Retiring localizable technical debt

Last updated on July 17th, 2021 at 06:53 am

Electricity pylons, Hamilton Beach, Ontario, Canada
Electricity pylons, Hamilton Beach, Ontario, Canada: a small part of the AC power grid, which seems destined one day to manifest a great deal of nonlocalizable technical debt. Photo by Ibagli courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Pylons in the same line are visible in Google Street View.

When technical debt appears as discrete chunks—when it’s localizable—we can often retire the debt incrementally. We can retire it system-by-system, module-by-module, or even instance-by-instance. These approaches offer great flexibility, both technically and financially. That makes retiring localizable technical debt a particularly manageable challenge.

Localizable technical debt

In “Technical debt in a rail system,” I explored the case of Amtrak’s Acela Express. In that example, I explained that Acela’s passenger cars can tilt to compensate for centrifugal forces that appear when the train rounds curves. The technical debt is in the form of tracks that are too close together to permit the trains to tilt as much as they’re designed to. That limits the trains’ speed rounding curves. The instances of this debt are the curves in which the tracks are too close together. These instances are thus inherently localizable.

In “Debt contagion: how technical debt can create more technical debt,” I described an example in which an organization is unable to upgrade its desktop computers from Windows 8 to Windows 10. In this case, each computer running Windows 8 is an instance of this form of technical debt.

Both of these examples illustrate localizable technical debt. Each instance is self-contained. We can “point” to it as an instance of the debt in question. But localizable technical debt need not be associated with hardware. In software systems, for example, localizable technical debt can exist in a module interface. If interface meets a requirement that’s no longer relevant, it might contain technical debt. That module and any other modules that interact with that interface therefore manifest that technical debt.

Nonlocalizable technical debt

Nonlocalizable technical debt is debt for which the instances are amorphous or system-wide. Or they span the bulk of the system, if not all of it. Retiring nonlocalizable technical debt typically requires extensive reengineering of the assets that manifest it.

For the most part, nonlocalizable technical debt arises at the level of system architecture or above. One can easily imagine this occurring in software systems, where physical constraints have little meaning. But let’s consider a hardware system to illustrate the importance of this concept.

An illustration of nonlocalizable technical debt

Until relatively recently in the United States, most electric power consumers used power for incandescent lamps, heating, or for electric motors. These applications are compatible with an alternating current power distribution system (AC grid). The AC grid is more efficient than an equivalent direct-current architecture (DC grid) when power generation plants are few and relatively distant from power load sites. The efficiency advantage is due to AC’s lower transmission losses compared to DC.

However, advances in electronics and in distributed power generation are eroding the advantages of the AC grid [Dragičević 2016]. Most electronic devices—phones, computers, rechargeable power tools, LED lighting, and electric vehicles—use DC internally. To access the AC grid, they change AC power into DC power, which entails efficiency losses.

Moreover, most renewable power generation systems generate DC inherently. Wind turbines generate AC at a frequency determined by wind power conversion efficiency, but they then convert it to DC before a second conversion to AC at the frequency of the AC grid. And because solar and wind power generators are geographically dispersed, they’re often situated near their load sites. Therefore, the losses due to transmission from generation site to load site are less important than they would be if the generation sites were few, concentrated, and at great distances from the loads they serve.

Our current AC grid architecture is likely to become a net disadvantage in the not-too-distant future. If that happens, we could come to regard the current AC grid as manifesting technical debt. The devices that are designed for the AC grid would also manifest that debt. However, localizing that debt in each device and each component of the AC grid would make little sense. The technical debt in question would reside in the grid architecture, as a whole. It would be inherently nonlocalizable.

Addressing localizable technical debt

As noted above, we can often retire localizable technical debt incrementally—instance-by-instance. In many cases, this enables engineers to address the debt at times and in sequences that are compatible with organizational priorities. By spreading the effort over time, the organization can ensure that costs are within the organization’s capacity in any given fiscal period. This isn’t always possible for localizable technical debt. And engineers are often justifiably averse to the temporary non-uniformity that results from incremental debt retirement. But exploiting localizability when planning debt retirement is often a useful strategy for retiring technical debt economically.

Temporary structures

Retiring localizable technical debt incrementally does present some problems. During the retirement process, for any given instance, temporary structures might be necessary to support continued operation with minimal service disruption. For example, with the Acela tracks, an alternate line might serve while the new track installation is in progress. Or the new track might follow a course at some distance from the existing track while trains continue using the existing track. Both approaches require investment beyond the investment required for the new track itself. Some managers have little appetite for such temporary investments. But temporary investments are in a real sense part of the MICs on that debt. They’re unusual in the sense that they’re part of the debt retirement effort, but they’re still MICs. In a way, they’re analogous to the charges that might appear when terminating an auto lease.

Entanglements of different kinds of technical debt

Another consideration when addressing localizable technical debt is its entanglement with other forms of technical debt. With respect to the effort to retire one kind of localizable technical debt, these other forms of technical debt are what I’ve called auxiliary technical debt (ATD). Consider carefully the time order of efforts to retire the localizable technical debt and one or more forms of its ATD. Because retiring localizable technical debt can seem deceptively straightforward, the temptation to deal with it before addressing some of the ATD can be difficult to resist. But dealing with some of the ATD first might actually be the wiser course. For example, when doing so eliminates numerous instances of the localizable technical debt, dealing with the ATD first can produce real savings.

One note of caution

Within the category of localizable technical debt are kinds of debt that are so widespread that retiring them affects a large part of the asset. Each instance of such debt might be identifiable and localized. But the instances are so widespread that they collectively have the properties of nonlocalizable debt. Incremental retirement might still be possible, but a more global retirement effort might be safer and less disruptive.

One approach technologists usually favor is suspending all other work while the debt in question undergoes retirement. While that approach might indeed be safest, all stakeholders must accept and understand the technical issues. And the technologists must understand the concerns of all stakeholders. A joint decision about the retirement strategy among all stakeholders, including technologists, is probably safest.

Last words

In the context of debt retirement projects, localizable technical debt provides needed flexibility. Often, the non-uniformity that results from retiring localizable technical debt instance-by-instance can be reduced before the debt retirement project is completed. In the meantime, the team can be relatively free to retire the localizable debt in whichever order is most fitting.

References

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

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Legacy technical debt retirement decisions

Last updated on July 15th, 2021 at 07:17 pm

Two alternatives to retiring legacy technical debt in irreplaceable assets
Two alternatives to retiring legacy technical debt in irreplaceable assets. Neither one works very well.

Some irreplaceable assets carry legacy technical debt. Although retiring an asset retires its technical debt, that option isn’t available for irreplaceable assets. We need another option. For irreplaceable assets, we need to find a way to retire the debt. As decision makers gather information and recommendations from around the organization, most will come to an unsettling conclusion. They’ll find that information and recommendations aren’t sufficient for making sound decisions about technical debt retirement. The issues are complex. Education is also needed. It’s entirely possible that in some organizations, the existing executive team might be out of its depth. To understand how this situation can arise, let’s explore the nature of legacy technical debt retirement decisions.

A common technical debt retirement scenario

What compels the leaders of a large enterprise to consider retiring the technical debt encumbering one of its irreplaceable assets is fairly simple: cost. Decision makers usually begin by investigating the cost of replacing the asset. This is the option I’ve cleverly called “Replace the Asset.” They then typically conclude that replacement isn’t affordable. At this point, many decision makers choose the option I’ve called “Do nothing.” Time passes. A succession of incidents occurs, in which teams attempt required repairs or enhancements of the asset. And I use the term required here to mean “essential to the viability of the business.”

