Software, unlike a great wine, doesn’t get better with age. In most cases, your software is like a new car and the moment you drive it off the lot it can start to lose its luster. Some aging is normal, especially considering how quickly software technologies and development techniques have been advancing in recent years; however, the software can age to a point where the existing code really should be refactored, or in more drastic cases, completely rewritten.
While it can be tricky, you don’t necessarily need to have cutting-edge software expertise to figure out that your web or mobile app isn’t aging well. In fact, there are 8 fairly straightforward telltale signs that a legacy software project has reached the limit of its potential.
Before you throw more money into a dying project, check out our essential guide to understanding when to refactor vs. rebuild your legacy software.
8 Key Signs Your Software Development Project is Aging
Sign #1: The app begins to crash a lot unexpectedly
This can be one of the most annoying problems to encounter. Most likely this is related to some unknown bug, memory leaks in the code, a 3rd party software update that you weren’t aware of, the improper handling of errors, or your app just collapsing because it has taken too long to load. Whatever the reason, you need to immediately find out what the issue is and how likely it is to be solved by adding a patch to or refactoring your code. Having an app that crashes or a website that fails to load obviously leaves a negative impression on users’ interactions with your software and also increases the likelihood that your application will experience downtime. At the end of the day, you can’t be losing your first impressions, your loyal users, or your money on outdated software.
Sign #2: Device compatibility issues
Every user who accesses your website or app will use different devices and each device is unique in its own way. With that in mind, it is necessary to take into account the operating systems your end users are on to run the software. In some cases, your engineers might have designed the system for one specific representation and for nothing else. There is a huge risk this will lead to situations where supporting multiple languages, having a mobile version of your site and other “skins” will be impossible.
Mobile compatibility is another important concern. You may have designed your website initially without thinking about the needs of mobile users. It was designed and built just for users on their desktops. If you attempt to develop a mobile version of your site and you notice that you keep missing deadlines or its leading to a lot of delays from your engineering team, then this is indicative of older software.
Sign #3: Little to no integration opportunities
It’s highly unlikely that a single software system can address all the business needs of a company. The range can just be too diverse and broad in most cases. If you notice that integrating 3rd parties to your software creates more bugs than joy, you have the signs that your software needs a reboot. Having to manually transfer data from one application to another is very tiresome and time-consuming for a human when a piece of software can automate these repetitive tasks. That is why it is so important that the applications your business uses communicate and integrate well with one another. Adding the necessary APIs is vital.
Sign #4: Excessive operating costs
These might be the costs for ongoing support and maintenance efforts dedicated to keeping your system up, updating your software, and fixing the inevitable bugs. Also, your older software might not be as efficient as newer solutions. There is a good chance that your older software is jacking up your hosting or cloud solution costs. Another heavy expense from outdated software might be server costs and the costs to run the application. If your engineers have to manually upload code to the server over FTP to update your project, this is a sign of aging and outdated software.
Sign #5: Interfaces that are too complicated for users
Another sometimes-forgotten additional expense is the time it takes to train your staff on legacy software and the additional manual work it can create for them. Spending your time doing something that a computer program can do for you is time wasted. Another cost is creating training for your end users and developing overly complex user documentation. If your software has become too complicated to use or outdated and it requires some special skills to learn or people have to be constantly reminded how to use it, you’re going to have people stop using it altogether or forget how to.
Sign #6: You’re hacked or get a lot of malware
Apart from the fact that being hacked or getting malware in your software is a pretty crappy event that leads to downtime and extra expenses to fix, it highlights that the infrastructure is not secure enough or hasn’t been patched correctly. You don’t want to leave yourself open to hacks you can prevent like SQL injection, failed penetration testing or software that can not handle the increased load of a DDOS attack. In addition, if the software deals with sensitive customer data and payments, it’s critical to test the app for security, how your data is stored and fix bugs.
Sign #7: No opportunities for adding additional customization without breaking things
Businesses are constantly evolving, to keep up with demand, and competition and accommodate scaling. And so should the software a business builds or integrates with. It should be flexible, customizable, and scalable, otherwise, it will slow down the company’s growth and make it lose customers and revenues. If you can’t add new software to your system without slowing it down or breaking it, then you have a major problem that needs immediate attention. This is also called spaghetti code in some cases. If adding or fixing functionality in one area creates a bug in a completely different part of the website or application, it means there are some hidden dependencies between the system’s parts, which is a major cause of concern. In most cases, your code lacks structure, and the issues in a single part of the system may lead to an outage of the entire application or “unrelated” parts.
