The Personnel Side of Technical Debt


I have been an East-Coaster all my life. I’ve lived, worked and even attended college in states that all lie East of the Mississippi. However, throughout my 18 years working in the technology business, my clients have been spread out around the U.S. and abroad. I’ve found myself doing phone calls before the sun rises and well after it has set. That’s just the way it is in this business.

While it is admittedly easier to write about companies that are located in another state, I the remote worker hardly begins and ends with us writers. More often than not I’m working with companies that have developers, architects, managers, directors and even executives spread out over multiple locations. One Canadian-based division of a company I represented showed a real sense of panache and even went so far as to build a robot with an embedded web cam to allow one of its developers to move to another province while still maintaining a “physical” presence in the office.

But the truth of the matter is that communication between people not within a single office is still problematic. You just cannot possibly be as free and open via email or even over the phone when it comes to scheduling meetings and sharing ideas.

As Johanna Rothman points out in her Managing Product Development blog:

“Let’s assume you have what I see in my consulting practice: an architecture group in one location, or an architect in one location and architects around the world; developers and “their” testers in multiple time zones; product owners separated from their developers and testers. The program is called agile because the program is working in iterations. And, because it’s a program, the software pre-existed the existence of the agile transition in the organization, so you have legacy technical debt up the wazoo (the technical term). What do you do?”

It’s Personal…and It Isn’t

Being the good consultant and managerial-type she is, Rothman offers a number of ways to mitigate issues between dislocated teams of developers. Her ideas are solid and very much in tune with promoting a good work environment for developers. These ideas encompass many good practices. She suggests establishing teams so that developers can’t be borrowed between offices and ensuring that each team has a specific task or feature on which they always work. She says to establish specific goals for each team and espouses the need to take extra time to map out what needs to be tested in each iteration so that teams in different time zones are not inconvenienced by conference calls outside their zone’s normal work hours.

All of these have great potential to make teams work together better…I’m not sure they solve the problem of the structural quality of the software being developed, though. The problem there is similar to something I learned in my eighth grade Chemistry class. There I learned that every vessel you use to measure something has a certain amount of inaccuracy to it. Therefore, when you use multiple vessels to measure something, you increase the level of inaccuracy for that measurement.

Similarly, when you split up a project, each team yields a certain level of control to its counterparts in other offices and geographic differences – whether teams are split between areas of the U.S. or other countries – play into what goes into the software and how code is written. Those are issues that cannot be resolved easily when you bring the various portions of a project together. However, if an organization implements an across-the-board requirement that all teams perform some form of structural analysis throughout the process, it can potential technical debt as well as provide a measure of visibility into the quality of the application software being developed.

Personally, combining Rothman’s ideas with structural analysis sounds like a good idea…technically speaking.


Jonathan Bloom Writer, Blogger & PR Consultant
Jonathan is an experienced writer with over 20 years writing about the Technology industry. Jon has written more than 750 journal and magazine articles, blogs and other materials that have been published throughout the U.S. and Canada. He has expertise in a wide range of subjects within the IT industry including software development, enterprise software, mobile, database, security, BI, SaaS/Cloud, Health Care IT and Sustainable Technology. In his free time, Jon enjoys attending sporting events, cooking, studying American history and listening to Bruce Springsteen music.
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