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Thursday, July 28 • 10:45am - 12:00pm
Technical Debt: OK, It's Bad. Now What Do We Do About It? (Tom Grant, Declan Whelan) POPULAR

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Everyone agrees that technical debt is a burden on software innovation that we would rather avoid, and certainly clean up whenever possible. However, in most organizations, people don't prevent technical debt nearly as much as they should, and they don't ever get the time to clean it up. Why, then, if there are clear incentives to deal with technical debt, is it a rampant problem?
In this session, we will focus on how to deal with technical debt on several levels, including the individual developer, the team, the software value stream, and the larger organization. While technical debt may manifest itself in a developer's IDE, the problem starts long before the developer decides to copy and paste some code, or creates an overly-complex and under-documented class. The pressures on teams and individuals to take on more debt than they should come from many sources. Therefore, the solutions to the technical debt problem must extend beyond the team.
As a result, this presentation will take a necessarily eclectic approach. Some of the highlights include the following:
  • An overview of technical debt. Why a little bit isn't necessarily bad, but why more than that can be awful. We will draw on various concepts from software economics in this section.
  • The triumph of short-term thinking. We will play a game, Dice Of Debt, that demonstrates the importance of making long-term investments in reducing debt. This game is always a highly effective starting point for discussion of the reasons why people get stuck in the short-term thinking that increases debt.
  • The steps required to deal with it, and the costs of both remediation and non-remediation. For this section, we will draw heavily on the work of the Agile Alliance's working group on technical debt, of which the speaker was a member and contributor.
  • The distorting effect of technical debt on the team and the value stream. Cynefin and other theories of complexity will be major elements in this part of the discussion. You may recognize the dysfunctions of your organization in this section.
As we discuss each of these dimensions, we will identify the strategies that have worked for teams fighting technical debt. For example, how can you use a simulation like Dice Of Debt, or the software economics of technical debt, to make a case to executives and middle managers that the investment in reducing debt is worth making?
Understanding technical debt as a concept, including its costs (15 minutes)
Exercise: Dice Of Debt (15 minutes)
Dealing with technical debt at multiple levels (30 minutes)
Individual developer
Value stream
Sources of help (5 minutes)
Q&A (10 minutes)
Tom Grant is Practice Director for Agile Product Management & Software Engineering Excellence at Cutter Consortium. He helps organizations use Agile, Lean, serious games, and other approaches to innovate better. He has experience working in and working with software organizations, both large and small. Tom lives in Washington, DC. Tom was a participating member of the Agile Alliance's technical debt initiative.
Declan Whelan is an agile developer, coach and trainer at Leanintuit. He helps organizations improve value delivery, quality and time­ to ­market through agile principles and practices. He is a director at the Agile Alliance and the founder of Agile Coach Camp Canada. He also serves as co­-director of the Technical Debt Initiative at the Agile Alliance.
Learning Outcomes:
  • Clear understanding of technical debt, including how people create it.
  • Survey of the reasons why technical debt accrues at a destructive rate.
  • Successful strategies for dealing with technical debt.

avatar for Tom Grant

Tom Grant

Founder, GameChange LLC
Tom Grant helps software professionals innovate more successfully, using a combination of Agile and serious games. Tom consults with clients about their Agile and Lean transformation strategies, while using serious games to increase the odds that these transformation efforts will... Read More →
avatar for Declan Whelan

Declan Whelan

Helping organizations improve value steams and their organizational structure.

Thursday July 28, 2016 10:45am - 12:00pm EDT