Engineers then do their best to meet the need, but the cost is high, and the work takes too long. The engineers explain that the problems are due, in part, to the heavy burden of technical debt. Eventually someone asks the engineers to estimate the cost of “cleaning things up.” Decision makers receive the estimates and conclude that it’s “unaffordable right now.” They ask the engineers to “make do.” In other words, they stick with the Do Nothing option.

After a number of cycles repeating this pattern, decision makers finally agree to provide time and resources for technical debt retirement, but only because it’s the least bad alternative. The other alternatives—Replace the Asset, and Do Nothing—clearly won’t work and haven’t worked, respectively.

So there we are. Events have forced the organization to address the technical debt problems in this irreplaceable asset. And that’s where the trouble begins.

Decisions about retiring legacy technical debt

In scenarios like the one above, people have already made the fundamental decision: the enterprise will be retiring legacy technical debt from an irreplaceable asset. But that’s just the first ripple of waves of decisions to come. Many people in a variety of roles throughout the enterprise will be making many decisions. Let’s now have a look at a short catalog of what’s in store for such an enterprise.

Recall that most large technical debt retirement projects probably exhibit a high degree of wickedness in the sense of Rittel and Webber [Rittel 1973]. One consequence of this property is the need to avoid do-overs. That is, once we make a decision about how to proceed to the next bit of the work, we want that decision to be correct, or at least, good enough. The consequences of that decision should not leave the enterprise in a state that’s more difficult to resolve than the state in which we found it. Since another property of wicked problems is the prevalence of surprises, most decisions must be made in a collaborative context, which affords the greatest possibility of opening the decision process to diverse perspectives. We must therefore regard collaborative decision-making at every level as a highly valued competency.

What follows is the promised catalog of decision types.

Strategic decisions

This decision category leads the list. It provides the highest leverage potential for changing enterprise behavior vis-à-vis technical debt. Organizations confronting the problem of technical debt retirement from irreplaceable assets would do well to begin by acknowledging that although they might be able to deal with the debt burdening these assets right now, they must make a strategic change if they want to avoid even worse trouble. Accumulating debt to a level sufficient to compel chartering a major debt retirement project took years of deferring the inevitable. A significant change of strategy is necessary.

When changing complex social systems, applying the concept of leverage provides a critical advantage. Following the work of Meadows [Meadows 1997] [Meadows 1999] [Meadows 2008], we can devise interventions at several points that can have great impact on the rate of accumulation of technical debt. The leverage points of greatest interest are Feedback Loops, Information Flows, Rules, and Goals. For example, the enterprise can set a strategic goal of a specific volume of incremental technical debt incurred per project, normalized by project budget. See “Leverage points for technical debt management.”

One might reasonably ask why enterprise strategy must change; wouldn’t a change in technology strategy suffice? Changing how engineers go about their work would help—indeed in most cases it’s necessary. But because the conditions and processes that lead to technical debt formation and persistence transcend engineering activities, additional changes are required to achieve the objective of controlling technical debt.

Some technical debt is incurred as the result of a conscious decision. But some is nonstrategic. We might even be unaware of how it occurred. Both kinds of technical debt can arise as a result of nontechnical factors. Read a review of nontechnical precursors of nonstrategic technical debt.

Organizational decisions

Before chartering a technical debt retirement project (DRP) for an irreplaceable asset, it’s wise to consider how to embed the DRP in the enterprise.

The default organizational form for DRPs concerned with an asset A is usually analogous to that used for major projects focused on asset A. If the Information Technology (IT) unit would normally address issues in asset A, the debt retirement effort usually would be organized under IT. If A is a software product normally attended to in a product group, that same group would likely have responsibility for the DRP for asset A.

Although these default organizational structures are both technically and politically sensible, there’s an alternative approach worth investigating. It entails establishing a technical debt retirement function that becomes a center of excellence for executing technical debt retirement projects. That unit is also responsible for developing sound technical debt management practice. Such an approach is especially useful if the organization contemplates multiple debt retirement projects.

The fundamental concept that makes the center-of-excellence approach necessary is the wickedness of the technical debt retirement problem. To address the problem at scale requires capabilities beyond what IT, product units, or any conventional organizational elements can provide. The explosion of technical debt in most organizations is an emergent phenomenon. Every organizational unit contributed to the formation of the problem. And every organizational unit must contribute to its resolution.

Engineering decisions

Engineers tend to identify and classify technical debt items on technical grounds. Further, they tend to set technical debt retirement priorities on a similar basis. That is, they tend to set priorities highest for those debt items that they (a) recognize as debt items and (b) see as imposing high levels of MICs charged to engineering accounts. Engineers are less likely to assign high priorities to technical debt that generates MICs that are charged to revenue, or to other accounts, because those MICs are less evident—and in many cases less visible—to engineers.

Decisions regarding recognition of technical debt items and setting priorities for retiring them must take technological imperatives into account, but they must also account for MICs of all forms. Priorities must be consistent with enterprise imperatives.

Decisions about pace

Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, technical debt retirement projects should be executed as rapidly as possible, and no faster. The tendency among nonengineers and nontechnical decision makers is to push for rapid completion of debt retirement projects, for three reasons. First, everyone, like the engineers, wants the results that debt retirement will bring. Second, everyone, like the engineers, wants an end to the inevitable disruptions debt retirement projects cause. And finally, the longer the project is underway, the more it might cost.

For these reasons, once the decision to retire the debt is firmly in hand, the enterprise might have a tendency to apply financial resources at a rate that exceeds the ability of the project team to execute the project responsibly. When that happens, rework results. And for wicked problems like debt retirement, rework is the path to catastrophe.

Decisions about pace and team scale need to be regarded as tentative. Regular reviews can ensure that the resource level is neither too low nor too high. Even when the engineers are given control over these decisions, these decisions must be reviewed, because pressures for rapid completion can be so severe that they can compromise the judgment of engineers about how well they can manage the resources applied to the project.

Resource decisions

Debt retirement projects concerned with legacy irreplaceable assets are different from most other projects. Estimates of the labor hours required are more likely to be incorrect on the low side, because so much of the work involves pieces of assets with which few staff have experience. But with respect to resources, underestimating labor requirements isn’t the real problem. Nonlabor resources are the real problem.

Irreplaceable assets probably provide critical support of ongoing operations. In some cases, the need for the assets is continuous. Many organizations have kept such assets operational by using periods of low demand for maintenance, usually scheduled and announced in advance. These practices are likely adequate for routine maintenance and enhancement. But debt retirement need a level of access to the asset that continuous delivery practices can provide [Humble 2010].

However, assets whose designs predate the widespread use of modern practices such as continuous delivery might not be compatible with the infrastructure that these practices require. In organizations that haven’t yet adopted such practices, few if any staff are experienced with them. We must therefore regard as developmental any projects whose objectives are retiring technical debt from irreplaceable assets. They’re retiring the technical debt, but they’re also developing the practices and infrastructure needed for debt retirement projects. This dual purpose drives the surprisingly high nonlabor costs associated with early debt retirement projects.

The investments required might include such “items” as a staging environment, which “is a testing environment identical to the production environment” [Humble 2010]; extensive test automation, including results analysis; blue-green deployment infrastructure; automation-assisted rollback; and zero-downtime release infrastructure. Decisions to make investments require an appreciation of their value to the enterprise. They enable the enterprise to deal effectively with the wicked problem of technical debt retirement.

