Scrum Hates Technical Debt!

This content is syndicated from Agile & Business by Joe Little. To view the original post in full, click here.

This is my phrase.  Ken Schwaber talks about Flaccid Scrum.  (Not my favorite metaphor.)  Jeff Sutherland talks about ScrumButt and the Nokia Test.  (I like this.)  Uncle Bob Martin talks about "the land that Scrum forgot."

People are doing Scrum in an unprofessional way, and then are unhappy about it. And often want to blame Scrum.  To me, this is not right in any way.  The most important thing: we want people to have better lives, and it ain't happening enough just yet.  Not for me.

Now, we need a definition of technical debt, because not all of us know what it is.  Here is mine.  "All the things that we did or did not do, that are "in" our current product, that make it hard for us to change it quickly."  Examples: Lack of automated testing, reduced knowledge of the existing code (via many paths), duplications in the code, code complexity, code unreadability, lack of refactoring (at many levels), all the stuff we said we should upgrade 'real soon now', etc, etc, etc.  (I have assumed a software product, but the same concepts apply to any product.)

Here is Ward Cunningham's definition (and some other thoughts too).

My call to action on this (unprofessionalism and technical debt) is....

We engineers have to stop 'going along' when the business guys say 'you have to skip that stuff and just get more features out the door'.  We have to explain to them (and, to be fair to them, they don't know the facts) how we are only hurting ourselves (the firm, say) and the customers by 'going too fast'.  We have to explain it many times.

We business folks have to listen to the team, and learn how to understand technical debt.  And allow them to build quality.  As that book said a while ago, in essence, quality is free.  This is a difficult subject.  It is hard to understand, and some technical people give us too much BS.  But none of those excuses or problems give us a get out of jail free card on this important area of managing new product innovation.  We gotta do it.  Professionally.

Now, ok, I have to back peddle just a bit.
I agree that occasionally, close to rarely, there are situations where we should not 'do it right' and for the immediate release, we should just 'get it out the door'.  And THEN immediately go back and fix the technical debt.

And I agree that some legacy technical debt does not need to be fixed.  (For example, if we are never going to change that area of that system. Probably no need to fix it.)

Two fairly obvious things to say:
1. The bad news does not get better with age.  In other words, allowing technical debt to grow is not only unprofessional, and lying, but it is just plain stupid.  About 98% of the time (ie, so often that it is not worth asking 'isn't this an exception case?').

2. Scrum did not make you go fast.  Ok, ok, yes they are called sprints.  It sounds like we are in a rush. But pretending like the 100 yard dash is really the 90 yard dash is just unprofessional.  If the story is not done, done with a strong definition of done, then you're just lying about your velocity.

Three more fairly obvious things to say.
1. This is a hard problem: allowing technical debt to grow.  You will have to fight hard to make things better.

2. It is worth the fight.  You can make your life, the lives of your teammates, the lives of your customers, better.  It a fight, a struggle, but actually fun to do as a team; and you will feel better for it.

3. Tools.  Yes, there are lots of tools, techniques, specific approaches, and patterns to follow to stop increasing technical debt and to reduce the technical debt.  But it starts with the human beings, the folks you work with, having the will to say: "We're fixing the problem with technical debt!  We have to!"

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × 5 =

There are 101 ways to do anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”



To explore how we can help you, please get in touch