Addressing Technical Debt With Minimal Cost

Organizations small and large move forward at an increasing pace. That makes it easy for things to be lost in the activity required to maintain our focus. These lesser tasks often include important deliverables that we say we will “get done later.” That is also known as technical debt. Put simply; these are the items left to do if we were to complete a project. When they are left undone, we are not able to claim a project or task is complete. This situation may seem easy to solve (just do the work), but it is not that simple. We have projects that are “good enough” that are super-ceded by higher priority projects. Here are some ways to address that technical debt without having to sacrifice those high priority projects.

Research And Improvement Hours

Many years ago, Google had a benefit for its staff that was shrewd in its approach. They set aside Fridays for personal projects for all the staff. These could be running with ideas for a side hustle or improving parts of the company or product. The organization sacrificed some time, but it ended up increasing the overall productivity of their workers. People will put in extra effort for things they enjoy. This benefit also made employees feel more ownership over the projects they worked on.

There are many ways to adopt this approach to your situation. The easiest is to set aside a few hours each week for employees to work on whatever they desire. It could be training, chasing down a side project, or improving something they currently are working on. Those options may seem too open-ended. However, many employees will be willing to use that time to eliminate technical debt to feel better about the work they have done. There is also a morale boost that projects like this give to staff. The change in work focus allows them to do something different, which appeals to them more. They sometimes even find that there are parts of their job that they enjoy.

Fill In The Gaps

Many productivity suggestions include finding ways to tackle little things among the larger tasks. In our modern world of waiting for people to show up for a meeting, reply to an email, or waiting on vendor responses, there are many times we have “downtime.” These events could have us sitting and waiting without being productive while our path forward is blocked. When we have a list of little tasks available, those can be used to make use of that time. Fortunately, many technical debt items are a perfect fit for this.

For example, documentation is often some portion of technical debt. In many cases, we can pick up and put down documentation projects fairly quickly. They have little intellectual requirements, and a rough draft of notes can quickly be captured. When these small tasks are made available to staff (or pointed out to them), there are opportunities to chip away at the debt list. Just a few minutes a day on these tasks can add up quickly over time.

Technical Debt Side Projects

It was mentioned earlier that a change in focus could be refreshing. Many of the technical debt items require a small project to address the need. This need can be in the form of data migration, simple automation, or data entry. All of these can be side projects assigned out to staff or for staff to choose. These side projects are typically one-offs where there is a lot of freedom to choose how they are done and the technologies involved. That can be a win-win for an organization. The staff member can use a side project to learn a new skill while the organization gets a needed item completed. In some cases, these side projects can lead to ideas for commercial products and other game-changing solutions.

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