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What Really Goes Into Building Your Own Feature Flagging Tool?

Madison Maher


What Really Goes Into Building Your Own Feature Flagging Tool?

As more and more development teams decide to implement feature flags in their workflow, they’re often faced with choosing between building their own feature flags, or using an existing, third-party feature flagging tool.

Many developers often wonder "Why buy a feature flagging tool when we can just build one?" It's a valid question. You can build your own feature flags, and some teams choose to do so. But before you embark on building your own tool, it’s important to consider all of the elements that go into building a full-fledged feature flag management system on top of building your core product. 

Keep in mind that today we’re talking about what goes into building a full fledged feature flag management solution. Oftentimes, teams who choose to build their own feature flags merely build feature toggles (i.e. an on/off switch for their features) which are not synonymous with feature flags that also enable advanced user targeting, multiple variations of a feature, A/B testing, and so on. 

So, let’s see what really goes into building out a full fledged feature flag management solution:

Development Time

Building an in-house feature flag management solution requires a significant investment of time. You know, that thing that that your team never has enough of?

Believe it or not, building your own feature flag platform requires all the things that building your core product requires. From defining requirements to designing architecture, implementing functionality, thorough testing, documentation and support, you’re pretty much tasking your developers with building an entirely new product.

So, before deciding to build your own tool, make sure you’re okay with your developers reallocating their time from building and maintaining your core product, to building and maintaining your feature flagging platform. Consider whether the effort invested in building from scratch outweighs the benefits of using existing solutions.

Maintenance Costs and Time

Once your in-house tool is developed, it requires ongoing maintenance to ensure stability, security, and compatibility with evolving frameworks. Maintenance tasks, such as bug fixes, updates, and adapting to new technologies, demand dedicated resources. The costs and time associated with maintaining and supporting an in-house tool can quickly escalate. Is it worth diverting resources from core development efforts?

The Process of Onboarding New Developers 

Introducing a custom feature flag management tool to your development stack introduces a learning curve for new developers. Onboarding them effectively requires providing comprehensive documentation, training, and mentorship–all of which your team will have to build, of course. Consider whether the time and effort needed to bring new team members up to speed on an in-house tool outweigh the benefits of using a widely adopted, off-the-shelf solution.

Building Integrations

Your in-house tool will likely need to integrate with various tools and services in your development ecosystem, such as version control, deployment pipelines, and monitoring systems. 

And at first glance, building your own solution might seem like a great idea for integrations, since you can customize your platform to work with any tool you need. BUT building and maintaining these integrations can be complex and time-consuming. Third-party solutions often provide pre-built integrations, reducing the burden on your team. Is reinventing the wheel the best use of your resources?

Documentation and Knowledge Sharing 

Developing comprehensive documentation for an in-house tool is crucial for adoption and ongoing support. Creating user guides, API documentation, and troubleshooting resources requires dedicated effort. Keep in mind that widely adopted feature flagging tools usually have well-documented resources available, and a community of other uses to rely on. Consider the time and resources required to create and maintain documentation internally.

Wrapping Up

Ultimately, building an in-house feature flag management tool seems like an enticing idea to a lot of dev teams upon first glance. (Especially when that developer urge to build anything and everything they can takes over. We get it.)

But before making the decision to build your own solution, you should weigh the costs of development, maintenance, onboarding, integrations, and documentation against the benefits of using existing solutions. Exploring and evaluating third-party options can save you time, effort, and resources while providing a robust and proven feature flagging solution. Choose wisely and allocate your development efforts to the tasks that truly differentiate your product and drive value to your users.

At DevCycle, we know that the best way to evaluate if a tool is right for your team is to just jump in and start using it. Get started for free and see the power of feature flags today.

Written By

Madison Maher