Last words

Because every situation and every organization is unique, few general guidelines are available for making these decisions. The criteria most organizations have been using for dealing with (or avoiding) the issue of technical debt have produced the problems they now face. So, to succeed from this point, whatever criteria they use in the future must be different. My own view is that short-term thinking is at the heart of the problem, but it’s a wicked problem. The long-term solution will not be simple.

References

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

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Managing technical debt

Last updated on July 11th, 2021 at 02:56 am

A jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Managing technical debt can be like solving a puzzle.
A jumble of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Managing technical debt can be like solving a puzzle. Where do we begin? With jigsaw puzzles, we usually begin with two assumptions. First, we assume that we have all the pieces. Second, we assume that they fit together to make a coherent whole. These assumptions might not be valid for the puzzle of technical debt in any given organization.

Managing technical debt is something few organizations now do. And fewer do well. Several issues make managing technical debt difficult and they’re discussed elsewhere in this blog. This thread explores tactics for dealing with those issues from a variety of initial conditions. For example, tactics that work well for an organization that already has control of its technical debt, and which wants to keep it under control, might not work at all for an organization that’s just beginning to address a vast portfolio of runaway technical debt. The needs of these two organizations differ. The approaches they must take might then also differ.

What’s in this thread

The first three posts in this thread illustrate the differences among organizations in different stages of developing technical debt management practices. In “Leverage points for technical debt management,” I begin to address the needs of strategists working in an organization just beginning to manage its technical debt. They ask the question, “Where do we begin?” In “Undercounting nonexistent debt items,” I offer an observation about a risk that accompanies most attempts to assess the volume of technical debt. Such assessments are frequently undertaken in organizations at early stages of the technical debt management effort. In “Crowdsourcing debt identification,” I discuss a method for maintaining the contents of a database of technical debt items. Data maintenance is something we might undertake in the context of a more advanced technical debt management program.

Obstacles we must address

Whatever approach is adopted, it must address factors that include technology, business objectives, politics, culture, psychology, and organizational behavior. So what you’ll find in this thread are insights, observations, and recommendations that address one or more of the issues related to these fields. “Demodularization can help control technical debt” considers mostly technical strategies. “Undercounting nonexistent debt items” is an exploration of a psychological phenomenon.  “Leverage points for technical debt management” considers the organization as a system and discusses tactics for altering it. And “Legacy debt incurred intentionally” explores how existing technical debt can grow as long as it remains outstanding.

Accounting issues also play a role. For example, “Metrics for technical debt management: the basics” is a basic discussion of measurement issues. A second example: “Accounting for technical debt” looks into the matter of accounting for technical debt financially. And “Three cognitive biases” is a study of how the way we think about technical debt affects the technical debt portfolio.

Posts in this thread:

References

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

Tension between policymakers and technologists

Last updated on July 11th, 2021 at 08:57 am

Surface tension holds raindrops together on a grapevine
Surface tension holds raindrops together on a grapevine. We often think of tension as a negative, destructive force. But tension—in the case of raindrops, surface tension—is what holds a raindrop together. Tension gives the raindrop structure and integrity. The tension between technologists and policymakers can also be constructive. It can ensure that the enterprise manages technical debt in ways that balance the political imperatives of technology and strategic health.

Tension between policymakers and technologists, which can manifest as misalignment of their respective priorities, is a significant contributor to uncontrolled growth of technical debt. In this thread, I explore sources of this tension. That exploration introduces concepts that can assist policymakers and technologists in their efforts to control technical debt growth.

Technical debt is not just a technical problem

The objective of technical debt management policy is effective, sustainable control of technical debt. In an enterprise that has achieved this objective, technical debt serves as a strategic tool. That tool assists in attaining and maintaining market leadership. In such an organization, technical debt does exist, and some legacy technical debt might remain in place. But the enterprise manages technical debt growth strategically, if growth occurs at all. The enterprise addresses any technical debt that carries significant MICs. And it pays special attention to technical debt that compromises productivity and enterprise agility. In short, the enterprise addresses technical debt not only as a technological issue, but also as a component of business strategy.

This stance is at odds with the historical position most enterprises have adopted vis-à-vis technical debt. In the historic view, technical debt is a technical problem, if it is recognized at all. Most enterprises relegate technical debt management to the technologists. Frequently, then, technologists view as interlopers any policymakers who enter the discussion about technical debt. Any such policymakers usually arrive late to the discussion. Technologists often view them as less-than-knowledgeable invaders attempting to seize control of a piece of the technologists’ domain. In this way tensions can arise between policymakers and technologists. Such tensions complicate the problem of managing technical debt.

Sources of tension

One possible source of this tension is apparent in a study of the literature of technical debt, which is evolving so rapidly that it has itself become a focus for research. Li et al. [Li 2015] have produced a review of the software engineering technical debt literature. From this review we can extract insights useful to policymakers. They studied only the literature relating to technical debt in software engineering. But their conclusions are, at least in part, applicable to any field in which the components of the finished product are executed within software tools before being committed to operational form. This covers a wide array of knowledge-intensive endeavors, including mechanical system design, electronic design, framing of legislation, process design, architecture, and even book authorship.

Last words

In this thread, I explore the sources of the tension between the modern reality of technical debt as an enterprise issue, and the historical situation of technical debt as a technological issue. This can serve as a guide for policymakers in reframing technical debt. The archaic view of technical debt is as a technological issue dependent for resolution on enterprise resources. The modern view is as an enterprise issue dependent for resolution on technological resources.

Other posts in this thread

References

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

Cultural debt can be the primary driver of technical debt

Last updated on July 17th, 2021 at 06:53 am

Cultural debt can be expensive. Like technical debt, it can incur ongoing metaphorical interest charges (MICs). Schein defines organizational culture as “…a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration…” [Schein 2016]. Following the concept of technical debt, we can regard as cultural debt the subset of shared basic assumptions comprising enterprise culture that are no longer fitting for enterprise realities. We can also include as cultural debt any assumptions that ought to be shared, but which are missing or are only partially shared. And we can include shared assumptions that conflict with each other and need to be resolved.

An example of cultural debt: the term “IT”

A tape measure calibrated in both feet/inches and meters/centimeters
A tape measure calibrated in both feet/inches and meters/centimeters. We can regard the need to possess tools that serve both measurement systems as the metaphorical interest charges on a technical debt. The debt is the result of failing to retire the older “English” system. But from another perspective, the debt involved is actually cultural. Retiring the older system would truly involve a cultural shift.
For most modern enterprises, an element of cultural debt is the very term ITinformation technology. Coined in 1958 by Leavitt and Whisler [Leavitt 1958], the term was then appropriate. It was apt up to about 20 years ago. Until then, the role of IT was primarily management, storage, retrieval, manipulation, and presentation of information. Although those functions remain relevant, the responsibilities of IT have expanded dramatically since then. In many organizations, IT is now responsible for designing, implementing, and maintaining the communication infrastructure. That infrastructure includes Internet access, personal computers, networking, Web presence, telephones, video conferencing equipment, and television.

The modern role of communication

Communication plays a critical and strategic role. An essential element for success is a clear understanding of what IT does and what it contributes. Regarding IT as the “information technology” function of the enterprise therefore risks overlooking and undervaluing these more recently acquired responsibilities. And since the IT function is no longer solely responsible for enterprise information, using the name “IT” or the term information technology risks overvaluing the role of the IT organization relative to information management, while undervaluing its role relative to communications.

In Schein’s culture framework, the term IT reflects a shared assumption about IT’s role. That assumption is that IT is responsible for information. Unfortunately, that assumption is no longer well aligned to the reality of IT’s role. We can regard this misalignment as a cultural debt.

