In the world of urban planning, greenfield refers to any land without pre-existing development.  In software development, greenfield means developing software in a completely new environment, with no existing legacy code. In e-commerce, a greenfield project might then refer to a project launching a completely new product or in an entirely new market.

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What does Greenfield mean?

Greenfield projects refer to software development in a completely new environment where developers work on a clean slate. The implementation of the business strategy is done from scratch. There is no limit, structural constraint, or legacy code that the developers need to take into consideration. Of course, the complete freedom that greenfield projects offer implies that developers work in the dark. They don’t know how the system might behave or whether it will be helpful or accepted by the target audience.

The most classic example of a greenfield project is when starting a business. There, product owners materialize a new idea into code, and all the options are open. With running companies, pure greenfield projects are rare since new applications must ensure basic compatibility with existing services and legacy code.

The names greenfield and brownfield originate from an analogy in the construction world.

The greenfield approach for software development is contrasted with the brownfield approach. In the brownfield software development methodology, coders use an existing software structure and count with legacy code to guide their implementations. Brownfield projects usually imply a major change in a current system, like redeveloping an application or significantly upgrading existing software.

The names greenfield and brownfield originate from an analogy in the construction world. A greenfield construction project is one in which the architects and engineers design a building on green land, with no facilities on the site and therefore without constraints. In contrast, in a brownfield project, architects and engineers face the challenges of giving existing structures a new purpose, tearing down what is not useful, and adding additional rooms or spaces where needed.

Greenfield Definition
Greenfield is a software development methodology that creates software from scratch. The greenfield approach is considered more flexible but also more complex. In opposition, the brownfield software development methodology is the one where software is developed within an existing and constraining predefined structure.
Spryker’s platform approach for greenfield implementations

Minimum Viable Product & Greenfield Approach

If companies need to develop a greenfield project, the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) approach is a beneficial complementary methodology. This approach consists in designing the simplest prototype of software application that encapsulates the business proposition and focusing on developing that. From there, coders work successively on small changes and iterate to include new features or presentations. This workflow enables developers and business strategists to detect as early as possible if their ideas adjust to how the product works in reality and detect any unexpected problems.

The MVP approach is an excellent way of reducing the complexity of greenfield projects. Distilling the core ideas from projects into Minimum Viable Products help teams to get a clear direction of where they should start. Then, additional features are added orderly and progressively. This approach encourages constant experimentation and testing, increasing the success probability of any implementation.

Greenfield vs Brownfield: Advantages and Disadvantages

  • Greenfield advantages

    Greenfield development provides total flexibility for implementing state-of-the-art software without the constraints of legacy code. This, in turn, enables the creation of a coherent system from scratch without being limited to prior dependencies, structures, or notions of how the processes should work. Such approach avoids the risk of patchwork and does not require compatibility with older versions of the systems nor does it have to include previous features. Therefore, there is no struggling with expectations of users used to a particular system’s functioning.

  • Greenfield disadvantages

    Greenfield approach implies that developers don’t have previous knowledge guiding them in the conception and design of the product. Designing an entire system from a clean slate can imply a high degree of complexity and prove very time-consuming. Expectations and reality about market needs and reception might be far from each other. Several iterations of the product might be necessary to finetune the usability of features.

  • Brownfield advantages

    The brownfield approach to development involves working with existing software, providing developers with a clear starting point that reduces the uncertainty and gives a more precise direction. If preexisting software needs to be modified, developers usually have a good idea of its shortcomings and the problems they must address. The brownfield approach tends to be less resource intensive since less needs to be done to run the software. New features are created on top of an existing system.

  • Brownfield disadvantages

    The brownfield approach to development requires developers to have a thorough knowledge of the existing software, and good documentation is necessary, although not always provided. The existing business logic or software structure can become a significant obstacle to innovation by pulling the center of gravity to what there is instead of what could be done. Brownfield development can risk becoming a temporary solution that prevents more extensive changes.

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