Continuous Delivery Continuous Integration Software

Visualising Technical Debt (with the Debt Boat)

Being successful in software delivery requires a team to constantly balance technical debt and feature delivery. Teams often fall into the trap of delivering features too rapidly at the expense of ever increasing technical debt, or delivering a over-engineered solution at the expense of not delivering things within reasonable time-frames and before any real world usage.

This is one of the key issues facing most software delivery teams I have worked on as there are often different appetites for delivery vs debt throughout an organisation.

I was trying to come up with a way to present technical debt in a visual format that could be easily understood by different people: management, stakeholders and a development team.

One thing we value is shipping things: getting our products in the hands of customers so they can get value from them. Accumulating technical debt, both customer facing and “under the covers” may allow us to rapidly get features to our customers, but eventually the debt grows and affects our ability to deliver.

In the “shipping” theme I came up with the Debt Boat: a way to visually represent things that build up and eventually slow us down. I like splitting technical debt into both feature debt: things our customers want but we chose not to do, and system debt which is technical things our customers (or product owners) can’t see (below the water line) but increasingly slow us down.

We originally had this boat on our team’s physical wall to show there’s only so much technical debt we can take “on board” before we sink.

Now that we’re 100% remote (for now) I’ve created a Jamboard version. I’ve shared the template here – you can easily make a copy if you think your team would find this helpful.

Click to view on Jamboard

3 replies on “Visualising Technical Debt (with the Debt Boat)”

Excellent concept! The visualization seems potentially useful for multiple audiences across the delivery landscape from business to product owners to the dev team. I’m excited to give this a try in our org!

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