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Technical Debt: A Management Problem That Requires a Management Solution

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Technical Debt: A Management Problem That Requires a Management Solution

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The primary cause of technical debt in your organization is very likely your managers – not your programmers nor your architects. The management desire to be “on time and on budget” often motivates deployment of poor-quality assets and rarely leaves room for investment in long-term quality. Although technical professionals may readily realize this problem managers often do not, or if they do they don’t view technical debt as a priority. It is time for a change.

This presentation explores the root causes of technical debt within organizations, many of which trace back to the management mindset and the strategies that result from it. Just like the technical challenges of addressing technical debt must be addressed by technical solutions, the management challenges of technical debt must be addressed by management solutions. It works through how to make leadership aware of technical debt and its implications, how to evolve your management practices to avoid and address technical debt, and enterprise-level strategies to embed technical debt thinking and behaviors into your culture. Results from industry research are shared throughout.

The primary cause of technical debt in your organization is very likely your managers – not your programmers nor your architects. The management desire to be “on time and on budget” often motivates deployment of poor-quality assets and rarely leaves room for investment in long-term quality. Although technical professionals may readily realize this problem managers often do not, or if they do they don’t view technical debt as a priority. It is time for a change.

This presentation explores the root causes of technical debt within organizations, many of which trace back to the management mindset and the strategies that result from it. Just like the technical challenges of addressing technical debt must be addressed by technical solutions, the management challenges of technical debt must be addressed by management solutions. It works through how to make leadership aware of technical debt and its implications, how to evolve your management practices to avoid and address technical debt, and enterprise-level strategies to embed technical debt thinking and behaviors into your culture. Results from industry research are shared throughout.

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Technical Debt: A Management Problem That Requires a Management Solution

