Is Technical Debt Strangling Your Department and Your Career?


September 27, 2022
11:06 am

“It just feels like most of the time, we are trying to crawl up a muddy hill while people push boulders from the top at us.”  

A developer speaking about tech debt

Pat, a director of a team of software developers, cried out with dismay. “What do you mean that technical debt is strangling me more than I know?”

Pat had already laid out all the reasons technical debt was a bane to the entire organization’s existence. Here is Pat’s list of facts:

  • In this one area of the system, it causes problems in an entirely different area if we make a change.
  • In other parts of the system, the new features did not fit the current design – this shouted out for a fresh approach. There was no time for a re-design, so the team just “made it work.”  Now making changes in that Frankenstein area is a nightmare.
  • Refactoring is absolutely required in another dozen areas
  • The business side of the work doesn’t want us wasting time fixing things that already work.
  • At the same time, the business side keeps asking for more complex features.  And the business wants them faster.

Pat concluded his facts list with exasperation, quoting one of his developers: “It just feels like most of the time, we are trying to crawl up a muddy hill while people push boulders from the top at us. When I take the time to think about it, I just get angry.”

All of the points made were accurate. Although each point sounded extreme, what they lacked was the data to make it clear how severe the technical debt problem was.

Do You Spend Your Time in “Create” Or “Waste”?

The technical debt problem is vividly represented in this picture. The green in the picture is the creative side of the work that engineers love to do. It is figuring out the real user needs through user stories. It is building designs to solve complex challenges. It is writing the code that will implement solutions.

The red in this picture is waste. The effort does not add to the value side of the equation. This is time lost to doing rework for quality issues. This is time clambering up muddy hills because you are trying to build an eloquent solution on a pile of s…, well, sand.  Working in those pieces of code sucks the joy out of work.

At Exceptional Difference, we have worked with 1000s of people around the world in various industries, including financial services, space projects, defense projects, information technology companies, consumer sales systems, navigation, and more.

We studied where engineers spent their time in all of these companies.  We examined how much time they spent in the creative areas versus where they spent time in rework, where they spent time dealing with technical debt issues.

And although each team is unique in their work and how they do it, we found that all the teams share these technical debt problems.  On average, these companies lost 65% of their development time. In other words, their development teams lost all that time to rework and technical debt issues.

You Could Be Doing Something Useful, Rewarding, and Meaningful 

Technical debt is strangling you because you could be more productive. You could be spending more time in joy of creating outstanding solutions to complex problems if you were not carrying the lead weights while slipping in the mud. Your whole team would be faster without boulders rolling down the hill at you. Without tech debt, your career would be on rocket sleds because of your accomplishments.

Pat now understood why I said it was worse than he or the team knew.

Start the Path to Better: Get Your Own Data

Pat wanted to know how much time was lost to waste for their team and, more importantly, if he and the team could do anything about it.  Pat wanted to see if it was 65% for their team or even worse.

Pat started by doing a technical debt self-assessment.  Pat and the team determined they were spending 70% of their time in the red, 70% of time wasted due to technical debt.

Pat showed their data to the product owners and business stakeholders. Everyone agreed it was time to do something different.

What would your data say?

Do Something Amazing: Do a Jaw-Dropping Proof of Concept

Pat’s team immediately signed up for Exceptional Difference Technical Debt Deep Dive(™).  (Click here to learn more about this offering.)

One of the vital first steps of the technical debt deep dive is to get engineers and business people excited about what is possible.  Exceptional Difference guided the team to pick a technical debt item and do a jaw-dropping proof of concept.

Pat’s team picked an item that would take only three days to refactor completely. That sounds small, but it was a piece of debt that all developers had complained about for the last three years.  And didn’t do anything about over the previous three years.

Exceptional Difference provided what the team needed to get started. The team determined that every time they touched this debt, it cost them an additional five days above how long it would. Why bother?

But, the team typically had to change this area 30 times a year. 

In 3 days, they removed that debt with a clean design. It saved them seven days of effort every time they had to work in that area.  With the improvement completed, they found they had rescued 210 days of people days in the next year from being wasted by technical debt.

That is a jaw-dropping, foot-stomping, yell-out-loud achievement.  It sounds too good to be accurate, but it was true. The team knew it was true because they now had the time to amaze clients with new, highly valued features.  

And that was just the beginning of their experience in the Technical Debt Deep Dive.

Get Better Fast:  Talk to Experts Who Have Stomped Tech Debt Flat

Do you ever feel like you are trying to take three steps forward, and then technical debt drags you four steps back?

Do you feel the clammy hands of technical debt on the throat of your productivity?

Do as Pat did. Set up time with the experts at Exceptional Difference. The XD experts can lead you through their free 1-hour Technical Debt Exceptional Assessment(™).  You will walk away with some ideas you can use right away. You will know how to convince others around you to invest in going faster by cleaning up the debt.

Do the future you a favor. SCHEDULE YOUR Technical Debt Exceptional Assessment NOW.

Alan Willett