Case 3: Help desk operations

Last updated on July 7th, 2021 at 10:32 am

This case illustrates how a decision to incur technical debt in one part of an organization can burden others with the metaphorical interest charges (MICs) on that debt. To gain effective control of technical debt, hold accountable those who make the decisions that lead to incurring new debt.

Background

A tech support person at workDuring the troubles following release of UGI’s StrawIntoGold 1.0 product, the Help Desk operated by UGI’s Customer Service Department was inundated with calls. Customer Service alerted Engineering. Engineering provided an explanation and an estimated repair date to pass on to callers. But neither Engineering management nor Customer Service management provided a script for the representatives. Consequently, calls took approximately 15% longer to handle than they would have if with a script. Further, the message conveyed to customers wasn’t always clear or consistent. That resulted in some customers calling repeatedly with the same issue.

Discussion

We can view as incurring a technical debt the decision not to provide customer service representatives with a script. We can view as the metaphorical interest charges the extra time handling calls, the extra calls, and even a few lost customers. Because of the singular nature of this incident, it’s doubtful that anyone will write a script. But if someone were to do so, the cost of writing it, distributing it, and training all customer service representatives would be the metaphorical principal of this technical debt.

The policymaker’s perspective

UGI doesn’t have a means of holding accountable those who incurred the debt. In this case, the Customer Service function incurs additional expenses because Engineering and Customer Service elected not to develop a script.

Other components of the metaphorical interest charges include the total of lost sales, damage to UGI’s reputation, and possible loss of market share. Marketing could have stepped in to assist with limiting that damage. But because they viewed the problem as technical, they didn’t participate. A whole-enterprise perspective on managing the technical debt might have led to a collaboration among Engineering, Marketing, and Customer Service. That collaboration could help build better relationships with the customers who were affected by the incident.

Accounting properly for the MICs associated with technical debt can lead to a better understanding of its effects.

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