As an executive, you know that, by quickly delivering innovative, high-value-added features, you gain new customers and market share from your competitors.
All too often releases take longer and longer to deliver after the initial product launch. Production errors mount. Team morale and user satisfaction drops. Maintenance costs explode. Time-to-market increases. Developers quit. Engineering starts to talk about a ‘rewrite’ because it would be cheaper than fixing the existing system. This is the impact technical debt can have.
A great example of this is Netscape, which in 1996 had an 80% market share for internet browsers. However, considerable technical debt had accumulated and they decided to rewrite the browser from scratch. It took almost three years. At that time, Microsoft arrived on the market with Internet Explorer, and the development team could not compete with their development speed. In 2002, Netscape had only 2% market share.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Technical debt, like financial debt, is not a problem so long as it is managed properly. The Agile Alliance Technical Debt Initiative provides executives with insights and tools based on the OODA Loop.
Technical debt is invisible. It is important that your teams are not sacrificing future opportunities by building technical debt now. Ask your product managers and teams to provide measures of technical debt for the products and services you build.
When exploring new markets, accruing some technical debt is a prudent approach. Once products are in production and delivering value, reducing technical debt will be crucial to maintaining continuous value delivery to your customers. End-of-life products may not warrant investments in technical debt reduction. It is important that product managers have a technical debt strategy tuned to the business context of their products and services.
There should be clear decisions made on a per-product basis. Ask your product managers what is being done to address technical debt for each product or service.
Recognize and promote that having high-quality software increases your organization’s ability to effectively respond to market demand. Ask your product manager and teams what they are doing right now to deal with technical debt.