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Surfing Technical Debt

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The Second Workshop on Managing Technical Debt will be held on May 23, 2011 in Honolulu, Hawaii. It is part of and co-located with the 33rd International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE2011).  Between the workshop and the conference you can rest assured any aspect of software engineering known to mankind will be amply covered.

The workshop is quite unique in its strong emphasis on rigorizing the foundations of technical debt and unifying the ways in which the generic concept is being applied. The reason for so doing is quite straightforward.  The term ‘technical debt’ has, no doubt, proven intuitively compelling. The various intuitive interpretations, however, differ in various subtle nuances. The Overview of the workshop points out:

Yet, it leaves many questions open, such as

  • How do you identify technical debt? What are the different kinds of debt? What are its parameters that help projects elicit, communicate, and manage it?
  • What is the lifetime of technical debt?
  • How is technical debt related to evolution and maintenance activities?
  • How can information about technical debt empirically be collected for developing conceptual models?
  • How do you measure and payoff technical debt? What metrics need to be collected so that key analysis can be conducted?
  • How can technical debt be visualized and analyzed?

As readers of this blog know, I love the combination of intellectual challenge with pragmatic utility that characterizes technical debt. Doing technical debt in Hawaii adds a dimension of pleasure to the mix. The mental image I have for the workshop is ‘Surfing Technical Debt.

On a more prosaic note, the due date for submitting a paper to the workshop is January 21, 2011. Please do not hesitate to contact me or other members of the program committee for any questions you might have on your paper.

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Written by israelgat

December 26, 2010 at 9:52 am

Agile Enterprise Forum 2011

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Charles Handy, Chris Potts, Don Reinertsen, John Seddon and I are the featured speakers in the Agile Enterprise Forum 2011. The Forum will be held on March 10, 2011 in the Chandos House at the Royal Society of Medicine,  London. Attendance is limited to 30 CIOs.

The theme for the forum is Agility for Complex Organizations. The overarching message is nicely captured in the following summary by James Yoxall:

There are two strands of interest for a CIO: strategy and delivery.  The Agile/Lean message can be summarised as “merging” the two, so that delivery can start before strategy is complete, and delivery informs strategy through feedback loops. This leads to a faster/earlier delivery and a better end result.

My own workshop – Agile Governance: Tying Delivery to Value – builds on this message by describing a specific strategic initiative which is not achievable without the use of advanced delivery techniques. Here is the abstract for my workshop:

This workshop will explore mechanisms for unlocking the full potential of existing software through the combination of Agile/Lean methods with technical debt techniques. These mechanisms apply to complex organisations that rely on in-house development teams as well as to third party delivery partners. Israel’s approach emphasizes the need to continuously monitor and mitigate the decay of software that more often than not had been developed over many years. Most importantly, it shows how well-governed software can become the enabler for unleashing the synergistic power of cloud, mobile and social.

You can think of the workshop as linking past, present and future. The “sins” of the past require technical debt reduction initiatives today. These initiatives utilize the classical Agile/Lean techniques of continuous measurement and tight feedback loops. Without such initiative, the value of existing software cannot be unlocked in the future. In particular, competing in the hyper-segmented markets that cloud, mobile and social generate will be next to impossible for legacy software that has not been modernized.

Fresh Perspectives on Technical Debt

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Update, October 15: The issue has been posted on the Cutter website (Cutter IT Journal subscription privileges required).

Cutter is just about ready to post the October issue of the IT Journal for which I am the guest editor. Print subscribers should receive it by the last week of the month. Jim Highsmith and I will be reflecting on it in our forthcoming seminar on technical debt in the Cutter Summit.

This issue sheds light on three noteworthy aspects of technical debt techniques:

  1. Their pragmatic use as an integral part of Governance, Risk and Compliance (GRC).
  2. Extending the techniques to shed light on various nuances of technical debt that have alluded us so far.
  3. Applying the techniques in new domains such as devops.

Here is the Table of Contents for this exciting issue:

Opening Statement

by Israel Gat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3

Modernizing the DeLorean System: Comparing Actual and Predicted Results of a Technical Debt Reduction Project

by John Heintz . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

The Economics of Technical Debt

by Stephen Chin, Erik Huddleston, Walter Bodwell, and Israel Gat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

Technical Debt: Challenging the Metaphor

by David Rooney . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16

Manage Project Portfolios More Effectively by Including Software Debt in the Decision Process

by Brent Barton and Chris Sterling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19

The Risks of Acceptance Test Debt

by Ken Pugh . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Transformation Patterns for Curing the Human Causes of Technical Debt

by Jonathon Michael Golden . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  30

Infrastructure Debt: Revisiting the Foundation

by Andrew Shafer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36

 

Action Item: Apply the techniques recommended in this issue to govern your software assets in an effective manner.

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Overwhelmed by a “mountain” of technical debt? Let me know if you would like assistance in devising and carrying out plans to reduce the debt in a biggest-bang-for-the-buck manner. Click Services for details.

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The Gat/Highsmith Joint Seminar on Technical Debt and Software Governance

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Jim and I have finalized the content and the format for our forthcoming Cutter Summit seminar. The seminar is structured around a case study which includes four exercise. We expect the case study/exercises will take close to two-thirds of the allotted time (the morning of October 27). In the other third we will provide the theory and practices to be used in the seminar exercises and (hopefully) in many future technical debt engagements participants in the workshop will oversee.

The seminar does not require deep technical knowledge. It targets participants who possess conceptual grasp of software development, software governance and IT operations/ITIL. If you feel like reading a little about technical debt prior to the Summit, the various posts on technical debt in this blog will be more than sufficient.

