MPrin when standards or regulations change

Last updated on October 15th, 2018 at 06:51 am

The MPrin of technical debt that’s incurred as a result of a change in standards or regulations, internal or external, is the cost of bringing all affected assets into full compliance. The conventional definition of the MPrin for this kind of technical debt includes only the cost of aligning the existing assets to the new standards or regs. Properly accounted for, however, the MPrin should include ripple effects, which are the changes in other assets that are required not directly by the change in standards or regs, but by the requirement that other assets 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 with the understanding that I mean standards or regulations (or regs) except when I say so explicitly.

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.

The activity required to align existing assets to the new standards can have expensive consequences, which must be included in the calculation of MPrin, but which, unfortunately, are often overlooked or accounted for in other ways. For example, the testing required by the standards alignment effort might require a service interruption or product availability delays or interruptions, which 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, of course, as new assets are developed in compliance with the obsolete standards. Second, and less obvious, perhaps, 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, not because they are not compliant with the new standards, but because they need to be made compatible with the components that are eventually modified to comply with the new standards. In this way, MPrin at debt retirement time can differ from — and greatly exceed — the savings realized when we first  incurred the debt.

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 technical debt they carry vanishes when those assets are retired.

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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