Tech debt comes up all the time.
For some, it’s every day. I don’t think I need to tell you what is it, but just in case, I love Product Plan’s definition: “Technical debt describes what results when development teams take actions to expedite the delivery of a piece of functionality or a project which later needs to be refactored. In other words, it’s the result of prioritising speedy delivery over perfect code.”
Riske Betten, product director at MediaHuis NL, recently summed this up nicely: “We create tech debt from being nimble, but aren’t nimble because we have tech debt.” She also compared tech to marathon runners (see article above referencing architecting for the long haul), whereas product team members are sprinters, always trailing and testing.
I have good news and bad news for you …
The bad news: All companies have it (not just media companies), and there is no way of eliminating it.
The good news: There are some ways to reduce and mitigate it. Yes, tech debt belongs to the technology team, but let’s face it, there is a huge impact on product. If technology teams are catching up on tech debt, they don’t have enough resources to build. And with no resources to build, there is not that much we can work on.
So what do we do about it?
Tech debt can be reduced in one large structural change such as platform shift. These opportunities don’t come very often, but when they do, make the most of them.
A road map should have time for tech debt built in, and it should be a consideration when building new things.
Language and understanding is important (as ever in product roles): Product’s job is to give clarity to each department. Some engineers should understand the customer and have insights into desired product and commercial outcomes. By ensuring everyone knows what needs to be done now, what the risks are for cutting corners, and what the implications of these are for the future, there is a good chance that tech debt can be mitigated as much as possible.
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