We plan to go with the following agenda (still subject to some minor tweaking):

Agenda for the October 27, 9:30AM to 1:00PM Technical Debt Seminar

  • Setting the Stage: Why Technical Debt is a Strategic Issue
  • Part I: What is Technical Debt?
  • Part II : Case Study – NotMyCompany, Inc.
    • Exercise #1 – Modernizing NotMyCompany’s Legacy Code
  • Part III: The Nature of Technical Debt
  • Part IV: Unified Governance
    • Exercise #2 – The acquisition of SocialAreUs by NotMyCompany
  • Part V: Process Control Models
    • Exercise #3 – How Often Should NotMyCompany Stop the Line?
  • (Time Permitting – Part VI: Using Technical Debt in Devops
    • Exercise #4 – The Agile Versus ITIL Debate at NotMyCompany)

By the end of the seminar you will know how to effectively apply technical debt techniques as an integral part of software governance that is anchored in business realities and imperatives.

Written by israelgat

September 30, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Why Spend the Afternoon as well on Technical Debt?

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Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinksherbet/233228813/

Yesterday’s post Why Spend a Whole Morning on Technical Debt? listed eight characteristics of the technical debt metric that will be discussed during the morning of October 27 when Jim Highsmith and I deliver our joint Cutter Summit seminar. This posts adds to the previous post by suggesting a related topic for the afternoon.

No, I am not trying to “hijack” the Summit agenda messing with the afternoon sessions by colleagues Claude Baudoin and Mitchell Ummel. I am simply pointing out a corollary to the morning seminar that might be on your mind in the afternoon. Needless to say, thinking about it in the afternoon of the 28th instead of the afternoon of the 27th is quite appropriate…

Yesterday’s post concluded with a “what it all means” statement, as follows:

Technical debt is a meaningful metric at any level of your organization and for any department in it. Moreover, it is applicable to any business process that is not yet taking software quality into account.

If you accept this premise, you can use the technical debt metric to construct boundary objects between various departments in your company/organization. The metric could serve as the heart of boundary objects between dev and IT ops, between dev and customer support, between dev and a company to which some development tasks are outsourced, etc. The point is the enablement of working agreements between multiple stakeholders through the technical debt metric. For example, dev and IT ops might mutually agree that the technical debt in the code to be deployed to the production environment will be less than $3 per line of code. Or, dev and customer support might agree that enhanced refactoring will commence if the code decays over time to more than $4 per line of code.

You can align various departments by by using the technical debt metric. This alignment is particularly important when the operational balance between departments has been disrupted. For example, your developers might be coding faster than your ITIL change managers can process the change requests.

A lot more on the use of the technical debt metric to mitigate cross-organizational dysfunctions, including some Outmodel aspects, will be covered in our seminar in Cambridge, MA on the morning of the 27th. We look forward to discussing this intriguing subject with you there!

Israel

Why Spend a Whole Morning on Technical Debt?

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In a little over a month Jim Highsmith and I will deliver our joint seminar on technical debt in the Cutter Summit. Here are eight characteristics of the technical debt metric that make it clear why you should spend 3.5 precious hours on the topic:

  1. The technical debt metric shifts the emphasis in software development from proficiency in the software process to the output of the process.
  2. It changes the playing fields from qualitative assessment to quantitative measurement of the quality of the software.
  3. It is an effective antidote to the relentless function/feature pressure.
  4. It can be used with any software method, not “just” Agile.
  5. It is applicable to any amount of code.
  6. It can be applied at any point in time in the software life-cycle.
  7. These six characteristics of the technical debt metric enable effective governance of the software process.
  8. The above  characteristics of the technical debt metric enable effective governance of the software product portfolio.

The eight characteristics in the aggregate amount to technical debt metric as a ‘universal source of truth.’ It is a meaningful metric at any level of your organization and for any department in it. Moreover, it is applicable to any business process that is not yet taking software quality into account.

Jim and I look forward to meeting you at the summit and interacting with you in the technical debt seminar!

Written by israelgat

September 22, 2010 at 7:32 am

Outline of the Technical Debt Seminar at the Cutter Summit

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Pictured above are speakers of the forthcoming Cutter Summit. Between the seventeen of us we will cover a broad spectrum of IT topics such as Agile, Enterprise Architecture, Business Strategy, Cloud Computing, Collaboration, Governance and Security. Inter-disciplinary seminars, panels and case studies will weave all those threads together to give participants a clear view of the unfolding transformation in IT and of the new way(s) companies are starting to utilize IT. Click here for a details.

As Jim Highsmith and I continue to develop our joint seminar on technical debt for the summit, I would like to give readers of this blog a sense of where we are and ask for feedback. Right now we are considering the following building blocks for the seminar:

  • The Nature of Technical Debt
  • Technical Debt Metrics
  • Monetizing Technical Debt
  • Constructing Roadmaps for Paying Back Technical Debt
  • Risk Assessment and Mitigation
  • A Simple Software Governance Framework
  • Schedule in the Simple Governance Framework
  • Enlightened Governance
  • Baking in Quality One Build at a Time
  • How Often Should the Project Team Regroup?
  • Multi-Level Governance
  • Extending  Technical Debt Techniques to Devops
  • Use of Technical Debt Techniques in Agile Portfolio Management
  • The Start Afresh Option
  • Technical Debt as an Integral Part of a Value Delivery Culture

In the course of going through a subset of these building blocks, we will cover the latest and greatest from the October issue of the Cutter IT Journal on technical debt, present two case studies, and conduct a few group exercises.