Greenfields are a Myth

The idea of a “greenfield” environment makes sense at first blush. It describes a pristine environment that has no existing dependencies. A blank slate that awaits the stroke of an artist’s brush. In tech, it generally means that you’re not going to have to migrate old things to work with new things.

It would be logical to then ask – what is the point of describing an environment as greenfield (everything is new) versus a “brownfield” (there are existing constructs). Do you approach the two differently? Are there different rules for how you design for one and not the other?

And therein lays the problem. Greenfields are entirely mythical.

An interesting concept, perhaps, but entirely false in application and without any differentiation in architectural models.

Humor me.

Greenfield thinking creates silos

People. Systems. Things.

They are always there. But technologists love to create things like greenfields to sort of obviate the “business” away from their domain.

It means that I consistently run into engineers who think in the binary of greenfield or brownfield. One set of thinking versus another. It’s what they are taught and something found all over the Interwebs.

This assumption carries technologists to believe “there was nothing here before, therefore the rules are different.” This is both illogical and damaging to the success of programs designed to create value through technology. Because it’s insular and isolated! It limits the sightline to only what exists in something like a cloud account or database.

Models don’t care about field colors

I propose a different approach.

  • Learn the models and frameworks that are used to build great environments. Models like the 12FA consider what it takes to make a great design using core fundamentals.
  • Accept that all environments have some level of dependencies and operational / technical debt as part of an imperfect system. Look at the system as a whole. As a series of loops. Then, optimize it.
  • If it takes 1X energy to develop something new, it takes 4X the energy to fully enable people to use it. (Change management is the most commonly underfunded investment when compared to ROI)

Significant effort is required to transition from potential energy to kinetic energy. Change is not free. Many just ignore this part of a strategic design for environments they consider to be greenfield. It’s a trap!

The nuance is in the change

We live in an era where systems are highly connected and dependent upon one another to operate. Nothing makes this more obvious than situations where the global machine breaks down.

Therefore, any environment with existing systems (technology) and systems operators (people) have connections and dependencies present. There is no reason to design as if this wasn’t the truth.

Design everything with the knowledge that the containing systems you come up with will ultimately need to be absorbed, understood, and leveraged by systems operators. This requires energy – people, plans, alignment, enablement, communications – and energy is not infinite nor free. Operators will resist the change if they don’t feel it is aligned to their success.

I would argue that change is the hardest part for which to design.

Because greenfields are a myth.


Peace ✌