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Episode 69: Tackling Tech Debt: How to Manage and Mitigate Its Effects

by Hannah Rose | Oct 18, 2023 10:00:00 AM

Tech debt is widely talked about today, but it means different things to various people. In this episode, expect to gain a better understanding of what tech debt is, how it manifests, what limitations it can bring, and how you can go about mitigating it. There is no way around tech debt, so we might as well learn how to manage it.




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Show Notes:

Pre-show banter: Jess needs to take some time to rest and rejuvenate, and Doug jokes that he thought The RevOps Show was her weekly sabbatical. Doug and Jess also consider what music should be played as the walk-up song for Inbound. Some contenders: the Muppets Theme Song and All I Do Is Win.

This episode focuses on the topic of tech debt. When we say tech debt we don’t mean technology debt. We’re talking about technical debt. As with any definition, this term is somewhat ambiguous and can mean what various people want it to mean. Tech debt is a word that was coined by Ward Cunningham who is one of the original authors of the Agile Manifesto. Tech debt, also known as design debt or code debt is used in technology space and refers to anything that relates to a limitation by something that happened previously. It could be a bug, legacy code, or missing documentation. Where it’s used acutely is making the decision to do something fast.

Part of the idea behind that is if you wanted to save up your money and build to buy something in the future, you’d have to wait a long time or you could borrow money. You could take on debt and you could buy it now. But there are known and unknown consequences made about technology today that will have an impact tomorrow.

For Doug, he thinks of tech debt in a much broader sense because he believes everything is technology. Think about it - a pencil is a technology. There was a time when you only wrote with rocks. 

Anytime you do something different, that is technology, and there is a risk associated with it. Any decision you make today is going to have an impact on what happens tomorrow and in the future. Every decision you don’t make today will also have an impact on tomorrow and the future. Not deciding is deciding. 

Avoiding tech debt completely isn’t possible and trying to avoid it is not feasible. However managing and mitigating tech debt is an important aspect of RevOps. Tech debt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but something that needs to be managed. Tech debt is necessary for creative destruction where old systems are replaced by new ones. 

There are two types of debt: 

  1. Planned 
  2. Unplanned

Planned tech debt involves making decisions that we know won’t stand up in the long run but serve a quick promise. Unplanned tech debt occurs when a solution becomes obsolete and needs to be replaced. 

Tech debt is not absolute but rather tied to the desired outcome or problem being solved. And it can be hard to accurately measure tech debt because it involves identifying where the organization currently stands, where it needs to be and the barriers preventing progress. 

Fixing tech debt based on symptoms rather than underlying causes can lead to ongoing issues. Unknown unknowns and known unknowns can contribute to tech debt. So can assumptions and unexpected actions. 

Doug isn’t a fan of MVP, he prefers the idea of levels of completion. System design is important for understanding completeness and addressing tech debt. It’s important that you approach situations with curiosity and questions to mitigate any tech debt. 

Tech debt can occur when companies prioritize short term solutions over long term strategies, leading to inefficiencies, increased maintenance costs, and reduced agility. One way to manage this is through a guiding policy that sets guidelines and principles to make consistent decisions that align with the company’s vision. Another approach considers the levels of completion which involves breaking down initiatives or projects into smaller steps. By breaking down initiatives, companies can prioritize and address the most critical tech debt first, reducing the accumulation of more debt. Considering custom or configured solutions can help manage tech debt. Regardless managing tech debt requires a proactive and strategic approach to decision making, focusing on long term goals and considering trade offs between short term gains and long term consequences. 

When organizations find themselves stuck or struggling with their CRM, it’s often due to the accumulation of tech debt which can manifest in various ways like: 

  • Inefficient processes
  • Workarounds
  • Outdated configurations
  • Outdated customizations

In order to reduce tech debt, organizations should prioritize levels of completeness, which means focusing on launching CRM updates and improvements regularly rather than one big overhaul. Launching the CRM three to four times per year helps minimize the emergence of tech debt as any issues or changes can be addressed in smaller, manageable increments. 

Ultimately organizations need to prioritize optimizing the business as a whole, rather than focusing on the individual.

Jess’s Takeaways: 

  • Limitations and constraints drive creativity and innovation.
  • Think about levels complete.
  • Configured versus custom is going to have a huge impact on how you mitigate tech debt. 
  • If there’s not a guiding policy you’re going to have a lot of tech debt.

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