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Technical Debt

Part of the Covid Hack series by John McFadyen

We all experienced massive disruption, complexity and ambiguity in the face of Covid-19 hitting the fan. It caused mayhem in many companies, and as people adapted to the new and foreseeable ‘normal’, new patterns and problems arose from swimming in unchartered waters.

The vast majority of people around the world had to adapt and respond to the limitations and fixed parameters that the Covid pandemic dealt. For some, it was a breath of fresh air. For others, an incredibly painful process littered with stumbling blocks.

Embracing Setbacks and Challenges

The second principle behind the Agile Manifesto is ‘Welcome changing requirements, even late in development.’

In principle, it’s straightforward. In practice, it’s tough. It is a product of a high-performance culture that embraces Agility.

Many teams have had years of practice, reinforced by Agile coaching and deeply embedded change agents who guide teams through transformation.

ScrumMasters. In-house Agile coaches. Agile leadership.

For you. Agile Transformation kicked off on Monday, 23rd of March 2020, somewhere between the time you popped out for a pint of milk and the ‘Agile Transformation’ was completed around the time you returned home with said pint of milk.


The good news is that you’re still alive if you’re reading this, and whilst transformation may have been super hard to adapt to in the beginning, the lights are still on, and the wolves are at bay. Kudos.

Some things have been hard, whilst others have brought little moments of joy to you and your team, potentially even your customers.

That’s what happens when you accept the circumstances for what they are and simply get on with it. 

The magic starts to happen when you no longer ‘accept’ circumstances and instead actively embrace them.

You’re in this. Your team are in this. The circumstances aren’t going to change any time soon, but you and your team will be changed forever. 

That’s a good thing. Embrace that. Leverage that.

Technical Debt 

Technical debt, also known as design debt or code debt, is a concept in software development that reflects the implied cost of additional work caused by choosing an easy (workaround) solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer.

It’s a bad thing because (1) the amount of time and effort that is required to ‘fix’ the software simply compounds over time, and (2) the system itself starts to generate increased amounts of errors and dysfunction as a result of the layers and layers of ‘bad code’ that compound over time.

Apart from the fact that the system is corrupt and deteriorating on a daily basis, it also breeds a dysfunctional environment. For companies. For teams. For individuals.

Covid-19 has created such a significant disruption that we’ve all had to rapidly adapt to the new norm without much thought about structure, team dynamics or optimising for the whole.

The problem, however, is that many companies are starting to accumulate the equivalent of ‘technical debt’ in their team dynamics, systems and processes.

In their corporate culture.

Increasing disruption. Increasing frustration. Increasing dysfunction.

It doesn’t have to be. You can embrace the circumstances and leverage that to transform.

Here’s how.

Reducing Technical Debt

Knowledge is Power. Power is the ability to manifest your intention. That’s why we always start with training. 

Learn the basics and master them.

In response to Covid-19, we’ve launched an online introduction to Agile and Scrum course. Our way of contributing. 

Learning the basics of Agile and Scrum is going to give you insights into how you can form small teams that acquire cross-functional skills and work in short, sharp and focused cycles known as sprints.

You’ll learn the importance of structuring and prioritising work in smaller chunks, known as a backlog, and planning each sprint based on the most valuable work that delivers the most valuable outcomes.

For your customers. For your departments. For your teams.

You’re going to learn about tools that you can use to track and measure progress as you move swiftly through each sprint cycle. 

You’re going to learn about conducting reviews at the end of each sprint so that you and your team are continuously learning and improving.

You’re going to learn how to build on successes and learn from failures.

You’re going to learn the value of discovery and experimentation. The value of creativity and collaboration. The value of iteration.

You’re going to learn the value of starting slowly, moving with purpose, and evolving into a high-performance team that builds momentum each week. A team that creates with precision.

You’re going to experience the unique joy that comes with embedding creativity, learning and experimentation into a culture of high-performance collaboration.

More advanced training can come later. Agile coaching and high-performance workshops can help your team make significant gains down the line too. The key, for now, is simply to master the basics and slowly build momentum and cohesion through the process.

Ironically, even though Scrum and Agile are a product of software engineering and digital dream weavers, Post-It notes are the preferred tools of the trade, so you don’t need expensive software and tools to get cracking. Analogue Post-It notes do just fine.

Embracing this opportunity to transform how you work and how your teamwork together is one of the most valuable things you can get out of the Covid crisis. Learning how to do it properly and effectively is one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself.

Agile and Scrum are simply the frameworks. 

The magic comes from how you and your teams adapt those frameworks to produce the best, most rewarding work you are capable of.

That’s where Business Agility lives. That’s where creativity lives. That’s where joy lives.