Lesson #3 – What is “Technical Debt?”
One challenge that often exists in moving to the Cloud is ensuring there are enough human resources to both keep the lights on AND drive the Cloud transformation forward. Often, an organization’s IT staff members are too busy maintaining the current environment and ensuring the business continues functioning. Although this is obviously critical, it usually means the current team has too much “technical debt,” which can be defined as not doing things right in the first place. The result of technical debt is that the IT team is spending more time putting out fires and not adding business value.
If you haven’t read a book called The Phoenix Project, we highly recommend that you do before embarking on a huge transformation. It is an awesome book that will most likely hit very close to home in regards to your own IT organization. As explained in this Infoq interview with the authors, the story involves a fictitious organization that is suffering from “a lack of collaboration between teams, a blame culture, over dependency on individual heroes, imposing tools over collaboration, power games and pushing for individual goals and projects.” Sound familiar? All of this can, and probably will, lead to an increase in technical debt.
So how do you begin to steer the ship so it doesn’t sink from the weight of your technical debt? You must establish a balance between Running the Business (RTB) and Changing the Business (CTB). That means balancing your time, resources and budget to ensure you are reducing technical debt while also developing the new capabilities the business is demanding. Your focus should be on adding continuous business value and not inward-facing tasks that add no value at all. What is the correct balance? Well, that depends on how much change your organization can stomach. That said, at a minimum, you should be striving for an RTB/CTB split of 40%/60%. Anything less than that and you will simply be spinning your wheels.
Part of cleaning up your technical debt must include consistent collaboration across your various IT teams to ensure your processes are standardized and documented, which is what our next article will discuss.