10 inconvenient questions to ask the CTO of a company owning a web platform

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#technicaldebt #featuremigration

You’re a CTO of a company whose core activity is based on a web platform. You’re most likely familiar with the idea of technical debt. Going into technical debt is an inseparable part of growth, and managing this “loan” in the right way can guarantee a good return on investment.

But it may also happen that this debt will get out of hand. Your software development will spend more and more time to implement new features. Making one modification will result in a range of errors elsewhere. System development will become increasingly more difficult or less cost-effective.

As the CTO of a company whose core activity is based on a web platform, you should never let technology prevent the development of your business. If you happen to notice problems with the performance or the development of your system, make sure to ask yourself the following 10 questions we’ve prepared to help you. They will give you a better understanding and judgment of the condition of your web platform.

1. Do you know what keeps the CEO of your company awake?

If you can see that it’s difficult to proceed with the development of the platform, you can be sure the entire company does too. Especially your CEO, who is concerned about the development of the company, about establishing new business partnerships, and attracting and acquiring new clients.

The problems your system suffers (occurrence of errors, obstacles to its extension) translate into decreasing sales, a lower level of user satisfaction, or even contracts becoming terminated. Even if the technical debt does not affect the company’s financial standing now, it’s very likely it will in the future.

2. How much did it cost you to create the platform?

You probably know the numbers. The familiarity with the budget you spent on building the platform – from the earliest analytical or development work to the stage of production launch – will be highly useful when you need to estimate the cost of system maintenance.

3. What’s the monthly cost of maintenance of your in-house IT department and of outsourced IT services?

Estimating the amount spent on the entirety of IT services (your in-house team and – possibly – external service providers) is not difficult. How many people work in the department? What is the monthly salary of each software developer? What are your additional expenditures – e.g. on hardware, software, Internet service? How much do you spend on services provided by your software house per month? Add these figures up.

4. How much does your company spend on platform maintenance per month?

Consider the distribution of forces in your IT department. See how many members of your team and how many software house employees are involved in platform maintenance. How many specialists are there to supervise the correct performance of the system? This means troubleshooting, handling client requests, software updates, etc. You know the rates of your employees and of your third-party service providers – use this knowledge to estimate the monthly cost of platform maintenance.

Does the annual amount making up the above exceed 20% of the amount you’ve spent on building the platform? If so, it’s very bad news. It means your system is in a really poor condition. You have to be aware that as the development proceeds (with difficulties and obstacles to be expected on the way), the costs of maintenance will only grow.

5. How many requests result from the system’s limited functionality?

It’s reasonable to look into the tasks your maintenance team deals with on a daily basis. You can make a monthly summary. Take a critical look at the list of requests. It will surely include some that result from limited functionality of the system. Keep this in mind – if your system doesn’t work as it should, your employees will waste their time on fixing minor bugs instead of implementing new features.

Technological quality

A well-designed and correctly implemented platform can last you years while one put together hastily, with little effort, or with no consideration for quality may cause you problems every now and then. Increasing the quality level eliminates the technical debt and makes it possible to accelerate the development of your application and reduce the cost of its maintenance at the same time.

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6. What’s the monthly budget spent on platform development?

Do you know how many people work on the platform and how much it costs your company? See how many specialists are involved in development projects – creating and implementing new features or improving the existing ones. 

Does the development of your platform cost your company the same as or slightly more than its maintenance? If so, it means that you operate your business on very shaky foundations. Investing in growth while most of your people struggle to make the system run stable is a course of action which will – sooner or later – lead to a disaster.

7. Does your team deliver the work to be done within the set deadlines and with the expected quality?

Look at the estimates. Don’t you feel that your team spends too much time on handling even the smallest tasks? Do your specialists fail to meet deadlines? This may be caused not by suspected incompetence of your developers but by the fact that your system is a mess. The bigger the technical debt, the longer it will take for new elements to be implemented. The longer the implementation time, the more clients lost and the bigger the advantage of your competitors.

8. Speed or quality of implementation? What was your focus when creating the source code?

Much more emphasis is placed on quick implementation, especially at the early stage of platform development. This comes at a slight cost of quality, though. But it’s alright as long as you make good the losses in quality later on. 

If you were determined to go for fast growth at all costs, disregarding stability, and didn’t allot any time to ‘tidy up’, organize the existing code lines, you’re probably experiencing the dire consequences of your earlier decisions right now.

9. What would your platform be like if you had devoted more attention to the quality of the gone at the beginning?

Just think how many new features your platform could now offer. What technologies you could be able to implement. How much faster and smoother the implementation of new solutions would be. And how many people could be engaged in the development of the platform within the budget you now spend on system maintenance…

10. Do you grow fast enough to stay competitive?

You probably know how your competitors are doing. What technologies they implement, what new features they launch, what their achievements are. 

Running a business is like a race. Those who run too slow or stumble, fail. While you struggle to implement new features and fix the bugs in your platforms, your competitors get ahead of you… and win over your clients.

Ask yourself the following question: is your solution attractive to the target audience? Will they be able to enjoy and benefit from new features and extensions? If not, they’ll most likely turn to your competitors, who will be able to offer them a more feature-rich and ever-expanding solution.

Feature migration

Not all platforms are built or have been developed in the right way. An excessive technical debt, using outdated technology, or ill-considered changes of the course of action may make the further development of a platform difficult or even impossible.

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It’s time to take a good look at the answers.

Not every CTO is brave enough to come to terms with the amounts sunk in an entangled system. But this realization is necessary to make the right decision – to either improve the technological quality or transfer the existing features to a new version of the platform. To know how much of a burden your web platform is for your business, you need to know the amount you spend on system maintenance. Bear in mind that the annual cost of maintaining a well-designed and properly managed platform should not exceed 20% of the amount spent on having it built. If this cost is exceeded, every CTO should feel their alarm signal going off.