Some years ago, I took over a development team on a caretaker basis. For a while, everything seemed to be running smoothly – a good thing, considering that the team had developed and continued to maintain a critical enterprise system for the company’s workflow.
We had an in-house custom solution (developed with.NET). We had an entire team to cover everything from business analysis, database management, further development, testing, customer support, and project management. The future development pipeline was packed. Our team was well-regarded within the company, and we had great relationships with the stakeholders.
Sounds great, but ‘things ran smoothly, and everything ended happily ever after just doesn’t happen in real life. Although everyone had passed their performance review just before I took over, I did have one little doubt, but it was so small I brushed it aside.
After all, it was only a tiny little thing.
Nightmare on John Street: Revenge of the Custom Web App Framework
I probably don’t need to tell you that I was enjoying a false sense of security – and that after the honeymoon period, the rug was quickly and swiftly pulled from underneath my feet!
Looking back, I should have listened to my gut. It bothered me somewhat that the technical team and the senior developer/architect – let’s call him John – wasn’t quite how I would like it. John was overly temperamental, high maintenance, and exerted ruthless control of the team under him.
It wasn’t ideal, but the team listened to him and did exactly as they were told. The results were high performance from team and app with no complaints. Something that caused a little concern, but also where the results spoke for themselves.
Something to keep an eye on, just in case…
I was only two months in when the news broke. John resigned to focus on his own startup, which already had a contract. As we scrabbled for two weeks to minimize the impact of this volte-face, the consequences of not dealing with John earlier reared their ugly, multi-faceted heads.
What happens when a team used to following orders is suddenly cast adrift without a leader?
It’s precisely what you might think: work continues as usual, but the quality of deliverables plummets (if they arrive, that is) as a slightly chaotic air descends.
Dear John had his own way of getting business done, which meant a reliance on his own libraries, his own approach to data modeling, use of his naming conventions, and so on. A system that made perfect sense to John and worked perfectly while he was around – but a complex maze of bespoke quirks to anyone else seeking a standardized system.
Of course, as the caretaker leader of the entire development team, it was my head on the executioner’s block – and believe me, the wider business was not happy with the new status quo.
At this moment, John made a kind offer to come back and help us out – charging at his new consultant rates, naturally. After recovering from his audacity, I point-blank refused the offer. If he were to return, he would first need to step over my dead body.
Instead, we hired a new senior developer and got to work on unraveling the mysteries of the John Codex, slowly standardizing everything so our teams could work efficiently again. It took some time, but one big release later, we were ready and finally free of the curse of John’s way.
So, what’s the moral behind this story? While one is undoubtedly “be careful when taking on a caretaker role – there’s probably something up!” there’s a more important moral to be had for business here.
Do You Choose Standard Web Apps or Custom Web Apps Framework?
When looking at developing a web app, this is one of the first considerations. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and there’s no real right answer other than what works for your company.
As the story above shows, a custom web app framework can work brilliantly, but they are inherently fragile. John had essentially resourced fragility (intentionally or not) by being the only person with full knowledge of his framework. Nobody else had it. When he left, the fragile nature of the system essentially broke.
This can be addressed by having more than one ‘guru’ who knows the deal with the framework. However, you’re still left with a long-term headache of disruptive staff turnover when those gurus leave for greener pastures.
More often than not, bespoke frameworks lack documentation. What standardized frameworks might lack, they make up for it with well-documented libraries, full data models, and constantly updated developer guides. With in-house custom web app frameworks, this is often neglected, making code maintenance and managing employee churn a challenge.
It’s simple: resources are limited in business, which means most of your team’s limited time resources will go toward profitable activities. Arguably, documentation is indirectly a profitable activity for in-house teams – but realistically, those efforts are spent elsewhere with more directly profitable activity.
Dev teams rarely have their own support desk, the experts who pull the other experts out of the fire (or: John’s failed consulting gamble). It makes sense on paper – the development team should be able to deal with bugs, create critical patches, and wizard away technical issues for the rest of the world, so why not themselves?
In reality, a pair of fresh, expert eyes from elsewhere can make a world of difference. That’s a considerable advantage with standardized frameworks, but something that just doesn’t exist with in-house custom frameworks. Your teams are, effectively, left to cope with the peaks and troughs of demand independently.
How to Choose the Best Web App Framework for Your Business
Both systems have their strengths and weaknesses. The question is, which is better for you and your business? As always, it boils down to the question of resources and the best use of them.
When it comes to business, I will almost always opt for standardized web app frameworks. The benefits they offer are simply too great to ignore:
- GAIN A PRODUCTIVITY BOOST as your team gains access to a standardized library and more comprehensive documentation, leading to more efficiency, rather than wrestling with the quirks of a bespoke approach.
- SCALE UP YOUR TEAM EASILY when increasing development capacity by having a wider pool of developmental resources and toolkits to choose from, rather than having to figure out a new set.
- REDUCE YOUR TRAINING TIME by leveraging standardized web application frameworks that are already established, reducing the need for intricate training for a bespoke framework, speeding up learning.
- INCREASE YOUR SECURITY and reduce potential headaches by using standardized development frameworks that already have security accreditation and save time on multiple, extensive, and costly penetration tests.
It’s easy to see why so many of us are tempted by in-house web application frameworks. There’s plenty of allure when they are cheaper to produce, easier to work with, and built directly around whatever specific needs you might have.
However, when it goes wrong, all those benefits can and do tend to blow up horribly, and your head will be on the chopping block. With a standardized commercial product, you miss out on the original benefits. Still, you gain a world in security, documentation, and options – not to mention a helpdesk with emergency support for those hairy times will always be a simple phone call away.
However, there is a third way. Why go binary when you can enjoy a hybrid approach that brings the best of both worlds together: a custom web app framework developed with the rigor of a standardized web app.
Umbric is a world-recognized expert in the space. Together with our long list of client references, our extensive experience makes us the first choice for many. Our role is simple: to take your business’ requirements and develop a secure, scalable, and functionally rich custom web application complete with full documentation and support.
Got problems? We’ve got the solutions. Pick a time on our calendar today to find out how we can help you to succeed with your custom web app framework.
About Umbric Data Services
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