The consequences of cultural debt

The consequences of this particular kind of cultural debt can be severe. For instance, IT is typically responsible for selecting and configuring software for personal computers (PCs). This responsibility can arise as a consequence of two shared assumptions. First is the assumption that computers process information, and second, that IT is responsible for technology-based information processing. The result is that the person who uses the computer doesn’t make all decisions about what many regard as a “personal” computers. When the IT decision differs from the personal preferences of the computer user, we can find conflict.

Worse, a centralized decision process for determining PC configurations is likely to produce outcomes less suitable than would a process more focused at the individual level. That adds to the frustrations of PC users, and exacerbates the conflict between them and IT. To mitigate the risk that some PC users might circumvent IT policy, IT must take steps to prevent such actions. We can regard all of that activity, on the part of both IT and the PC users, as metaphorical interest charges on cultural debt.

An example of retiring cultural debt

In 1987, Edward Yourdon founded a magazine then known as American Programmer. In 1990, Cutter Information Corporation purchased the rights to American Programmer and created Cutter IT Journal. That name includes the term IT. At the time, IT was more suitable than the term programmer. As noted above, the term IT, while once useful and apt, is now outmoded at best and often misleading. Just as the functional name IT in organizations constitutes cultural debt, so it does in the name of a journal.

So in the autumn of 2016, Cutter IT Journal retired the cultural debt in its name, and became Cutter Business Technology Journal. Journals rarely change their names. When they do, the impact of the journal is temporarily depressed. The reduction in impact is due to the split of citations between the former title and the new title. That effect lasts for about two years or so [Tempest 2005]. But as research fields change, their journals must keep pace. Evidently Cutter felt a significant need to retire its cultural debt—significant enough to justify a temporary reduction in impact.

What about cultural debt retirement in companies?

Difficulties associated with retiring cultural debt depend strongly on both the nature of the culture and the nature of the debt. To provide insight into these issues, let’s continue with our exploration of the term IT and its cultural implications.

In many organizations, IT reports to a Chief Information Officer (CIO). Associated with this official’s title are some of the same cultural debts we find for the name “IT”. First, CIOs aren’t the only officers with information management responsibility. Second, many CIOs have responsibilities that transcend information management. Their responsibilities include, for example, the communication infrastructure. Unlike other peer titles such as CEO, CFO, CMO, and COO, the CIO title evokes separation from business-oriented decisions. That separation contributes to a cultural wall between “IT” and “the business.”

The view of IT as an information-centric service organization is perhaps a remnant of the 20th century. Cultures that have this view can become problematic for the organization. The problem is that they tend to regard IT as a source of expense to be minimized, rather than as a strategic partner [Ross 2000]. Still, trends toward strategic acceptance of IT are favorable, according to recent surveys of CIOs [CIO 2018].

The reality is that business technology must contribute to formulation and implementation of enterprise strategy. But some CIOs and their organizations are viewed as separate from “the business.” This limits their ability to help shape enterprise strategy. But it also subjects them to cultural assumptions about their responsibilities that in some instances conflict with each other. That’s a significant source of the metaphorical interest charges on the cultural debt.

One way out of this cultural debt

One possible way to retire this debt might entail retitling Chief Information Officer to Chief Business Technology Officer (CBTO). That’s precisely what happened at Forrester Research in 2011 [Plant 2014].

Unfortunately, the name CBTO conflicts with the three-word pattern of enterprise officer titles (C*O), which might create an urge to name the office Chief Technology Officer (CTO). But that role usually has responsibility for the functions that create technological products or services. Thus, for many organizations, to create a CBTO where there is already a CTO might create further sources of conflict. Using the CTO designation for the CBTO is probably impractical.

But we must find some way to retire this particular cultural debt, because it’s such an effective generator of technical debt. CBTO seems to be the best available path.

References

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

Other posts in this thread

Contract restrictions can lead to technical debt

Last updated on July 8th, 2021 at 01:42 pm

When the owner of an asset, especially a software asset, contracts to provide a capability to a customer incorporating a use of that asset, contract restrictions can lead to technical debt. The work involved might require modification or enhancement of that asset. When the contract permits such work without transferring ownership of the asset itself, performing it is relatively straightforward. But complications can arise unless the contractor can perform the work in a manner compatible with any pre-existing or anticipated future other uses of the asset. Even so, some contract restrictions can cause the owner of the asset to incur technical debt.

How technical debt can enter the picture

A power adaptor/converter for international travelers with U.S. standard equipment.
A power adaptor/converter for international travelers with U.S. standard equipment. This device provides conversion for both hardware connection and voltage supplied.
We can regard the wide variation in electric power standards worldwide as a technical debt. Someday, in the probably distant future, a world standard will emerge and we will retire that debt. Until then, adaptors like these are travel necessities.
Some contracts restrict such work. For example, a government customer might require ownership of the work performed. Potentially, all of the work might be classified as a national secret. In either of these cases, to retain control of the asset, the owner/contractor arranges to perform all of the work outside the periphery of the asset. To accomplish this, the owner/contractor might interface to the asset through an adaptor that the government customer can then own, or which can be classified as secret if necessary. These moves insulate the original asset from these ownership restrictions.

The result is tolerable after completion of one such contract. But over time, as their number increases, the adaptors become a form of technical debt. The asset owner must maintain each adaptor against any changes in the original asset. Moreover, making changes to the original asset can become a project of such scale that the temptation to create a static “clone” of the asset for each customer is irresistible. When that happens, cloning replicates both the asset and any technical debt it carries. And correcting defects in the asset requires correcting that same defect in any clones that carry it.

The general forms of the problem

The problem is more general than suggested above. It also appears in the case of software that supports multiple platforms, or which is available in multiple versions supporting a single platform.

But it gets worse. Suppose the maintainers decide to update the asset to make it more extensible, or to make it more maintainable. They must then perform that update, including all testing and documentation, on each clone. If the asset owner elects not to update all clones, then the clones will begin to diverge from each other. Engineers performing tasks on one of the clones must then have knowledge of how that clone differs from other clones. If they discover a new defect, it might or might not be present in every clone. Implementing a new extension or other modification might not be possible in all clones. Or implementing it in some clones might require a unique approach. Life can get very complicated.

Organizations entering into contracts of this kind would be wise to include language limiting their obligations to maintain the original asset against any changes. Or they might include an explicit statement of the parties’ intentions relative to financial support for any continuing obligations to maintain that asset.

Last words

Organizations offering products for multiple platforms would be wise to consider as strategic the management of technical debt that arises from platform multiplicity. Sound management of this form of technical debt can extend their ability to support multiple platforms. And that can dramatically increase returns on investment in the core asset.

References

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

Other posts in this thread

How outsourcing leads to increasing technical debt

Last updated on July 8th, 2021 at 01:37 pm

Most of the nontechnical precursors of technical debt that afflict in-house work also afflict outsourced work. For example, the planning fallacy affects internal planners. But it also afflicts the bidders for contracts that cover outsourced work. As described in “Unrealistic optimism: the planning fallacy and the n-person prisoner’s dilemma,” Boehm, et al., call this the “Conspiracy of Optimism.” [Boehm 2016] But outsourcing engineering work can introduce pathways for incurring technical debt that are specific to outsourcing.

