In discussing software development with non-technical people (customers, business owners, project sponsors, etc.), I often resort to analogies and metaphors. It's relatively easy and effective to use a "house" or other metaphor for describing the size and complexity of new development.
However, we often inherit someone else's code or data, and this approach doesn't seem to hold up as well when trying to explain why we're gutting something that already seems to work. Of course we can point to cycle time and cost to be saved in the future but this generally means nothing to business folks.
I know doctors can say "just take this pill," but I'm not sure that software devs have the same authority. Ideas?
Let me add a bit to the discussion. The specific project I'm talking about has customers that don't realize (or care) about specific aspects of the system we're retiring (i.e., they think it was just fine):
- The system would save a NEW RECORD every time someone updated a field
- The system contained tables for reference data. These tables had new records added every day, even though they were duplicates of previous records. And there was no way to tie the reference data used for a particular case at the time it was closed. This is like 99% of the data in the old system.
- The field NAMES also have spaces, apostrophes and other inappropriate characters in them, making everything harder to work with.
- In addition to the incredible amount of duplicate data, they have around 1000 XLS files with data they want added to the system. Previously, they would do a spreadsheet for each case in the database, IN ADDITION TO what they typed into the database.
Getting rid of this old, unneeded information and piping in the XLS data comprises about 80% of the total project effort, and was not something we could accurately predict. I'm trying to find a concrete way to describe how bad this thing was, mostly so that the customer will understand why the migration process has been so time-consuming. The actual coding was done pretty quickly and the new system works fine, but without the old data they won't be happy.
Sorry to get into the weeds, but most of the answers I've seen so far are pretty basic scope/schedule/cost things. I've been doing this for 15 years, so this really is more of a reflective, philosophical question - but without some of the details it can be difficult to really appreciate the awful beauty of this problem.