Non-strategic technical debt is technical debt that appears in the asset without strategic purpose. We tend to introduce non-strategic technical debt by accident, or as the result of urgency, or from changes in standards, laws, or regulations—almost any source other than asset-related engineering purposes. In this group of posts I examine a variety of precursors of non-strategic technical debt that are not directly related to technology. Sources of these precursors include:
- Communication between and among people
- Organizational policies relating to job assignments
- Cognitive biases
- Performance management policy
- Incentive structures
- Organizational structures
- Contract language
- …and approaches to dealing with budget depletion.
I use the term precursor instead of cause because none of these conditions leads to technical debt inevitably. From the perspective of the policymaker, we can view these conditions as risks. It’s the task of the policymaker to devise policies that manage these risks.
McConnell has classified technical debt in a framework that distinguishes responsible forms of technical debt from other forms [McConnell 2008]. Briefly, we incur some technical debt strategically and responsibly, and we retire it when the time is right. We incur other technical debt for other reasons, some of which are inconsistent with enterprise health and wellbeing.
The distinction is lost on many. Unfortunately, most technical debt is non-strategic. We would have been better off if we had never created it. Or if we had retired it almost immediately. In any case we should have retired it long ago.
It’s this category of non-strategic technical debt that I deal with in this group of posts. Although all technical debt is unwelcome, we’re especially interested in non-strategic technical debt, because it is usually uncontrolled. In these posts I explore the non-technical mechanisms that lead to formation of non-strategic technical debt. Schedule pressure is one exception. Because it’s so important, it deserves a thread of its own. I’ll address it later.
Common precursors of non-strategic technical debt
Here are some of the more common precursors of non-strategic technical debt.
- Failure to communicate the technical debt concept
- Failure to communicate long-term business strategy
- Technological communication risk
- Team composition volatility
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect
- Unrealistic definition of “done”
- Self-sustaining knowledge deficits during contract negotiations
- Incentives and performance management
- Work-to-rule deliveries
- Stovepiping: Separation of responsibility for efforts that could share capabilities
- Stovepiping: Separation of responsibility for maintenance and acquisition
- Featurism: Unbalanced concern for capability vs. maintainability and extensibility
- Unrealistic optimism: the planning fallacy and the n-person prisoner’s dilemma
- Confirmation bias
- Budget depletion
- Contract restrictions
I’ll be adding posts on these topics, so check back often, or subscribe to receive notifications when they’re available.
Available at: www.construx.com/Page.aspx?cid=2801 Retrieved November 10, 2017.
- Non-technical precursors of non-strategic technical debt
- How performance management systems can contribute to technical debt
Available: here Retrieved: December 20, 2017.