  1. 1. TECHNICAL DEBT A MANAGEMENT PROBLEM THAT REQUIRES A MANAGEMENT SOLUTION Scott Ambler Vice President & Chief Scientist, Disciplined Agile Project Management Institute @scottwambler Copyright Project Management Institute © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 1
  2. 2. Scott Ambler © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 2 pmi.org/disciplined-agile Co-creator of Disciplined Agile VP & Chief Scientist, Disciplined Agile at PMI Twitter: @scottwambler linkedin.com/in/sambler/
  3. 3. Agenda © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 3 • What is technical debt? • What causes technical debt? • How do management behaviors affect technical debt? • Talking with management about technical debt • What mindset shifts need to occur to properly address technical debt? • How can management behavior change so as to reduce and avoid technical debt while still achieving their other outcomes? • Learn more
  4. 4. Technical debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 4
  5. 5. What is Technical Debt? Technical debt is the accumulation of defects, quality issues (such as difficult to read code or low data quality), poor architecture, and poor design in existing solutions © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 5
  6. 6. Technical debt occurs in many places • Architecture • Automated tests • Build infrastructure • Code • Data/database • Documentation • Operational infrastructure • Service/process • Skills/people © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 6
  7. 7. PMI 2021 Technical Debt Survey © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 7 166responses October 11 to November 29, 2021 25% of firms take on technical debt intelligently 3% of firms indicate addressing technical debt as their #1 priority 61% of firms indicate addressing technical debt as their lowest priority 28%non-management, 37% project management, 35% senior management
  8. 8. © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 8 Highly Agree Highly Disagree Agree Disagree Neutral The “Good News” Our IT leadership understands the implications of technical debt. I am empowered to act appropriately regarding technical debt. Our project managers understand the implications of technical debt. Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  9. 9. © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 9 Highly Agree Highly Disagree Agree Disagree Neutral The Bad News I believe that most technical debt in my organization is taken on intentionally with a realistic plan to address it later. I believe technical debt reduces my organization’s ability to act. I believe my organization has an effective strategy in place to address technical debt. Our non-IT leadership understands the implications of technical debt. Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  10. 10. What Causes Technical Debt? © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 10
  11. 11. Why Does Technical Debt Occur? • Business pressures • Lack of process • Lack of alignment of implementation to requirements • Lack of architectural thinking • Lack of a regression test suite • Lack of documentation • Lack of collaborative development • Poorly coordinated parallel development • Delayed refactoring • Lack of alignment to standards • Lack of knowledge • Lack of effective governance © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 11 Source: Reworked from Wikipedia Caused by management Influenced by management Technical
  12. 12. Management Behaviors and Technical Debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 12
  13. 13. The Management “Iron Triangle” © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 13 On Budget Quality On Time To Specification • If you insist on building something “on time, on budget, to specification” then quality will suffer (technical debt increases) • Therefore, at least one of those three factors must be allowed to vary • Better yet, more than once should be allowed to vary • Agile iron triangle: scope must vary • Elastic triangle: all three factors vary
  14. 14. FACT: Being forced to “deliver on time” motivates development teams to take quality short cuts © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 14
  15. 15. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Non-Mgmt Project Mgmt Senior Mgmt Personal Belief: Which is more important, delivering on time or addressing technical debt Being On Time Both are Equal Addressing Tech Debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 15 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  16. 16. FACT: Being forced to “deliver on budget” motivates development teams to take quality short cuts © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 16
  17. 17. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Non-Mgmt Project Mgmt Senior Mgmt Personal Belief: Which is more important, being on/under budget or addressing technical debt Being On/Under Budget Both are Equal Addressing Tech Debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 17 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  18. 18. FACT: There is a direct trade-off between investing in new functionality and in paying down technical debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 18
  19. 19. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Non-Mgmt Project Mgmt Senior Mgmt Personal Belief: Which is more important, adding new functionality or addressing technical debt Adding New Functionality Both are Equal Addressing Tech Debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 19 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  20. 20. Talking With Management About Technical Debt © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 20
  21. 21. FACT: You are more likely to convince someone when you relate your message to what they believe to be important © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 21
  22. 22. Talking with Senior Management Their Focus* Your Message © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 22 *Source: PMI’s Global Megatrends 2022 Report Digital disruption (rapid change) Demographic shifts (aging workforce) Economic shifts (resilience) Labor shortages Better quality enables swift response Poor quality is brittle Better quality is easier to evolve Nobody wants to work in technical sewage
  23. 23. Technical Debt Quadrant © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 23 Reckless Prudent Deliberate Inadvertent “We don’t have time for architecture” “We don’t have time for design” “We must ship now and deal with the consequences later” “What is layering?” “What are design patterns?” “Now we know how we should have done it” Source: Martin Fowler As an organization, we must be strategic about how we take on technical debt.
  24. 24. Talking with Project Management Their Focus Your Message © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 24 Source: PMI’s Global Megatrends 2022 Report We need to deliver on time We need to be on budget We need to deliver new functionality It is faster to work with high-quality assets It is easier to extend high-quality assets It is cheaper to work with high-quality assets
