Let’s not talk about legacy

Sometimes it feels like the single biggest stick with which to beat off transformative change is to mention the dreaded ‘L’ word – Legacy.

“Your [insert shiny new thing here] is all very well, but you’ll never get the changes you need through legacy.”

Now for sure, oftentimes this may be true – but it’s interesting to look at the language here. Legacy is positioned like another gate in the process, through which all change and newness must be squeezed. There is no detailed discussion of actually what needs to change – more a reflexive whistling through the teeth, like a bad plumber sizing up a job he’s not really interested in. Legacy, it’s gonna cost ya and and it won’t be quick.

Even more unhelpfully Legacy can sometimes be used as an unhelpful catch-all term for a huge variety of systems and problems. Some of these are probably really Legacy, others maybe not. Some of the ones I’ve met badged as Legacy include:-

  • Perfectly good systems with ridiculous contracts which require you to jump through numerous hoops to make the slightest change.
  • Perfectly good systems maintained by suppliers who really want to sell you a new system to replace the one they now term legacy. They sold you the old one 18 months back.
  • The system the organisation put in as the answer to the question they now realise was the wrong question.
  • Systems put in by the last CTO who was fired two quarters back.
  • Systems which are NIH and hence don’t really reflect the way we do things here.
  • Systems which nobody in the business really understands, but everyone is too scared to touch.
  • Really, really old systems maintained by a small number of wizened men with beards. These men may die soon – you probably need to replace these fast.
  • Systems which are really important to your customer service staff, except that those same staff stopped using it several years back and now use excel spreadsheets instead.

Imagine a world though where the L word was banned. No mention of Legacy allowed, zip, nada.

Instead name the thing, be specific. Call it the “old payment system”, “the CRM system”,”our 1980s billing system” – whatever, let’s talk detail and try not to hide behind a curtain of assumed difficulty.

Now this isn’t to say that “the old payment system” isn’t going to be a royal pig to make a change on, just that if you avoid shrouding it with the forbidding aura of Legacy there may be a better idea of understanding what we all need to do to fix it.


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