Should we do a "Tech Debt Week"?

June 9, 2022
6 reasons a "Tech Debt Week" is probably a bad idea, and one time it might be a good idea.

Tech Debt gets a lot of attention. In many companies it’s a point of contention between management and developers, as devs want to pay down tech debt while management wants to focus on new features.

Then someone has a brilliant idea: What if we spend one week per quarter fixing tech debt? (or maybe one day per week, or any other periodic time)

Is this a good idea?

Let me explain why I think it’s not. Then I’ll end with an exception, where it might be a good idea.

  • A Tech Debt Week (TBW) doesn’t address the core problem, which is acruing technical debt. Focus on solving that problem first.
  • TBW teaches everyone involved that it’s okay to cut corners, because they can always clean up later
  • There’s always more tech debt that you can solve in a week
  • Cleaning up tech debt after the fact is harder than cleaning it up while working, becuase it involves more context switching
  • Some tech debt simply can’t be solved in a week. Tech debt that requires a months-long effort to solve tend to be ignored when we only have one week (or day) at a time to focus on tech debt.
  • “Tech Debt” is a very broad term, and people interpret it differently. Giving your team a week dedicated to “Tech Debt” doesn’t really mean anything, unless you inclue much more specific guidelines.

I’m sure I could think of other problems with a TDW. Suffice it to say: I don’t think it solves the underlying problem, and often contributes to it. So best to avoid such an arrangement.

Unless…

I promised one exception to my rule against a TDW. And that would be on a team that is preparing to transition to a mentality of evolutionary design, and constantly paying down tech debt with every feature they create.

If you’re preparing to do that, you may need a week (or likely longer) away from feature work to set up some base line tooling (linters, CI/CD pipeline, testing frameworks), or to undergo some training or mentoring on the new ways of working. However, this should be seen as a one-time thing.

If you feel tempted to repeat your tech-debt kickoff week, you have more serious problems that need addressing.

P.S. If tech debt is slowing you down, and you're not sure how to get it under control, I can help. Get in touch with me!

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