The Case for 'Going Green': What is a Greenfield Project?

The Case for
Blog Feature

innovation  |  Technology  |  Digital Transformation  |  Cloud & Hybrid

You may have done an audit recently and seen or heard the term “greenfield project” tossed around when discussing new software solutions. Whether you’re ready to make your systems more cloud-compatible or are looking to delve into unexplored territory, a greenfield project might be just the right fit for you. We’re going to take a look at the parameters of a greenfield project and help you understand the benefits, risks, and potential impact it can have on your business.



What We’ll Cover: 

  1. The definitions of a "greenfield project” vs. “brownfield project.” 
  2. Examples in the IT space. 
  3. Benefits and risks of starting a greenfield project. 
  4. Should you start a greenfield project? 



Greenfield vs. Brownfield: Defining the Difference 

greenfield project, or greenfield software development, describes a brand-new project developed from scratch. These projects don’t rely on any existing code, use minimal to no established infrastructure, and don't need to fit any particular mold. According to TechTerms, “Greenfield is a term from the construction industry that refers to undeveloped land." 


Greenfield projects usually: 

  • Are flexible
  • Allow for innovation
  • Require much more collaboration
  • Benefit from an Agile development methodology


A brownfield project, or brownfield software development, however, describes building on "already developed land” — developing a software solution utilizing existing code. These projects are usually intended to update existing systems, improve infrastructure without starting over, and fix issues with separate technologies.


Brownfield projects usually: 

  • Have more constraints
  • Have limited room to innovate
  • Include major system updates
  • Fall victim to a Waterfall development model 



Greenfield Project Examples

A true greenfield project is rarer than a brownfield project, as most often, there’s going to be some legacy code that will impact development.

Here are just a few situations where greenfield development might apply to meet the desired end product:


  • John is launching his business but doesn’t have a web presence just yet. He needs to set up a website with e-commerce capabilities that will allow for easy updates in the future. 


  • Alice is finding that her customers wished her business had a mobile app they could use instead of visiting her website. She wants to create a slick, new app that will improve her customer experience. 


  • Bill is finding that his company would greatly benefit from moving their systems to the Cloud. Currently, his company has almost all of their data stored on local servers, so he knows they’ll need to build a new infrastructure to support the move.  


  • Lindsay is exhausted from how out of date her company’s systems are. They can't communicate with each other, and are extremely slow. The systems are now at a point where she is prepared to call them “unusable” and is ready to start fresh. 


An easy way to contrast these examples and look at them through the lens of brownfield development would be to say that all of these systems currently exist for John, Alice, Bill, and Lindsay, but they need significant updates that rely on what’s already established.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that brownfield development is worse than greenfield, it just means that the process in which the development is done and the required constraints tend to be more rigid.



Risks and Benefits of Greenfield Projects 

Both greenfield and brownfield development have their applications, and one might not be the best option for the solution you need. Depending on your requirements, either building on existing systems or creating something brand new may be more valuable. Let’s break down some of the specific risks and benefits associated with greenfield projects: 


The Risks 

Custom and new software can be daunting. It’s important to understand the intent and your goals when starting a greenfield project. Without a stream of collaboration, you could find yourself focused on the wrong features or losing scope of the value it provides your customers.  


The best way to mitigate this risk is developing within an Agile framework. Agile ensures a continuous line of communication and is designed to catch mistakes and pivot fast. This can also help you build out a minimal viable product (MVP) and put it in front of customers to get valuable feedback faster. 


The Benefits 

As we touched on earlier, greenfield development offers you unmatched freedom and flexibility. This means that you can develop a solution with the features you or your customers specifically need. A completely new system that’s developed independently means that it doesn’t have to support old features, version compatibility, or out of date files. A greenfield project also benefits from not requiring the developers to have deep knowledge of an existing system to know how to update or fix it.



Greenfield Projects and You 

The question to ask yourself is, what are you hoping to accomplish with your technology strategy? Do your initiatives require integrating current systems or software built from scratch? Is it worth pushing out a large content update for an already archaic system, or is it more valuable to start over and drill down to understand what you are looking for and what the pain points might be? Freedom and flexibility are both exciting and desirable — but only when you have the right development team to support you. 



That’s where we can help. If you’re ready to take the next step with your technology and discover what’s possible, let’s start talking strategy. We’ll get to know your organization, your goals, and your existing tech infrastructure before mapping the journey to your moonshot so you can reach your greatest potential.

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