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 roadmap can help with app modernization.
  • How you can use the AWS app modernization framework in the process.
  • Where to start if you want to create an app modernization plan/roadmap yourself.
  • How to create an application modernization plan/roadmap using our template.
Application Modernization Roadmap Creating

Why you need application modernization

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.

The cloud migration 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.

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.

How roadmaps improve application modernization

Let’s imagine that you have already identified a need to kick off an application 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.

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

  1. Coherent product vision
  2. You create the application 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).

  3. Explicit goals and priorities
  4. 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.

  5. Effective communication
  6. 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.

  7. Realistic expectations
  8. 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.

AWS app modernization framework: why it’s useful

The AWS framework views application modernization through five technological pillars:

  • automation
  • developer workflows
  • self-service data
  • architecture evolution
  • organization for value

Executing a successful modernization project using AWS modernization framework will help you achieve the following business objectives:

  • Business agility – The ability to effectively translate business needs into requirements. Can also be viewed as the degree of how responsive the delivery organization is to business requests, and how much control the business has in releasing functionality into production environments.
  • Organizational agility – Delivery processes that include agile methodologies and DevOps practices, and that support clear role assignment and overall collaboration and communication across the organization.
  • Engineering effectiveness – The effectiveness of quality assurance (QA), continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD), configuration and code management, and app design.

Strategic dimensions of modernization

Effective modernization of your legacy applications can bring about many multifaceted benefits to your business and its customers. You can streamline modernization by establishing processes for continuous modernization. Base the development of those processes on these AWS strategic dimensions:

  • Organization for value – Organize your business structures around manageable full-stack teams that will focus on customer satisfaction.
  • Architectural evolution – Move away from outdated monolithic applications and organize your business structures into independent scalable modules to give your developers room for agile innovation.
  • Ubiquitous access to data – Move your organizational data to a single reliable cloud service provider (like AWS) to give your developers, customers, and stakeholders a more convenient access to the information they need.
  • Builder springboards – Create a single development workflow through tying together multiple software development practices like DevOps, CI/CD, test automation, and others. A workflow like this defines a path for development and reduces the amount of time it takes to transform an idea into a working product.
  • Infrastructure automation – Combine AWS services to create an efficient infrastructure foundation. Make use of containers and AI/ML to abstract and automate frequently used infrastructure primitives. This frees up development resources for you to focus on delivering business value through creation of new products and services for your customers.

Implementing those strategic dimensions into your modernization processes will allow you to use current components in new applications, deploy existing apps to modern platforms, update app architecture, and more.

After applying the strategic dimensions of modernization listed above, your organization will have a potential of improving its productivity and its ability to deliver measurable and sustainable outcomes.

Following those principles will allow your organization to:

  • Improve and create a differentiated customer experience.
  • Accelerate innovation, reduce time-to-market, and release new products more frequently.
  • Optimize and reduce costs by spending less on IT infrastructure.
  • Increase agility and add new features in a scalable way.
  • Increase staff productivity.
  • Deploy new features faster.
  • Produce better service-level agreements (SLAs).
  • Reduce unplanned outages.

Compared to a highly efficient assembly line in a manufacturing facility, each application moves through a set of specific steps on its way to modernization. These steps include:

  • Discovering and assessing application readiness.
  • Planning and preparing the application for its move to the cloud.
  • Choosing the most suitable method of modernization.
  • Selecting the most fitting cloud platform.
  • Testing and validating the application prior to deployment.

Creating an application 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.

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 application 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. 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 application 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 application modernization

These are the key points from our personal experience of managing long-term projects related to application 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 application modernization brings business value can be key to your project’s success.

Timeline-based roadmaps are doomed to failure

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 application modernization projects to work properly. It’s a good idea to reserve some time for thinking about possibilities for reorganization before developing the application modernization roadmap for your upcoming project.

How Romexsoft can help with application modernization

Founded in 2004, Romexsoft is an AWS-certified Consulting Partner, and a trusted Software Development Company and Managed Service Provider. We help customer-centric organizations build, run, and optimize their cloud systems on AWS with creative and cost-efficient solutions. We have successfully delivered 100+ projects and have a proven track record in FinTech, HealthCare, AdTech, and Media industries.

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    Serhiy Kozlov CEO/CTO at Romexsoft - AWS Partner in Cloud Migration & Application Modernization | AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner | LinkedIn Profile
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