Technical Debt Quick Start Guide For Executives

Added to Technology

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 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 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. In that time, Microsoft arrived on the market with Internet Explorer, 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.

 

Observe

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.

 

Orient

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 your products and services.

 

Decide

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.

 

Act

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.

 

About the Authors

Jean-Louis Letouzey is the author of the SQALE method for managing technical debt. Jean-Louis consults to the world’s leading organizations for the implementation of corporate solutions for managing technical debt. He is also frequently embedded in due diligence teams for assessing the technical debt of the acquired software. Jean-Louis is a frequent technical speaker at international conferences. He leads the Technical Debt Initiative of the Agile Alliance

Declan Whelan, declan@leanintuit.com. Declan is an agile consultant, co-founder of Leanintuit and a director at the Agile Alliance. Declan works with organizations to improve their products and services through agile and lean practices. His personal mission is to change the conversation around technical debt. Rather than viewing is a technical problem to be fixed we need to view it as valuable feedback of the health of our organizations. We can use these health checks to improve our product and service delivery.

Thierry Coq is a Principal Consultant and Surveyor in Systems and Software Reliability (SSR) at DNV GL (merger of “Det Norske Veritas” and “Germanischer Lloyd”). He is a Systems and Software Architect, Functional Safety Professional, Project Manager and Process Appraiser. He is and has been involved in large multi-site projects, in different industries: Aerospace, Nuclear, Automotive, Energy and Maritime. He has a drive on improving organizations’ and project teams’ processes efficiency and speed with a focus on reliability and safety, with an excellent understanding of deep technical issues. He is a co-author of the Integrated Software-Dependent System (ISDS) Recommended Practice and Offshore Standards published by DNVGL. He has participated in the construction of the SQALE software quality assessment method with Jean-Louis Letouzey. He is the author of the book “Méthodes et informatique: Réussite du projet informatique par la méthode”, Lavoisier, 2012 (“Making software projects successful with method”) and has published many articles. Previously, he was new technology manager, project manager and engineer at engineering firms Q-Labs, Dassault Systems and CISI.

Jean-Pierre FAYOLLE is a French expat, located in Madrid and working as a freelance consultant in Software Quality and Customer Success Management. Prior to this, Jean-Pierre was Technical Director or Head of Applications and Development for different software companies or service providers, with ample experience in consulting and implementing software solutions for large international companies. Jean-Pierre holds a Master of Advanced Studies in Business Administration from the University of Lyon (France) and in Computing Management from the University of Quebec (Canada). He is the founder and main author of the blog Qualilogy (www.qualilogy.com), about Software Quality.

Tom Grant is an independent consultant (GameChange LLC) who help clients break through the barriers to successful software innovation. In his practice, he combines Agile, Lean, and serious games to change the rules of innovation when they're not working as well as they could. Tom has worked with a wide variety of clients, from Fortune 100 companies to start-ups, from IT to software companies. Some of Tom's areas of specialization include technical debt, Lean and Agile, management and leadership, Agile in highly regulated industries, requirements, tools, and frameworks. Tom's great passion is using serious games in Agile to get better customer insights, test strategies through simulated outcomes, adopt new practices and principles through experiential learning, and make smarter decisions. Tom is a contributor to the Agile Alliance's working group on technical debt. Previously, Tom has worked as practice director at Cutter Consortium, as a consultant at Net Objectives, and an analyst at Forrester Research. A native Californian, Tom now lives in Washington, DC.

Dan Sturtevant is the CEO of Silverthread, Inc., a leading provider of tools and services that help organizations regain control of software systems and drive results by focusing on design quality and its long term impact on long-term maintainability, agility, and cost. Based on R&D done at MIT and Harvard Business School, Silverthread helps organizations build insight and systematically improve so that systems can be delivered on time with high quality, and so they remain adaptable in the face of change. Dan earned his Doctorate from MIT, where he measured development productivity, quality, and risk in complex codebases. Prior to cofounding Silverthread, Dan spent many years in the software field building supercomputers used in aeronautical design simulation and developing defensive cyber warfare systems.

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