Our Legacy System’s Creator is Dead

“We just inherited a heavy call center system that needs to be updated/migrated based on Microsoft Access… and the creator of this massive system just died. We have no documentation. Can Agile fix this?”

Yes. I just finished a conversation with a client. Yes, this is a scary place to be in. Yes, we can take an agile-approach to documenting, understanding structural decomposition, migrating, and updating. Yes. It’s all possible.


Please, do yourself a favor. Do not wait until somebody dies to consider upgrading, migrating, documenting, or improving anything within your business.

No guarantees in this life. Prepare for the unexpected now. (Potentially) prepare for the worst now.

10 Replies to “Our Legacy System’s Creator is Dead”

  1. Peter – Could you possibly have picked a more inappropriate picture? Millions of people died because of the actions of the people you picture. Lets not belittle their memory by comparing a software development project to these monsters?

    Saddened in Ottawa

    1. Mark, I completely apologize for the inferences of the picture… no harm intended.

      The picture, actually, is a zombie, from the movie DEAD SNOW (a favorite of mine. I’m a big horror fan).

      Again, I shall re-think about picture usage. Thanks for the note!

  2. Hmmm – I appreciate that its from a Zombie movie but its clear that’s the Zombie is wearing a Nazi uniform. In addition you have to be careful about humor in general in this case. Someone has died, I realize that your primary concern is how to help the client recover but a little respect for that person is perhaps in order too. Perhaps no picture would make the point better.


    1. Thanks for the feedback. It’s been changed. What is (always) lacking in any type of blog post is background context and information as to (how) we’re actually dealing with the situation, which is sensitive in nature, I understand.

      We’re doing our very best to work within this issue and since context is missing, let me fill people in with a bit of information about the impetus of this post:

      1. The developer who passed was one of the most humorous individuals you would ever meet. He loved his work, but often said that he’d “haunt the halls” with the legacy system he built.

      2. He loved horror movies, as do I. He especially had fondness for zombies.

      3. This post, is more than anything, a way of paying (humorous) tribute to his passing. Our team agrees he would have laughed at this post.

      Again, sorry for any unintentional offending. May he rest in peace.

      1. Peter – thanks for changing the picture. The context now make its clear that the person who died would have appreciated the irony of the situation. Normally I recommend cross skilling and using a skills matrix (see: http://agilepainrelief.com/notesfromatooluser/2012/02/scrummaster-talesthe-team-gets-bottlenecked.html) but its too late for that.

        I guess the best you can do is start characterizing the system with “acceptance” like tests and unit tests.

        Good Luck
        Mark Levison

  3. Apart from the appropriateness or not of the picture, what the client seemed to be asking was not whether you could use Agile to create documentation for the system, but how it could help with the fact that the knowledge about the system was now gone. I am fascinated to know how Agile will solve that problem in any way more astoundingly than other ways of digging into the system and finding out what it does.

    Clearly, the client wants something that will very quickly get them to the point where they can update and migrate their system. Agile can help do that faster IF there is a backlog of knowledge that a team can draw upon to know what work they have to do that will satisfy the business need AND they have enough domain knowledge to deal with the existing system. I’m not sure from what is said here that either of these are true, so I am wondering how “it’s all possible” and Agile can finesse this problem.

    1. “Agile” as used in this example, is the way in which we approach this unique but tough situation.

      We can utilize the Agile Philosophy to be flexible, collaborative, communicative, and work as a team to mitigate the glaring issues, as well as plan (collaboratively) how we can move towards a resolution.

      “Agile” in this sense is not being used as a specific method, but rather “in-the-spirit of Agile.”


  4. Saying “Agile Can Do That” seems to be a knee jerk generic yes that is always applied to agile.

    Who are you going to collaborate with ? The dead guy? 😉

    Next up — the daily seance — where you can ask 3 questions per day of the departed.. What did you do yesterday? Nothing. What will you do to day? Nothing. Any blockers? Hrmmmm.


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