Sign #8: Software you integrated from a 3rd party is no longer supported
In almost any scenario your software will be built using tools created by other companies or 3rd parties you don’t know, like frameworks, libraries, APIs, etc. It’s not uncommon for an external tool to stop being supported by its authors in advance of newer designs or implementation. It’s normal not to upgrade every dependency constantly but avoiding this process completely can lead to a situation where your software is built on top of other software which no one knows how to use or, worse, software that might not have security support.
Software Development Project: Check-up Routine
A check-up routine for a software development project is an important part of maintaining the health and effectiveness of the project. Here is a list of categories that should be included in a check-up routine, along with a brief explanation of each:
- Risk of Partial Failure: This category assesses the likelihood that the software will experience partial failures, such as malfunctioning features or reduced performance.
- Risk of Complete Failure: This category assesses the likelihood that the software will experience complete failure, such as crashing or becoming unusable.
- Effort to Change: This category assesses the amount of effort required to make changes to the software, such as updating code or adding new features.
- Criticalness: This category assesses the importance of the software to the overall operation of the business or organization.
- Inspection interval: This category determines how often the check-up routine should be performed, based on the risk and criticalness of the software.
- Urgent Need for Action: This category identifies any urgent issues that need to be addressed immediately to prevent failure or negative impact on the software.
- Current Options: This category assesses the available options for addressing identified issues, such as updating code, implementing new technologies, or transitioning to a different software solution.
By regularly performing a check-up routine that covers these categories, you can ensure that your software development project is healthy and effective, and take steps to address any issues that may arise.
OK... My Software is Outdated. What Can I Do?
Looking at this list you’re probably wondering, “well how bad can it really be?” Now, if you’ve experienced at least 2 out of 8 “symptoms” above, then there is a very real risk that your application is in need of a code review by a 3rd party or could be in bad shape. As time passes or if you add more software on top of it, this can only get worse. But no need to panic straight away, all you need is a plan of what to do next to save the project. And if you don’t really know where to start, here are some guidelines to help you steer the application project in the right direction and complete it quickly and nicely.
Step 1 — Implement a Code Freeze
Stop adding new features and lock down all software development which isn’t necessary to keep your system running. Now you need to fix what you have. Doing this while still developing or adding new features to application development will lead to doing the same job twice. You need to start by working with the business and engineering teams to determine what features are mission-critical to your customers or internal teams as you prepare for a refactor or rewrite of your code and when to start either process.
Step 2 — Ask your engineers or technical team to work on documentation
At this point, you need to document everything that has been created up to this point so that both you and other engineers you might hire to do a code review or clean up your code can see what you have. Create written documentation, diagrams of your systems, etc. Also, you need to create documentation around what you have built from a user’s perspective. Also document all user issues and bugs that have been found and keep them in one place like your project management software.
Step 3 — Write down in detail the new plan
Start to write up a feature documentary that outlines the current feature set and also lists out the feature set you want in the future. This will help the engineers know what might be coming up and plan for it.
Step 4 — Talk to your engineering team
You need to ask them what type of problems are slowing them down during the app development. This might be management and communication hurdles, issues with the IDE they are using or frameworks they are using, etc. For example, your engineers might not be using a proper development IDE which will lead to slower development speeds and less transparency around which parts of the project are communicating with each other. Also, your engineers might be stuck using an older software framework which prevents them from solving problems in a more elegant way (bloated, overworked code) or implementing newer software libraries. In addition, you may have a lack of automated testing set up which causes more issues around your code’s stability.
Step 5 — Talk with your Quality Assurance team
Ask the people testing your software and code what type of issues they see recurring within your application development project over the past year or when new code is added. This will guide you toward the areas to focus on during the next stages.
Step 6 — Perform an in-house review or better yet get a 3rd party code review
This is probably the most important part of any QA process in order to determine your root issues. It’s best to get a code review completed by an outside team of engineers that you trust, simply because your in-house application developers have been starting and working on the same project for so long that they might not recognize the issues in front of them or have the experience/knowledge to build the software in a better way. An outside engineering team would need access to your code base, database schema, your build environment, any issue tracking systems you use, plans and schedules for any code deployments, uptime reports, deployment pipeline, production logs, customer bug reports, statistics, etc. Everything that could help the team understand how your system works, and more importantly, where and how your system tends to “let you down” is very useful. When Spiral Scout is hired to perform code review for an application under development or one that hasn’t aged as gracefully as one would hope, typically we like to get a summary of and access to the:
- server technology and perform a code review;
- client technology and perform a code review;
- data layer and structure;
- build processes and needs;
- deployment processes;
- QA and Ops for releases;
- repos, bug tracking tools the customer is using;
- Live ops management (instrumentation, incident tracking, and management, scaling preparedness);
- personnel and escalation procedures;
- existing deployments (servers for on-premises systems or virtual hosting).