The risks of incurring technical debt from outsourcing

Green fields
Green fields. Greenfield outsourcing, also known as startup outsourcing, is the outsourcing of activity that the enterprise has never performed in-house. Greenfield outsourcing is especially tricky with respect to technical debt formation. The risk arises because much of the expertise necessary to perform the work in question is probably not resident within the enterprise. That void in enterprise expertise makes for difficulties in managing technical debt in the outsourced artifacts.
Outsourcing is inherently more likely to incur technical debt than is equivalent work performed in-house. When most enterprises contract for development of systems or software, the criteria for acceptance rarely include specifications for maintainability or extensibility. This happens, in part, because such qualitative specifications are difficult to define quantitatively. That’s why the condition of deliverables relative to maintainability and extensibility is so variable. Outsourced deliverables can best be described as bearing an unknown level of technical debt.

The root cause of the problem is likely a lack of a universally accepted metrics for quantifying technical debt [Li 2015]. That’s why it’s difficult to specify in the vendor contract an acceptability threshold for technical debt. And since the consequences of technical debt in deliverables potentially remain hidden during the lifetime of the outsource contract, years might pass before the issue becomes evident. That inevitably complicates the task of understanding the root cause of the problem.

Six ways outsourcing can contribute to technical debt

In what follows, I use the term vendor to denote the organization performing the outsourced work. I use the term enterprise to denote the organization that has outsourced a portion of its engineering work. The retained organization is the portion of the enterprise directly relevant to the outsourced work, and which has remained in-house.

Among the mechanisms that lead to incurring technical debt in the outsourcing context are the six mechanisms sketched below. Gauging the size of these effects by auditing deliverables or by auditing the internal processes of the vendor could be helpful in managing levels of technical debt arising from outsourcing.

This list isn’t exhaustive. Quite possibly other phenomena also contribute to technical debt formation in the context of outsourcing.

Progressive erosion of retained organization capabilities

Over time, after outsourcing work on a particular asset, the enterprise can expect erosion of some engineering expertise. The expertise most vulnerable is that needed to manage, evaluate, understand, or, if need be, to re-insource (or backsource) the outsourced work [Willcocks 2004][Beardsell 2010]. Typically, staff who formerly performed the outsourced work do move on to other work, voluntarily or not, either within the enterprise or elsewhere. Indeed, cost savings from terminations and employee buyouts often accompany outsourcing decisions. That reallocation is part of the economic justification of outsourcing decisions.

But even if the enterprise continues to employ the people who formerly performed the outsourced work, the deleterious effects remain. Those employees, filling new roles, likely become less familiar with the current work and therefore less able to perform it. And since they’re now carrying out other assignments, their availability is limited. In the public sector, the organizations that perform the outsourced work exacerbate this phenomenon by recruiting staff from their former agencies [Kusnet 2007]. In manufacturing, Kinkel, et al., suggest that, paraphrasing, outsourcing disturbs the formation of internal competence [Kinkel 2016].

Thus, outsourcing engineering efforts can erode the ability of the enterprise to perform the outsourced work internally. Likewise, it erodes enterprise capability to monitor or evaluate the work when vendors perform it. Consequently, the enterprise is less able to monitor, evaluate, or retire any technical debt that accumulates in the outsourced work products.

Stovepiping among vendors

Most multi-vendor efforts use a separation-of-concerns approach [Laplante 2007] to dividing the work. That is, each vendor is empowered to use any approach it can, consistent with its own contract and statement of work. In some cases, two or more vendors might have overlapping needs that cause them each to produce similar capabilities as elements of their respective deliverables. Sharing their results is of course possible. But unless both of their contracts anticipate the need for sharing, sharing is unlikely. Failure to share those results that could have been shared can lead to incurring unrecognized technical debt.

Stovepiping within vendors

Technical debt formation is possible even if there is only one vendor. Different teams or individuals working for that vendor might unwittingly create elements with overlapping capabilities. That duplication could lead to technical debt, or it could constitute technical debt in itself. For example, two teams working for the same vendor might have similar needs, and might develop duplicative tools independently. As a second example, consider a version of stovepiping combined with temporal displacement. Suppose that one team is unaware that a previous effort for the same customer had already developed a capability that it now needs. That team then might re-create that already-existing capability.

Stovepiping within vendors is less likely when the vendor operates under a single vendor technical lead, and the enterprise interacts with that single lead through a single in-house technical lead. When either side of the relationship manages communications through multiple contacts, stovepiping is more likely. New technical debt is more likely to form.

Loss of continuity in the outsourced engineering staff

Unless the agreement between the vendor and the enterprise specifically addresses staff volatility, an additional risk arises. Staff turnover or reassignment within the vendor organization can lead to technical debt. This can happen in just the same way that turnover in-house can lead to technical debt. But the risk is most significant at interfaces between one version of the product or service and the next. With outsourcing, however, the vendor has little internalized motivation to control this phenomenon. Moreover, the enterprise likely has less control and less awareness of staff assignments within the vendor organization than it does within the enterprise. Thus, loss of continuity in the outsourced engineering staff is both more likely and more likely to lead to technical debt.

Reduced coordination of engineering approaches and business objectives

Lack of coordination between engineering approaches and business planning can cause technical debt formation. This happens because engineers create and deploy artifacts that they must revisit later. The need for rework arises after engineers learn of business plans they didn’t know about at the time they produced those artifacts. See “Failure to communicate long-term business strategy.” This scenario is more likely, and possibly irresolvable, when the enterprise withholds its long-term plans from the outsourcing vendor to protect its strategy.

Hiring and retention problems

In some instances, the enterprise has never before performed work like the outsourced work [Delen 2007]. This kind of outsourcing is startup outsourcing or greenfield outsourcing. In these cases, typically, the enterprise must reassign existing employees or hire new employees to interface with the outsource vendor. These roles are analogous to remote supervisors, except that the teams they supervise aren’t enterprise employees. Hiring and retaining people for these roles can be difficult. Startup challenges arise both within the enterprise and within the vendor organization. Recruitment and especially retention problems in these roles can decrease the likelihood of controlling technical debt, and increase the likelihood of incurring technical debt.

Last words

A policy that would address these risks is one that would facilitate accomplishing three objectives:

  • Retain organizational capability sufficient to assess the effect on technical debt of any outsourced engineering work
  • Represent the effect on technical debt faithfully in any financial models used in making the outsourcing decision
  • Include in financial models the effects of technical debt, the cost of carrying technical debt, and the effects on controlling technical debt when deciding whether to extend outsourcing contracts with vendors.

References

[Beardsell 2010] Julie Beardsell. “IT Backsourcing: is it the solution to innovation?”, SMC Working Paper Series, Issue: 02/2010, Swiss Management Center University, 2010.

Available: here; Retrieved: February 15, 2018

Cited in:

[Boehm 2016] Barry Boehm, Celia Chen, Kamonphop Srisopha, Reem Alfayez, and Lin Shiy. “Avoiding Non-Technical Sources of Software Maintenance Technical Debt,” USC Course notes, Fall 2016.

Available: here; Retrieved: July 25, 2017

Cited in:

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Delen 2007] Guus Delen. “Decision and Control Factors for IT-sourcing,” in Handbook of Network and System Administration, Jan Bergstra and Mark Burgess, eds., Boston: Elsevier, 929-946, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Kinkel 2016] Steffen Kinkel, Angela Jäger, Djerdj Horvath, and Bernhard Rieder. “The effects of in-house manufacturing and outsourcing on companies’ profits and productivity,” 23rd International Annual EurOMA Conference, At Trondheim, Volume: 23, June 2016.

Cited in:

[Kusnet 2007] David Kusnet. “Highway Robbery II,” report of the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions (NASHTU).

Cited in:

[Laplante 2007] Phillip A. Laplante. What Every Engineer Should Know About Software Engineering. New York: CRC Press, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

[Willcocks 2004] L. Willcocks, J. Hindle, D. Feeny, and M. Lacity. “IT and Business Process Outsourcing: The Knowledge Potential,” Information Systems Management 21:3, 7-15, 2004.

