What’s special about teams with low technical debt?

Notes from a session at the workshop on Technical Debt. It was organized around this question: Consider two sets of Agile teams. In the first set, the teams do a fine job at delivering new business value at frequent intervals, but their velocities are slowly decreasing (a sign of increasing technical debt or a declining code asset). The other teams also deliver, but their velocities are all increasing. What visible differences might there be between the two sets of teams?

The following are descriptions of what’s unique about a typical decreasing-debt team:

  • Most of the team produces 98% clean code all the time, but there is some untidiness (whether due to lack of knowledge, lack of effort, or whatever). However, one or two people take one or two hours a week doing a little extra to compensate. (Chet Hendrickson)

  • Behavior in relation to the code is not apprehensive. They’re not scared of the code they’re working on, they’re not afraid of making mistakes that break the code base. (Michael Feathers)

  • They’re frequently talking about the state of the code. There are many give-and-take technical discussions. They might be heated or not, but participants are always alert and engaged. The content is more important than the tone: they are discussing new things rather than rehashing old issues. The ongoing conversation is making progress. (Many)

  • There are no big refactorings; instead, there are many small ones. (Ron Jeffries?)

  • No code ownership. (I forget)

  • Time is spent on building affordances for the team’s own work. In Richard P. Gabriel’s terminology, they spend time making the code habitable: the code is where they live, so they want it to be livable, put things where they are easy to find, make them easier to use next thing. (Matt Heusser and others)

This isn’t a complete list, only the ones that struck me and that I remembered to write down.

One Response to “What’s special about teams with low technical debt?”

  1. Technical Debt. « The Saturday morning hangover Says:

    […] interesting outcome of a discussion on the subject can be found at Exploration Through Example, Brian Marick’s […]

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