Sam Newman's site, a Consultant at ThoughtWorks

There is a rustle in the posit-in notes. The water cooler ripples. USB-powered missile launchers inexplicably fire, whilst nerf guns jam mid-battle. There is the smell of sulfur in the air. The Great Rewrite Approaches.

The signs were there. Grumbling from the developers – sometimes new to the project. “This code is horrible!”, “Completely unfit for purpose!”, “If only we could start again…”.

Delays to new functionality are laid at the door of the code. The one and only solution now on offer is to rewrite the entire codebase – nothing short of this will help. Eventually, managers are won over, and The Great Rewrite begins.

It is an epic undertaking. Some poor fools have to stay behind and look after the existing system, whilst others forge ahead into a brave, new world, leaving the horrid, old, decrepit and so uncool system behind.

Morale soars – the developers have a spring in their step. The business, initially, is confident. “Don’t worry – the new version is right around the corner!” they are told. Meanwhile support for the existing system is suffering – the team maintaining the existing codebase is a fraction of the size it used to be, and most of the senior technical people have to be on the rewrite.

The natives grow restless – the system they use, day in, day out, isn’t moving on. Feature requests seem to disappear into a black hole. “Soon” they are promised. “Soon, all your dreams will come true! Once The New System is launched, what you want is top of the list!”.

Months pass. And still, the rewrite continues. But it is closer now – inching towards readiness. Finally, long overdue, The New System is ready. The users are excited – all the recent troubles are to cease, as The Great Rewrite is over.

And now, the launch day.

There are bugs. Things that used to work, don’t work any more. There are few, if any new features. The system is new, but doesn’t offer the users anything new – but they have to learn to get to grips with The New System. The disgruntled emails start.

“Don’t worry!” says the Project Manager. Now The Great Rewrite has finished, the new features will arrive any day now!

And some of them do. Initially, at least, new features are easier than before to create, and ship. But after time, the same problems with the code base emerge. It turns out that having the same group of people building the same old system without changing their approach or ideas doesn’t lead to a different type of system. They never had to deal with the old issues head-on, they just sidestepped them, pressing on into the greenfield.

More time passes. Features take longer to ship, the code is harder to deal with. And once again, talk turns to another Great Rewrite…

5 Responses to “The Great Rewrite”

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