How Technical Debt Affects Your Velocity

November 19, 2012

All companies that produce software products experience technical debt. As a member of an Agile team, technical debt affects your velocity. In this post, we’ll briefly explain both technical debt and velocity and make the connection between the two concepts.

Let’s begin with technical debt. In short, this can be described as unfinished business. It occurs when a task, requirement, feature, user story, or some other aspect of the project is incomplete. Technical debt takes on many different forms. Bad design, incomplete testing, bugs, unknown requirements, and others make up the universe of technical debt. Left unmanaged, technical debt can swallow a software product. Technical debt can rise to the level where the team can add no new functionality to a product. All they are able to do is fight the problems associated with technical debt.

Velocity is a measure of how fast a Scrum team delivers business value. It is represented as a number that is tied to the team’s estimates for all of the tasks, features, user stories or backlog items completed during a Sprint. Velocity can fluctuate but should begin to stabilize across multiple Sprint iterations. Once a predictable velocity is established for a team, it can be used in Sprint planning to determine how much work a team can take on for that Sprint.

Now that we have a brief overview of each concept, I hope you can begin to see why technical debt affects your velocity. I like to think of technical debt as a weight that has to be dragged around by the team. Until the weight is cut free, the overall efficiency of the team is going to be affected. Dealing with technical debt issues may cause your team to overestimate their backlog items. Thus, fewer backlog items can be completed during a Sprint because the estimates begin to add up quickly.

It may also cause your team to avoid different backlog items because of the lingering technical debt. They may fear that the associated work is so difficult to address that they feel uncomfortable taking ownership of that particular backlog item.

Not surprisingly, there is also an reverse relationship between velocity and technical debt. That is, depending on how velocity is used and reported, it can affect the technical debt weighing on a project. Here’s why – if a team is being pressured to improve their velocity, they may begin to cut corners. Testing can suffer, bugs can be overlooked, and collaboration may be minimized when a team is pushed to perform at a velocity that is not optimal for them.

If you find that the technical debt is piling up, let Braintrust Consulting Group help you find and fix the underlying problems. With our experienced team of Scrum coaches, Braintrust can help you overcome these issues and provide your team with the tools necessary to manage technical debt effectively. We can also help you find the optimal velocity for your team. We will factor in their working styles, their abilities and skills, and give them the know-how to estimate with confidence. Click on the Contact page to hear from one of our product specialists. Or, head over to the Services tab to find out more about our offerings.



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