In most cases it takes from a few hour up to a week to review the code and really understand what was built. The timing depends on a few factors such as how well the code is documented, how well it is written, how fast the reviewers get access to all the areas of the code they need, whether they can talk to the current engineering team etc. Once we’ve gathered this summary, our web development engineers can turn their attention to the code review itself. Here are the common checklists we use during this stage.
General Questions During a Code Review:
- Does the code actually do what it is supposed to do?
- Does its functionality do what it was intended to do? Is the logic correct?
- How understandable is the code base to read and understand?
- Does it conform to your agreed-upon coding conventions? For example, these standards will usually cover variable and function names, location of braces, line length, indentations, formatting, comments, etc.
- How much duplicate code or redundancy are we finding?
- How modular is the code and could it be more?
- Can we replace any of the global variables?
- Is there any code that has been commented out and what is it?
- Do loops have a set length and the correct termination conditions?
- Can we replace any of the code with library functions?
- Can we remove any logging or debugging code?
General Security Questions During a Code Review:
- Have we checked that all the data inputs have the correct type, length, format, and range and are encoded?
- If the code is using third-party utilities, are the returning errors being caught?
- Are all output values checked and encoded?
- Are invalid parameter values handled?
- Has the code been documented with comments and is the intent of the code described?
- Are all functions commented on?
- Are there any unusual behaviors or edge-case handling described?
- If a third-party library is used, is the use of functions documented?
- Are all the data structures and units of measurement explained clearly?
- How complete is the code? Is it incomplete in some areas? If it is incomplete, has it been removed or should it be removed or flagged with a marker like ‘TODO’?
Testing Your Software:
- Can the code be tested? This will tell us if the code doesn’t contain too many dependencies, one can initialize objects, and test frameworks can use methods.
- Are there any tests written and how robust are they? How much of the code is covered in testing?
- Do the unit tests that were set up actually test the code which is performing the intended functionality?
- Do they check arrays for ‘out-of-bound’ errors?
- Can any of the test code be replaced with the use of an existing API?
Generic Checklist For Code Reviews Structure:
- How close does the code correctly implement the application’s design?
- Does the code follow any known coding standards?
- How well is the code structured, is it consistent in style, and consistently formatted?
- Is any code unreachable? Are there any uncalled or unneeded procedures?
- Are there any leftover stubs or test routines?
Step 6 — Hire an outside QA team
Once you’ve had an engineering team review your code, you need to find quality assurance specialists to test the software system’s usability and check for issues with the user interface and user experience. This should ideally be an outside team to do this as they can assist your QA team if you have one, or your major stakeholders in QA software testing.
Step 7 — Choose between Rebuild vs Refactor
As a final step, you’ll need to decide whether it will be most cost-efficient to rewrite the whole application from scratch or tweak the system here and there to stop the bleeding with patches and new code. At the same time, if you decide that the system needs to be rebuilt, you need to determine at what point you take engineers off the tasks of maintaining the old system and have them start to build the new one. A lot of factors need to be considered at this stage to make the right decision in terms of timing and the needs of the business, but this is a topic for a whole new article. A lot of time and effort might be needed to bring an application development project to a healthy state. But after that, its successful completion will be a much easier task.
As a software development company, Spiral Scout’s team understands the importance of keeping your projects up-to-date and relevant. An aging software development project can be a major drag on your company’s productivity, costing you time and money as you struggle to maintain and update an outdated system.
But it’s never too late to turn things around and save your software development project from becoming stale and irrelevant. Sticking to our recommendations above can play a crucial role in saving software development projects from aging and helping them stay current and relevant, and saving you time, money, and headaches in the long run.
At Spiral Scout, we offer code review services to help you ensure the quality and integrity of your application. Our team of skilled developers can assist with identifying and fixing any issues found during the review process. We also offer the option of assigning dedicated developers to your team to help you complete your software development project and bring it to market. So don’t let your projects become victims of aging – we offer our expertise and services to keep them fresh and vibrant! Contact us to learn more about how we can support your project.