Technical Debt and Scrum

Scrum really was the tipping point in our attempt to become agile. Taking responsibility for what we deliver increased trust between the team and management. Trust gave us a significant amount of autonomy, and as we all now know it’s self direction that really motivates us.

From my point of view as Scrummaster the most important thing was the rythm of regular delivery and maintaining the trust and autonomy we had established. Mindful of the good engineering practices encouraged in scrum we attempted to at least never increase technical debt however the continual pressure to deliver what we committed to discouraged any major refactorings. These were saved for interim periods that we tended to have every few months whilst the product was released, by which time the list of things to do was big.

Over the years we have managed to reduce our technical debt, engineering standards are high and defects low. Reduced technical debt makes it easier to focus on adding great functionality and we can really see the benefits it has bought. Constantly reducing technical debt means as the software grows more complex our velocity doesn’t reduce, it may even increase, although we shouldn’t rely on velocity as a measure of productivity.

The more we collaborate the more we care about the code the rest of the team writes. Pair programming is the practice that has helped us reduce technical debt the most, so many times I’ve been stopped from doing something quick and dirty by a team mate. It’s like having an angel looking over your shoulder!

The question is if we hadn’t introduced Scrum would we have even less technical debt and the greater productivity that brings? Using Kanban to improve our process has proved an interesting alternative and has freed us up to spend more time reducing technical debt as needed. However it’s the XP practices such as pairing and the feeling of common code ownership that set us on the path of reducing technical debt and it’s Scrum that gave us the autonomy and collaboration that allowed us to commit to these practices so I can safely say that despite the issues for us Scum helped us reduce technical debt.

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