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The second vice is lying, the first is running in (tech) debt.
Ben Franklin had strong thoughts about debt. So does Product Party. Let's talk about it.
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“Hey. What are these random stories buried in our backlog that we keep passing over every sprint?”
If you’ve been working in product for a while, we all know about those mounting “challenges” you’ve heard from dev teams about for months. Every time we’re in one of our ceremonies or meetings, you hear about the imminent danger - maybe even doomsday - that may come if we keep kicking the can down the street with fixing them.
So should we brush the dust off those old stories and start a conversation around doing them? Here are a few things to think about with tech debt - spoiler alert: I am 100% in favor of fixing your tech debt.
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Tech debt can cripple your dev efforts and user experience.
There’s a great article I recently read from Tim Cochran called “Bottleneck #01: Tech Debt,” which highlighted a ton of significant challenges that come with ignoring tech debt - here are my three favorites:
Slowing the delivery to market - if you’re not looking and addressing problems created by tech debt, you could drastically slow your development times. Your engineers may have to start getting super creative on how to fix the issues, and often, that will push out timelines for all the features you want to have built.
Performance issues with users - the compounding challenge with some tech debt specifically ties to product performance. If you continually avoid addressing this could cause significant problems for your users down the road.
Engineering satisfaction - We all know finding and building great dev teams can be difficult. As much as you want to believe that everyone wants to make everything you want at all times, the reality is that your dev team has to balance accepting your asks with the fact that all the systems could blow up if they don’t fix some issues, which can make them sad or angry.
Realizing these issues, along with a bevy of others, can very quickly pop up should be at the top of your mind when you’re looking at your backlogs and roadmaps.
Addressing short-term pain now for long-term smooth(er) sailing.
Most of the gains in life come suffering in the short term, so you can get gain in the long term. (Ex. working out, confused while reading a book). Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.
I’ve been nerding out a bit on Naval’s writings lately and learning much about prioritizing long-term benefits from choices made today.
With tech debt, many product teams aren’t super excited about tackling these problems now because it assuredly means a delay of the super sexy fun feature you’ve been hoping to have built. However, if you’re not willing to address the issues now, there’s a chance that the problems you’re starting to see will compound, and they will be a nightmare to deal with down the road.
A balanced approach can pay dividends.
I read this great newsletter from Abi Noda (link below) that outlines several ways a dev team can address tech debt. I agree with him on many of the thoughts in the post, but the one I feel most vital about is the need to take a balanced approach to managing tech debt.
On the product side, it’s on us to be able to work with your team to understand all of the tradeoffs and needs concerning the backlog of tech debt. After a few conversations, you may realize that there’s a mix of work that ranges from “if they never happened, anyone would ever know” to “holy shit, the product, and company are going to burst into flames, and we’re looking for new jobs.”
Understand the most impactful ones (and why they are impactful), work them into your priority list, and be prepared to sell your stakeholders on the value of doing them in that “stakeholder language” to ensure you can keep them as top priorities.
How does your team handle prioritizing tech debt? Leave a comment and let us know.
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