Ask the team about technical debt – the creeping doom graph

I was just talking about the sad state of affairs where some teams know they are making life harder by taking shortcuts or creating workarounds that will slow the team down in the future. In fact, my grandma had some pretty good advice on this:

There never seems to be time to do things properly – but don’t worry, there will be time tomorrow to react to the crisis that resulted from  what you didn’t do properly today.

To avoid this crisis management though, here is a simple way to measure the “technical debt” we are creating today.

Put the following table up on a white board and have each team member put their vote into the appropriate box.  For politically charged projects youmay even have a secret ballot.

When we deploy our changes, the system will be … -2 -1 0 +1 +2
More complex (-) or simpler (+) than before          
Harder (-) or easier (+) to maintain and support          
Harder (-) or easier (+) to enhance or build on next time          

Rather than voting out of 5 however, they are comparing the system before they touched it to the way it will be after they deploy their changes.  Specifically their votes will be as follows

  • 0 means that there is no real change in the measure;
  • + 1 means things are better than before and +2 means a lot better; and
  • – 1 means things are worse or more complicated than before and -2 means even more so.

Now simply average the answers to give a score for each question. 

Hold regular retrospectives or reflection sessions should highlight the ongoing impact of building (or removing) complexity from your life.  But if you want a solid predictor of the impact is will have over time, try using this creeping doom graph (which can also be a virtuous circle graph if you are actively making things better each week).

Creeping doom or virtuous circle of improvement?

Or better yet – give me a call.  I will come and run a couple of workshops for the team to help them see where they are creating un-needed complexity for themselves.  And more importantly I can help them turn the creeping doom graph into a graph of positive improvement – honestly … it can be done.

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