MPrin when standards or regulations change

Last updated on June 16th, 2021 at 02:36 pm

The MPrin of technical debt that forms as a result of a change in standards or regulations is the cost of bringing affected assets into compliance. It matters not whether the standards in question are internal to your organization or external. The conventional definition of the MPrin for this kind of technical debt includes only the cost of aligning to the new standards or regs, the assets directly affected. But the conventional definition is incomplete. If we account for all work properly, the MPrin should also include ripple effects. Ripple effects are the changes in other assets that we must perform to maintain compatibility with the assets affected directly by the change in standards or regs.

The phrase standards or regs is beginning to bother even me. I’ll switch to standards when I mean standards or regulations (or regs) except when I say so explicitly.

Cost drivers of changes in standards

A view of the left side guard on a truck operated by the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts
A view of the left side guard on a truck operated by the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Side guards prevent vulnerable road users (pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists) from being swept under trucks and crushed (and often killed) by the truck’s rear wheels. Cambridge has a pilot program affecting city-operated trucks, but Boston is requiring all contractors to install side guards. This change in regulations creates a technical debt for all truck operators whose vehicles lack side guards. [Volpe 2017] City of Cambridge photo courtesy U.S. Department of Transportation.

Aligning existing assets to new standards can have expensive consequences. We must include all costs in the calculation of MPrin. Unfortunately, some costs are often overlooked or accounted for in other ways. For example, testing might require a service interruption or product availability delays or interruptions. And that could entail a revenue stream delay or interruption. That lost revenue is certainly a consequence of the debt retirement effort.

Deferring retirement of this class of technical debt can expose the enterprise to the risk of MPrin growth in two ways. First, when we defer debt retirement, the number of instances of violations of the new standards can increase as we develop new assets in compliance with the obsolete standards. Second is the potential for increases in the number of ripple effect instances when we defer debt retirement. These instances arise from increases in the number of artifacts that require updating. The issue isn’t that they aren’t compliant with the new standards. Rather, it is that we must align them with the components we modify to comply with the new standards. In this way, MPrin at debt retirement time can greatly exceed the savings we realized when we first incurred the debt.

Last words

However, as with most technical debts, deferring retirement of this class of debt can sometimes be wise. For example, if the assets that bear the debt are about to be retired, the debt they carry vanishes when we retire those assets.

References

[Volpe 2017] Volpe National Transportation Systems Center. “Truck Side Guards Resource Page,” October 2017.

Available: here; Retrieved: November 22, 2017

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