Cited in:

Other posts in this thread

Performance management systems and technical debt

Last updated on July 7th, 2021 at 07:57 pm

Treats are a performance management system for dogs
A dog receiving a reward. Many performance management systems implement a model that assumes that the correct configuration of incentives and disincentives will produce the desired result. This theory is questionable.

Few performance management systems provide guidance with respect to behaviors relating to technical debt. One reason, perhaps, is that technical debt isn’t widely understood. Or perhaps only engineers and their managers regard technical debt as a concern. Still, to gain control of technical debt organizations must ensure that performance standards are clear. They must clearly state expectations with respect to behaviors that could affect technical debt. If changes are necessary, policymakers can be effective advocates—provided that they understand what the appropriate role for performance management is in controlling technical debt. This post should be helpful.

A fundamental premise of many performance management systems is that incentives can encourage desirable behavior. Likewise, disincentives can discourage undesirable behavior. Unfortunately, serious questions have arisen about the effectiveness of these behavioral control mechanisms in general [Kohn 1999]. Employees find ways to harvest incentives without exhibiting the desired behavior. Similarly, they find ways to circumvent disincentives while continuing to engage in undesired behavior.

Behavioral control for technical debt is problematic

Moreover, specifically for technical debt management, behavioral control is especially problematic. Troubles arise because some of the desirable behaviors are inherently immeasurable. For example, the design of an incentive structure to encourage legacy technical debt retirement is debatable. The technical difficulties involved relate to the problems of defining legacy technical debt.

Managing performance vis-à-vis technical debt, therefore, presents a problem of the kind Austin calls partially supervised [Austin 1996]. Supervising engineers whose work can affect technical debt can only be partial. The issue is that measuring technical debt is only partially practical given the state of the art. Austin shows how partial supervision frequently leads to dysfunctional performance management. But the problem is especially vexing for managing technical debt. For example, engineers’ work can sometimes incur technical debt that remains unrecognized for months or years after the work is completed. To fully supervise such work would require inventing retroactive incentives and disincentives. This class of motivators doesn’t exist, but even if they did, they’re of questionable legality in most jurisdictions.

The doctrine of commander’s intent

Although incentives and disincentives cannot serve to manage performance relative to technical debt, a very effective model is available. Enterprise leaders could communicate their intentions relative to technical debt, and empower the people of the organization to take steps to reduce debt. In the United States military, and others as well, a doctrine that implements this approach is called commander’s intent [Mattis 2008][US Army 2010].

Gen. Mattis offers five principles that guide what the military calls “effect-based operations.” For technical debt management, the effect we seek is rational control of the technical debt portfolio. Here are his five principles, transformed to the field of technical debt.

  1. Technology development, maintenance, and cyberdefense in the future will require a balance of conventional and unconventional approaches.
  2. Technology evolves rapidly, and we must be willing to adapt our methods.
  3. Technologies are dynamic, with an infinite number of variables; therefore, it isn’t scientifically possible to accurately predict the level of technical debt that will result from any given effort. To suggest otherwise runs contrary to historical experience and the nature of modern technological assets.
  4. We are in error when we think that what works (or does not work) in efforts involving one technology in one enterprise will be universally applicable to all technologies in all enterprises.
  5. Finally, to paraphrase General Sherman, “Every attempt to make technical debt management easy and safe will result in humiliation and disaster.”

Limitations of the doctrine of commander’s intent

Most organizations rely on supervisors to communicate the analog of commander’s intent to their subordinates. Currently, it’s fair to say that few supervisors outside the technology-oriented elements of the enterprise communicate much about technical debt to their subordinates.

That situation might explain why most performance management systems encourage behaviors that unwittingly expand the body of technical debt, especially for non-technologist performers. There are situations in which the widely applauded actions of the outstanding performer actually incur technical debt strategically and responsibly. Technical debt so incurred is what McConnell calls Type II [McConnell 2008] and what Fowler calls Deliberate and Prudent [Fowler 2009]. But most performance management systems, especially for non-technologists, say nothing about technical debt. They risk encouraging behaviors that indirectly exacerbate the problems associated with technical debt.

An illustrative story

Distinguishing responsible and irresponsible behaviors is possible only if understanding of the nature of technical debt is widespread in the organization, even beyond the technologists. Here’s an example:

It was ambitious. It was what advocates called a “stretch goal.” But the VP of Marketing approved the plan to release the new app by the end of the fiscal quarter. After a month of meetings, and much jawboning, the CTO agreed. The VP of New Product had serious objections, but the executive team set them aside. Engineers and testers were able to meet the date, but they had to incur significant technical debt. When they asked for resources to retire that debt after the release, the VP of Marketing opposed the request. She needed additional resources for the promotional campaign due to our late entry into the market.

Stories like this illustrate scenarios in which technical debt considerations are subordinate to “business priorities.” These latter include market timing, market development, and revenue generation. Standards for setting priorities closely parallel the standards defined in the performance management system. Indeed, performance management should support enterprise goals. In the scenario above, the organization might meet the immediate goal of a successful release. But it does so by incurring technical debt, thereby imperiling the next release. This scenario illustrates why changing the performance management system might achieve a better balance between immediate goals responsible technical debt management.

Last words

Since anyone in the enterprise can take actions or make decisions that lead to incurring new technical debt, or cause existing technical debt to remain in place, organizations need performance standards that guide employees with respect to technical debt. To provide guidance for distinguishing responsible behavior from irresponsible behavior, performance management systems must acknowledge the potential of any employee to affect technical debt. Performance management systems must be reviewed with respect to alignment with technical debt policy. They might then support a mechanism analogous to Gen. Mattis’s vision of commander’s intent.

References

[Austin 1996] Robert D. Austin. Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations. New York: Dorset House, 1996. ISBN:0-932633-36-6

Contains an extensive discussion of the consequences of partial supervision of performance. Since technical debt can only be partially supervised, the concept is relevant to understanding the effects of performance management systems on technical debt. Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Beardsell 2010] Julie Beardsell. “IT Backsourcing: is it the solution to innovation?”, SMC Working Paper Series, Issue: 02/2010, Swiss Management Center University, 2010.

Available: here; Retrieved: February 15, 2018

Cited in:

[Boehm 2016] Barry Boehm, Celia Chen, Kamonphop Srisopha, Reem Alfayez, and Lin Shiy. “Avoiding Non-Technical Sources of Software Maintenance Technical Debt,” USC Course notes, Fall 2016.

Available: here; Retrieved: July 25, 2017

Cited in:

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Delen 2007] Guus Delen. “Decision and Control Factors for IT-sourcing,” in Handbook of Network and System Administration, Jan Bergstra and Mark Burgess, eds., Boston: Elsevier, 929-946, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Fowler 2009] Martin Fowler. “Technical Debt Quadrant.” Martin Fowler (blog), October 14, 2009.

Available here; Retrieved January 10, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Kinkel 2016] Steffen Kinkel, Angela Jäger, Djerdj Horvath, and Bernhard Rieder. “The effects of in-house manufacturing and outsourcing on companies’ profits and productivity,” 23rd International Annual EurOMA Conference, At Trondheim, Volume: 23, June 2016.

Cited in:

[Kohn 1999] Alfie Kohn. Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. ISBN:0-395-71090-1

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Kusnet 2007] David Kusnet. “Highway Robbery II,” report of the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions (NASHTU).

