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The Maintenance Monkey Twitter Facebook Print E-mail
Written by Joel Dehlin   
Thursday, 12 April 2007

Maintenance. Call it bug fixing. Call it “keeping the wheels on.” Call it warranty. Call it whatever you want.

Maintenance is a necessary evil. You’re never going to get the product perfect. So you’ll always be called upon to fix bugs. Typical large I.T. shops spend an extraordinary amount of effort on “maintenance.” Estimates range from 10% of labor budget to 70%. In the past our maintenance budgets have been in the 50% range. That seemed obscene to me so we checked into the actual work being done and learned a lot as we’ve struggled to reduce the amount of time and money we spend on maintenance. When thinking through how to reduce maintenance expenditure, I recommend consideration of the following:

Use great prototypes to narrow the “gap of misunderstanding” between you and your customer regarding scope before you start development. The practice we’re trying hard to implement is having Interaction Designers 6-8 weeks ahead of development before ever entering a Cycle/Milestone/Sprint/Release (or whatever you want to call it). So our “agility” comes from working back and forth with the customer on high fidelity prototypes. This substantially reduces the number of times a customer comes back after you’re already done, asking for some new feature they thought “was going to be included from the very beginning.”

Test, test, test! Don’t under-invest in your QA team or in automation. We made the mistake of under-investing for a long time and felt the pain. We’ve staffed a high quality QA team with many engineers who could easily be developers in our shop. We find many, many bugs before our customers do. We can do much better, but the improvements in QA have materially decreased the amount we spend on maintenance.

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