s:

  • business goals
  • stakeholder needs
  • current IT assets (apps, infrastructures, data storages, environments, team/staff)
  • available resources (budgets, information, development capacity)
  • available expertise and hands-on experience
  • established engineering practices
  • ongoing business operations
  • organizational timelines
  • market research.

To set up your uniquely tailored modernization road map, combine your business goals, stakeholder hassles, and modernization drivers to get a feel of direction for your project. Then, prioritize these items according to time-to-value to increase ROI and customer retention. Finally, follow the legacy application modernization process to maximize productivity of your road map.

How to make a hands-on modernization roadmap

Committing to a time-based roadmap means you won’t be able to adapt as easily. This can get in the way of meeting the expectations you’ve set in your organization. To avoid that, you need to have a plan that allows you to make ongoing changes if needed, and adjust your modernization priorities according to business needs.

You can achieve this by keeping your modernization roadmap:

  • Executable
    Develop a roadmap that will allow you to get started immediately and make measurable progress in the time periods specified for the modernization project.
  • Strategic
    Align your modernization roadmap with business priorities and general organization/product strategy.
  • All-embracive and explanatory
    Communicate direction, focus and goals to the stakeholders and team members involved in your modernization project.

Common pitfalls we faced in modernization process

These are the key points from our personal experience of managing long-term projects related to software modernization. Keep them in mind while creating your own application modernization plan.

Poorly defined business needs

Convincing business executives to spend money on app modernization with seemingly intangible benefits is a fundamental challenge of many application owners. After all, how do you explain that you want to re-do an already working application to someone who’s not an IT person?

To solve this communication problem, explain your case in business terms. Try to minimize the amount of specific technical terms when trying to get your stakeholders’ buy-in, and focus on showing measurable business value of every update, change, and feature that app modernization can bring. Make sure to clearly list what resources you will need to accomplish your modernization project and how you will use them, as well as provide a detailed project timeline.

Providing specificity in familiar terms in such a way has been proven to be a major aid in selling the idea of app modernization to business executives. We have seen many cases of modernization projects failing because the stakeholders lacked a clear understanding of why do they even need to invest in a often complex and long-term modernization project in the first place. Thus, a solidly presented case on how the modernization brings business value can be key to your project’s success.

Timeline-based roadmaps

The old-school way of roadmapping follows a timeline format. You can tell it’s still popular by typing ‘product roadmap’ in your browser and seeing the resulting mess in the image section. We analyzed what’s wrong with the timeline format, and this is our insight:

If we deconstruct a timeline roadmap into its basic components, it turns out to be just a simple chart with time on the x-axis and things to do on the y-axis. Which seems self-explanatory at first, but the further that timeline stretches, the more things you have to keep track of.

A timeline roadmap, in its very nature, means that you are giving a duration and a due date to every single thing you’re putting on that roadmap. That’s a whole lot of assumptions you’re making there, like knowing how long each feature is going to take. Giving a task a duration might be easy in the short term because you’ve got clarity from your developers on delivery plans, but it gets harder and harder the further out in the future you plan because of unforeseen circumstances and execution delays.

We aren’t the first ones to reach these conclusions. Our point of view closely overlaps with the thoughts of Janna Bastow. If you’re interested in how to deal with timeline format trap in your roadmap creation we definitely recommend checking out her Twitter thread about this specific topic in detail.

Old and outdated application dependencies

It’s safe to say that almost every application will encounter the problem of technical debt in its lifetime. Technical debt is an impairment to an application’s workflow that negatively impacts business agility due to old and outdated modules. These modules could’ve been written 5 or 10 years ago and simply have become outdated; or they could be having issues with communication with newer additions to the app. In any case, resolving technical debt often shows up as a task on every IT team’s agenda. At the same time, this task is notorious for frequently being put off for a later time when prioritizing.

The rip-and-replace approach to dealing with outdated dependencies may seem like an attractive solution to the issue described above. However, most of the time removing and replacing a fundamental module can influence the way the whole application works, which, in turn, can negatively impact or even stall business activity. So, rather than rewriting a whole application from scratch, have your IT team work on their skills of deconstructing the code to its bare fundamentals and updating functions one at a time.

Automation in the development process

Make a point to automate as many processes as you can when you are modernizing at a large scale if you want to do it within a reasonable period of time. To achieve efficient automation, make sure that every coder and creator in your development team is following a repeatable pattern to streamline production.

Another suggestion would be to identify and eradicate manual processes and tools continuously, because, as your infrastructure costs go up, your operations costs increase accordingly. If you can constantly improve the application environment, you can increase the elasticity of your labor pool from the SRE team, and move more workforce to the development team – all because you will have a more stable and less resource-intensive environment. This is the case because when your operation costs go down, you can invest more resources into building-up the capability of your organization, which, in turn, will bring innovation and agility.

On the other hand, missing out on complete automation can cause budget wasting due to automation not being implemented properly, or being implemented at the wrong time (for example during change implementation).

Revisioning the governance processes

Modernization rarely means just technological improvements. Modernization requires your organization’s processes, structure and skills to adapt. The organizational culture needs to grow in order to adopt the DevOps and cloud native practices and their development, build, deployment, and operational benefits.

For example, it’s hard to achieve efficient automation that we described above if you don’t revisit your whole governance process. We recommend centering the updates of your governance processes and frameworks, as well as of configuration management, around development automation and CI/CD.

It usually takes time to figure out how to alter your company’s core processes and policies in a way that will allow the new technologies introduced by IT modernization projects to work properly. It’s a good idea to reserve some time for thinking about possibilities for reorganization before developing the modernization roadmap for your upcoming project.

Application Modernization Roadmap FAQ

What is application modernization?

Application modernization is the process of updating and improving older software for new computing approaches, including newer languages, frameworks, and infrastructure platforms. This could involve re-platforming, rehosting, recoding, rearchitecting, re-engineering, or replacing legacy systems with modern solutions. The goal is to retain the value of the original application while making it more efficient, secure, and compatible with current technologies. Modernization enables businesses to leverage the latest technological advancements, reduce maintenance costs, improve performance and scalability, and meet evolving market demands.

What exactly is a modernization roadmap and why should I care about it?

A modernization roadmap is essentially a strategic blueprint that lays out the steps and processes for updating and enhancing an existing software application. It's a big deal because it provides a clear direction and timeline for your modernization project, ensuring everyone involved knows what's happening and why.

What should I focus on when designing an IT modernization roadmap?

When you're crafting an IT modernization roadmap, there are three key elements you need to nail down: a clear strategy that outlines your modernization goals, a defined scope that specifies what you're planning to modernize, and a timeline that sets out when you need to wrap up the modernization.

How can a roadmap of the modernization help me hit my business goals?

A roadmap can be a powerful tool for achieving your business goals. It provides a clear vision and direction for your modernization project, helping you set explicit goals and priorities. It also facilitates effective communication among your team members and sets realistic expectations for your project's stakeholders and team members.

Serhiy Kozlov
Serhiy Kozlov CEO, Romexsoft
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