Cited in:

[Laplante 2007] Phillip A. Laplante. What Every Engineer Should Know About Software Engineering. New York: CRC Press, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Mattis 2008] James N. Mattis. “USJFCOM Commander’s Guidance for Effects-based Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 51, Autumn 2008 105-108.

Available: here; Retrieved November 9, 2017.

Cited in:

[McConnell 2008] Steve McConnell. Managing Technical Debt, white paper, Construx Software, 2008.

Available: here; Retrieved November 10, 2017.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

[US Army 2010] U.S. Army (2010) Field Manual 5.0 – The Operations Process U.S. Department of the Army.

Describes the concept, value, and importance of the doctrine of commander’s intent. See the index for “commander’s intent,” and especially paragraphs 2-90 and 2-91. Available: here; Retrieved: Dec. 22, 2019.

Cited in:

[Willcocks 2004] L. Willcocks, J. Hindle, D. Feeny, and M. Lacity. “IT and Business Process Outsourcing: The Knowledge Potential,” Information Systems Management 21:3, 7-15, 2004.

Cited in:

Other posts in this thread

Failure to communicate long-term business strategy

Last updated on July 8th, 2021 at 01:11 pm

Failure to communicate long-term business strategy can lead to increased technical debt. This happens because engineering decisions that aren’t aligned with business strategy can result in what later becomes technical debt. As business strategy veers away from the assumptions underlying those misaligned engineering decisions, engineers must alter implementations to track the strategy. Technical debt can form during those alteration efforts.

Moreover, the resources that support those alteration efforts might have been unnecessary if senior managers had kept technologists better informed about long-term business strategy. In some cases, the result would have been a reallocation of those resources to other pursuits, including technical debt retirement. To ensure alignment of engineering decisions with long-term business strategy, engineering decision makers must be aware of long-term and intermediate-term enterprise strategy. When they are aware, they can anticipate the engineering needs of the enterprise. And they’re more likely to make decisions that are compatible with strategy.

Strategists can benefit from keeping technologists informed

A plug-in electric vehicle being recharged
Recharging a  plug-in electric vehicle. The dominance of petroleum-powered vehicles is nearing its end. Further investment in the petroleum-based fuels infrastructure is now  inconsistent with what the global economy has chosen as its strategic intent. Electric vehicles are still out of the reach of most consumers, but they would be wise to favor long range vehicles. As electric vehicles become ascendant, petroleum filling stations will become more widely spaced. The wider spacing reduces the metaphorical interest charges on the technical debt of yet-to-be-retired petroleum powered vehicles. During the transition to electric power dominance, a long-range petroleum-powered vehicle offers clear advantages over its shorter-range cousins.
The effect is bi-directional. Strategists can benefit from understanding the effect their strategies have on technological activity. For example, consider the process of choosing among strategic options. A favorable outcome is more likely if strategists know the effects of each option on the technical debt portfolio.

To gain effective control of technical debt, senior management must regard the technical elements of the enterprise as strategic partners [Woodard 2013] [Ross 2000] [Brenner 2016a]. Policymakers can make important contributions to enhancing communication between strategists and technologists.

For example, when engineers know the general direction of the enterprise, they can focus efforts on assets that are compatible with future needs. Inversely, when they’re unaware of the business strategy, they’re more likely to make decisions that they must later rescind.

What about legacy technical debt retirement?

Analogous considerations apply to legacy technical debt  retirement efforts. Major technical debt retirement efforts are often subject to review for alignment with enterprise strategy. But we tend not to review incidental retirement efforts that occur in the context of routine maintenance or development. Consequently, engineers might allocate effort to incidental debt retirement unnecessarily if the asset is due for overhaul or replacement. Communicating long-term strategy effectively is likely the most reliable way to prevent such misspent effort.

Last words

Some managers elect to communicate business strategy to technologists only when they “need to know.” Often, technologists needed to know long before that.

References

[Austin 1996] Robert D. Austin. Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations. New York: Dorset House, 1996. ISBN:0-932633-36-6

Contains an extensive discussion of the consequences of partial supervision of performance. Since technical debt can only be partially supervised, the concept is relevant to understanding the effects of performance management systems on technical debt. Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Beardsell 2010] Julie Beardsell. “IT Backsourcing: is it the solution to innovation?”, SMC Working Paper Series, Issue: 02/2010, Swiss Management Center University, 2010.

Available: here; Retrieved: February 15, 2018

Cited in:

[Boehm 2016] Barry Boehm, Celia Chen, Kamonphop Srisopha, Reem Alfayez, and Lin Shiy. “Avoiding Non-Technical Sources of Software Maintenance Technical Debt,” USC Course notes, Fall 2016.

Available: here; Retrieved: July 25, 2017

Cited in:

[Brenner 2016a] Richard Brenner. “The Psychology and Politics of Technical Debt: How We Incur Technical Debt and Why Retiring It Is So Difficult,” Cutter Business Technology Journal, 29:3, 2016, 21-27.

Cited in:

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Delen 2007] Guus Delen. “Decision and Control Factors for IT-sourcing,” in Handbook of Network and System Administration, Jan Bergstra and Mark Burgess, eds., Boston: Elsevier, 929-946, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Fowler 2009] Martin Fowler. “Technical Debt Quadrant.” Martin Fowler (blog), October 14, 2009.

Available here; Retrieved January 10, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Kinkel 2016] Steffen Kinkel, Angela Jäger, Djerdj Horvath, and Bernhard Rieder. “The effects of in-house manufacturing and outsourcing on companies’ profits and productivity,” 23rd International Annual EurOMA Conference, At Trondheim, Volume: 23, June 2016.

Cited in:

[Kohn 1999] Alfie Kohn. Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. ISBN:0-395-71090-1

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Kusnet 2007] David Kusnet. “Highway Robbery II,” report of the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions (NASHTU).

Cited in:

[Laplante 2007] Phillip A. Laplante. What Every Engineer Should Know About Software Engineering. New York: CRC Press, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Mattis 2008] James N. Mattis. “USJFCOM Commander’s Guidance for Effects-based Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 51, Autumn 2008 105-108.

Available: here; Retrieved November 9, 2017.

Cited in:

[McConnell 2008] Steve McConnell. Managing Technical Debt, white paper, Construx Software, 2008.

Available: here; Retrieved November 10, 2017.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

[US Army 2010] U.S. Army (2010) Field Manual 5.0 – The Operations Process U.S. Department of the Army.

Describes the concept, value, and importance of the doctrine of commander’s intent. See the index for “commander’s intent,” and especially paragraphs 2-90 and 2-91. Available: here; Retrieved: Dec. 22, 2019.

Cited in:

[Willcocks 2004] L. Willcocks, J. Hindle, D. Feeny, and M. Lacity. “IT and Business Process Outsourcing: The Knowledge Potential,” Information Systems Management 21:3, 7-15, 2004.

Cited in:

[Woodard 2013] C. Jason Woodard, Narayan Ramasubbu, F. Ted Tschang, and V. Sambamurthy. “Design Capital and Design Moves: the Logic of Digital Business Strategy,” MIS Quarterly 37:2, 537-564, 2013.

Cited in:

Other posts in this thread

How MPrin can change spontaneously

Last updated on July 7th, 2021 at 10:53 am

Recall that our definition of the metaphorical principal of a technical debt (MPrin) at a given time is the cost of retiring the debt at that time. This cost can change with time. For example, due to ongoing maintenance and enhancements, the part of the asset in which the debt is embedded might become rather more complicated or constrained than it was earlier. That increased complexity can increase MPrin. This can happen even if the elements that comprise the debt itself have remained unchanged.