  25. 25. Technical Debt Quadrant: Warning! © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 25 Reckless Prudent Deliberate Inadvertent “We don’t have time for architecture” “We don’t have time for design” “We must ship now and deal with the consequences later” “What is layering?” “What are design patterns?” “Now we know how we should have done it” Source: Martin Fowler “Dealing with the consequences later” = not a problem for this project
  26. 26. FACT: Some people find metaphors easier to understand and remember © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 26
  27. 27. The Financial Debt Metaphor We take on financial debt because we want something now that we don’t have sufficient funds to pay for. We take on technical debt because we want functionality now that we don’t have the time or money to build properly now. © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 27 Just like carrying some financial debt makes sense, so does carrying some technical debt. Be very smart about it.
  28. 28. The Anchor Metaphor Too much technical debt is like having an anchor tied to us, reducing our ability to move. Our assets are brittle, hard to understand, and difficult to evolve. © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 28 Excessive technical debt holds us back.
  29. 29. Shifting Our Mindset © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 29
  30. 30. The Disciplined Agile Mindset The Way of Thinking for Enterprise Agility © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 30
  31. 31. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Non-Managers Project Managers Senior Managers What is the most important priority in my organization? Address Tech Debt New Functionality On or under budget Deliver on time © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 31 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  32. 32. 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% Non-Managers Project Managers Senior Managers What is the least important priority in my organization? Address Tech Debt New Functionality On or under budget Deliver on time © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 32 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  33. 33. Towards True Predictability © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 33 On Budget Quality On Time To Specification The Traditional “Iron Triangle” Value Regular releases Invest wisely What stakeholders need The Disciplined Agile “Elastic Triangle”
  34. 34. Shifting Management Behavior © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 34
  35. 35. Highly disagree 25% Disagree 30% Neutral 18% Agree 20% Highly agree 7% I believe that most technical debt in my organization is taken on intentionally with a realistic plan to address it later © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 35 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  36. 36. Technical Debt Quadrant: Management Implications © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 36 Reckless Prudent Deliberate Inadvertent “We don’t have time for architecture” “We don’t have time for design” “We must ship now and deal with the consequences later” “What is layering?” “What is data normalization?” “Now we know how we should have done it” Source: Martin Fowler Invest in educating your staff Invest in more effective processes Reduce risk via technical spikes and minimum viable products (MVP) Make this decision strategically
  37. 37. What forms of technical debt are you measuring? 29% 30% 31% 34% 34% 40% 45% 56% 79% Service/process Skills/people Operational infrastructure Build infrastructure Documentation Data/database Test automation Architecture Code © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 37 Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey What gets measured gets improved
  38. 38. Parting Thoughts © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 38
  39. 39. Challenges • Business often doesn’t understand technical debt • Business wants new functionality • Time-to-market concerns are often allowed to override long-term sustainability concerns • Acceptance of technical debt is typically the result of short-term tactical thinking, not long- term strategic thinking © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 39
  40. 40. Technical Debt Requires a Culture Change • Make technical debt awareness part of your culture • Educate people in technical debt and the implications of it • Help people recognize the tradeoffs that they’re making • Communicate, communicate, communicate © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 40
  41. 41. Make Addressing Technical Debt a Priority © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 41 Adding new functionality 31% Being on or under budget 15% Addressing technical debt 3% Delivering on time 51% What is the most important priority in my organization? Adding new functionality 11% Being on or under budget 22% Addressing technical debt 61% Delivering on time 6% What is the least important priority in my organization? Source: PMI’s 2021 Technical Debt Survey
  42. 42. © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 42
  43. 43. Thank You! © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 43 pmi.org/disciplined-agile • Twitter: @scottwambler • linkedin.com/in/sambler/
  44. 44. Call to Action: Learn more about Disciplined Agile Copyright © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. PMI.org/disciplined-agile • Intro to agile and lean • Understand the extensive options in the DA toolkit • Improve at personal and team level • Enterprise-class agile • Lead improvement at team(s) level • Lead improvement across disparate teams • Lead improvement across value streams and organization 44
  45. 45. BACKUP SLIDES FOR MORE INFORMATION: WWW.PMI.ORG/DISCIPLINED-AGILE FEBRUARY 3, 2022 Disciplined Agile Overview © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 45
  46. 46. Technical Debt Avoidance Strategies Detailed up-front architecture modeling Team members trained in technical debt Team works with Enterprise Architects Team includes Architecture Owner/Agile Architect Tech debt considered when designing Lightweight up-front architecture 12% 16% 19% 39% 49% 53% © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. Source: SA+A 2015 Q1 Agile State of the Art Survey 46
  47. 47. Learn more about Disciplined Agile © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 47 Basics of Disciplined Agile online course • An eight-module, self-paced and scenario-based introduction to how Disciplined Agile works. • PMI.org/da-basics Agile Certification • PMI.org/certifications/agile-certifications • PMI.org/learning/training-development/authorized-training-partners/find Books • PMI members can download the Choose Your WoW book from PMI.org/disciplined-agile/books/dad-handbook Websites • DA hub: PMI.org/disciplined-agile • Blogs: ProjectManagement.com/blogs/
  48. 48. PMI’s Agile Certification Journey PMI.org/certifications/agile-certifications © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 48
  49. 49. 49 © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved.
  50. 50. T H I N K I N G P O I N T How to read a process goal diagram © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved. 50
  51. 51. Some Organizations using Disciplined Agile 51 © Project Management Institute. All rights reserved.

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