Skip to main content

A Technical Debit - Collateralized Debt Obligation you should not invest in

I just watch Ward Cunningham explain the XP Technical Debit metaphor that he coined.  It enlightened my understanding of how the term was applied in the early days (when he used it), and how we have mutated the metaphor to cover areas he never intended.

Ward Cunningham's Debt Metaphor Isn't a Metaphor (18 March 2009)

In summary Ward was suggesting that it was valuable long term thinking for a company to take on debt (technical debt) in order to ship a product early and get market feedback. Feedback that would get factored into the next iteration (release) of that same product. You see building software by Ward's XP model is not like building a house or a sky-scraper, it's like growing a garden of asparagus. Asparagus is a flowering perennial which requires several seasons of cultivation before it is ready to ship to market.  My father grew asparagus in our garden, when I was a kid, I didn't like it much then, but love it now.

Using debt to achieve something much more valuable is using the power of debt in a good way.  Like buying a house for your family to live in.  To shelter them from the environment when you live in Chicago.  But if you live in Hawaii, the debt taken on to shelter your family may be much less valuable.  Hence many people live in much less house in warmer climates.

Some people of course take on debt to live in lavish houses for other reasons.  One could debate if these reasons are rational.  And therefore debate if the debit is good or bad.

We all know by now that there is bad debit.  Our wonderful banker friends have given us a great lesson in trusting them, and there use of our money to create more and more complex debit instruments.

Are we in the software world following their lead?

Pist - hey, I've got a great Collateralized Technical Debt Obligation Instrument for us to invest in.  We just hack out this code, get the prototype hooked into the DB, don't worry about unit-test, do away with all that automated acceptance test framework.  We allow someone else to test it, we just write and sell the application.

Chris Sterling just published his book on this topic, Managing Software Debt.  I've not read it yet, but it is in my todo list.  Lisa Crispin wrote this review.  In full disclaimer mode - I've worked with Chris - and he rocks it!

Managing Software Debt

Want to know more about Collateralization of Debt - read the highlights from the Motley Fool on the official Debt Crisis report (warning - it may bring tears to your eyes):  Financial Crisis - greatest hits from the official report.

See Also:

The Technical Debt Trap - Doc Norton

Post a Comment

Most Popular on Agile Complexification Inverter

Elements of an Effective Scrum Task Board

What are the individual elements that make a Scrum task board effective for the team and the leadership of the team?  There are a few basic elements that are quite obvious when you have seen a few good Scrum boards... but there are some other elements that appear to elude even the most servant of leaders of Scrum teams.

In general I'm referring to a physical Scrum board.  Although software applications will replicated may of the elements of a good Scrum board there will be affordances that are not easily replicated.  And software applications offer features not easily implemented in the physical domain also.

Scrum Info Radiator Checklist (PDF) Basic Elements
Board Framework - columns and rows laid out in bold colors (blue tape works well)
Attributes:  space for the total number of stickies that will need to belong in each cell of the matrix;  lines that are not easy eroded, but are also easy to replace;  see Orientation.

Columns (or Rows) - labeled
    To Do
    Work In P…

Exercise:: Definition of Ready & Done

Assuming you are on a Scrum/Agile software development team, then one of the first 'working agreements' you have created with your team is a 'Definition of Done' - right?

Oh - you don't have a definition of what aspects a user story that is done will exhibit. Well then, you need to create a list of attributes of a done story. One way to do this would be to Google 'definition of done' ... here let me do that for you: Then you could just use someone else's definition - there DONE!

But that would be cheating -- right? It is not the artifact - the list of done criteria, that is important for your team - it is the act of doing it for themselves, it is that shared understanding of having a debate over some of the gray areas that create a true working agreement. If some of the team believes that a story being done means that there can be no bugs found in the code - but some believe that there can be some minor issues - well, …

What belongs on the Task Board?

I wonder about these questions a lot - what types of task belong on the task board?  Does every task have to belong to a Story?  Are some tasks just too small?  Are some tasks too obvious?  Obviously some task are too larger, but when should it be decomposed?  How will we know a task is too large?

I answer these questions with a question.  What about a task board motivates us to get work done?  The answer is: T.A.S.K.S. to DONE!

Inherent in the acronym TASKS is the point of all tasks, to get to done.  That is the measure of if the task is the right size.  Does it motivate us to get the work done?  (see notes on Dan Pink's book: Drive - The surprising Truth about what motivates us) If we are forgetting to do some class of task then putting it on the board will help us remember.  If we think some small task is being done by someone else, then putting it on the board will validate that someone else is actually doing it.  If a task is obvious, then putting it on the board will take vi…

A T-Shaped 21st Century Knowledge Worker

Knowledge workers in the 21st Century must have many areas of deep knowledge, while also be capable of collaboration across multiple other domains with dissimilar T-shaped individuals.  This description of a person is a metaphor.  Compare it to the shape of the "I" in the classic saying there is no "I" in Team.

I first read about Scott Ambler's term "Generalizing Specialist" - but it's so hard to remember the proper order of the words... get it backwards and it has an inverted meaning... T-Shaped is easier to remember. 
A generalizing specialist is someone who:
Has one or more technical specialties (e.g. Java programming, Project Management, Database Administration, ...). Has at least a general knowledge of software development. Has at least a general knowledge of the business domain in which they work. Actively seeks to gain new skills in both their existing specialties as well as in other areas, including both technical and domain areas.  General…

David's notes on "Drive"

- "The Surprising Truth about what Motivates Us" by Dan Pink.

Amazon book order
What I notice first and really like is the subtle implication in the shadow of the "i" in Drive is a person taking one step in a running motion.  This brings to mind the old saying - "there is no I in TEAM".  There is however a ME in TEAM, and there is an I in DRIVE.  And when one talks about motivating a team or an individual - it all starts with - what's in it for me.


Pink starts with an early experiment with monkeys on problem solving.  Seems the monkeys were much better problem solver's than the scientist thought they should be.  This 1949 experiment is explained as the early understanding of motivation.  At the time there were two main drivers of motivation:  biological & external influences.  Harry F. Harlow defines the third drive in a novel theory:  "The performance of the task provided intrinsic reward" (p 3).  This is Dan Pink's M…