Moreover, the MPrin of any extensions to the asset in question, or to other assets, might also change. Those assets that use services provided by a subsystem manifesting the debt might also require alteration at debt retirement time. Untangling the debt from its surroundings, making necessary modifications, and testing the result, can be a delicate and complex process. The process might actually cost more at debt retirement time than whatever was saved when the debt was incurred.

An example of MPrin changing spontaneously

On the other hand, in some circumstances, the cost of retiring the debt can decrease over time. Consider the following fictitious example.

A high pressure sodium streetlight at dusk
A high pressure sodium streetlight at dusk. Photo (cc) Famartin courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Zion is a small city of 110,000 that’s struggling with two problems related to street lighting. Its current streetlights use High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) lights. HPS lights use almost twice as much energy as do the newer LED streetlights for the same level of illumination. Zion’s second problem is that the existing streetlights provide only one level of illumination throughout the city. This is causing a stream of complaints from many residents who have concerns about street lighting spilling onto their property at night. The bright light interferes with the sleep patterns of people and their pets.

Both of these problems have technical solutions that became available after the current HPS lights were installed. That’s why we can view them as arising from technical debt. Zion had investigated resolving the light pollution problem, but couldn’t find an affordable solution. Time passed. When LED streetlights became widely available, Zion investigated retiring its HPS lights. They found an LED lighting system that was dimmable on a block-by-block basis using a wireless control system. By retiring the technical debt associated with the HPS lights, Zion was able to afford retiring the technical debt associated with its un-dimmable lighting system.

Zion was able to afford to retire both forms of technical debt at once because of the way they interacted, even though retiring them one at a time would have been too expensive.

This example shows that the MPrin of a technical debt can vary widely, depending on the assets involved, and on what other debts they carry. Such variation is far more common in the realm of technical debt than it is in the world of financial debt.

References

[Austin 1996] Robert D. Austin. Measuring and Managing Performance in Organizations. New York: Dorset House, 1996. ISBN:0-932633-36-6

Contains an extensive discussion of the consequences of partial supervision of performance. Since technical debt can only be partially supervised, the concept is relevant to understanding the effects of performance management systems on technical debt. Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Beardsell 2010] Julie Beardsell. “IT Backsourcing: is it the solution to innovation?”, SMC Working Paper Series, Issue: 02/2010, Swiss Management Center University, 2010.

Available: here; Retrieved: February 15, 2018

Cited in:

[Boehm 2016] Barry Boehm, Celia Chen, Kamonphop Srisopha, Reem Alfayez, and Lin Shiy. “Avoiding Non-Technical Sources of Software Maintenance Technical Debt,” USC Course notes, Fall 2016.

Available: here; Retrieved: July 25, 2017

Cited in:

[Brenner 2016a] Richard Brenner. “The Psychology and Politics of Technical Debt: How We Incur Technical Debt and Why Retiring It Is So Difficult,” Cutter Business Technology Journal, 29:3, 2016, 21-27.

Cited in:

[CIO 2018] CIO. “2018 State of the Cio: CIOs Race Towards Digital Business,” CIO, winter 2018.

Available: here; Retrieved March 30, 2018

Cited in:

[Delen 2007] Guus Delen. “Decision and Control Factors for IT-sourcing,” in Handbook of Network and System Administration, Jan Bergstra and Mark Burgess, eds., Boston: Elsevier, 929-946, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Dragičević 2016] Tomislav Dragičević, Xiaonan Lu, Juan C. Vasquez, and Josep M. Guerrero. “DC Microgrids–Part II: A Review of Power Architectures, Applications and Standardization Issues,” IEEE Transactions on Power Electronics, vol 31:5, 3528-3549, 2016.

Cited in:

[Fowler 2009] Martin Fowler. “Technical Debt Quadrant.” Martin Fowler (blog), October 14, 2009.

Available here; Retrieved January 10, 2016.

Cited in:

[Humble 2010] Jez Humble and David Farley. Continuous delivery: reliable software releases through build, test, and deployment automation, Pearson Education, 2010.

Cited in:

[Kinkel 2016] Steffen Kinkel, Angela Jäger, Djerdj Horvath, and Bernhard Rieder. “The effects of in-house manufacturing and outsourcing on companies’ profits and productivity,” 23rd International Annual EurOMA Conference, At Trondheim, Volume: 23, June 2016.

Cited in:

[Kohn 1999] Alfie Kohn. Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999. ISBN:0-395-71090-1

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Kusnet 2007] David Kusnet. “Highway Robbery II,” report of the National Association of State Highway and Transportation Unions (NASHTU).

Cited in:

[Laplante 2007] Phillip A. Laplante. What Every Engineer Should Know About Software Engineering. New York: CRC Press, 2007.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Leavitt 1958] Harold J. Leavitt and Thomas L. Whisler. “Management in the 1980s,” Harvard Business Review, November-December, 36, 41-48, 1958.

Cited in:

[Li 2015] Zengyang Li, Paris Avgeriou, and Peng Liang. “A systematic mapping study on technical debt and its management,” Journal of Systems and Software 101, 193-220, 2015.

Cited in:

[Mattis 2008] James N. Mattis. “USJFCOM Commander’s Guidance for Effects-based Operations,” Joint Force Quarterly 51, Autumn 2008 105-108.

Available: here; Retrieved November 9, 2017.

Cited in:

[McConnell 2008] Steve McConnell. Managing Technical Debt, white paper, Construx Software, 2008.

Available: here; Retrieved November 10, 2017.

Cited in:

[Meadows 1997] Donella H. Meadows. “Places to Intervene in a System,” Whole Earth, Winter 1997.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 28, 2018

Cited in:

[Meadows 1999] Donella H. Meadows. “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System,” Hartland VT: The Sustainability Institute, 1999.

Available: here; Retrieved: June 2, 2018.

Cited in:

[Meadows 2008] Donella H. Meadows and Diana Wright. Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Plant 2014] Robert Plant. “IT Has Finally Cracked the C-Suite,” Harvard Business Review, July 16, 2014.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 8, 2018

Cited in:

[Rittel 1973] Horst W. J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber. “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning”, Policy Sciences 4, 1973, 155-169.

Available: here; Retrieved: October 16, 2018

Cited in:

[Ross 2000] Jeanne W. Ross and David F. Feeny. “The Evolving Role of the CIO,” in Framing the Domains of IS Management Research: Glimpsing the Future through the Past, edited by Robert W. Zmud. Pinnaflex, 2000.

Available: here; Retrieved: December 20, 2017.

Cited in:

[Schein 2016] Edgar H. Schein. Organizational Culture and Leadership, Fifth Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2016.

Order from Amazon

Cited in:

[Tempest 2005] “The effect of journal title changes on impact factors,” Learned Publishing 18, 57–62, 2005.

Available: here; Retrieved: April 5, 2018

Cited in:

[US Army 2010] U.S. Army (2010) Field Manual 5.0 – The Operations Process U.S. Department of the Army.

Describes the concept, value, and importance of the doctrine of commander’s intent. See the index for “commander’s intent,” and especially paragraphs 2-90 and 2-91. Available: here; Retrieved: Dec. 22, 2019.

Cited in:

[Willcocks 2004] L. Willcocks, J. Hindle, D. Feeny, and M. Lacity. “IT and Business Process Outsourcing: The Knowledge Potential,” Information Systems Management 21:3, 7-15, 2004.

Cited in:

[Woodard 2013] C. Jason Woodard, Narayan Ramasubbu, F. Ted Tschang, and V. Sambamurthy. “Design Capital and Design Moves: the Logic of Digital Business Strategy,” MIS Quarterly 37:2, 537-564, 2013.

Cited in:

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