What is policy?

Last updated on June 12th, 2021 at 11:46 am

DuBrin defines policies as “… general guidelines to follow when making decisions and taking action” [DuBrin 2016]. Some policies are written, some are unwritten. Some have names or identifiers, some don’t. For organizations seeking to gain control of technical debt, written policies are probably a good idea, for two reasons:

  • Many people affected by technical debt policies are probably unfamiliar with the technical debt concept. A written policy is more likely to be communicated uniformly to everyone.
  • The effort spent devising a written policy is likely to surface ambiguities, confusions, and differing needs. That’s one of the benefits of devising written policies. Resolving these issues during the policy formation process is better for the organization than resolving them during the deployment process.

A useful policy is clear. It uses terminology that’s simple and well-defined.

Properties of technical debt policy

Achieving these goals for technical debt policy formulation can present special problems. Much of the audience for the policy is unaware or incredulous of the connection between their own behavior and technical debt formation.

Specifically:

  • The policy must address an issue—technical debt—that has mainly technological manifestations
  • The policy must provide guidance for people as they make choices
  • Some of the choices that people make will produce technological manifestations
  • The connections between the choices and the technological manifestations can be obscure, especially
    when the choices don’t appear to be technical
  • Some technical debt arises from phenomena unrelated to behavior of anyone within the organization

Said differently, technical debt policy must confront four issues:

  • Some people whose behavior we must modify are unaware of the consequences of their behavior
  • Some of those same people strongly believe that the technical debt problem results from malpractice by others
  • Current incentive structures play an important role in technical debt formation
  • Some technical debt arises from phenomena external to the organization

Effective technical debt policy must therefore include these elements:

  • An education component to help people see the connection between their choices and technical debt formation
  • A situational awareness component to alert the organization to internal and external developments that could cause technical debt formation
  • A means of allocating resources to technical debt management that holds accountable the business units whose actions contributed to technical debt formation
  • A means of committing future resources to technical debt retirement

References

[DuBrin 2016] Andrew J. DuBrin. Essentials of Management, Tenth Edition. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wessex Press, 2016.

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