Managing Technical Debt in an Agile Project

Mass Bay Chapter

Johanna Rothman works with companies to improve how they manage their product development--to maximize management and technical staff productivity and to improve product quality. She is the author of Manage Your Project Portfolio: Increase Your Capacity and Finish More Projects and the Jolt Productivity award-winning Manage It: Your Guide to Modern, Pragmatic Project Management. She is the author of the forthcoming Agile and Lean Program Management: Collaborating Across the Organization. See her blogs and more of her writing at

Do you have a product owner who doesn’t want to admit to technical debt? “Give me another feature! And another feature! Just keep giving me features! It’s feature time, baby!” Once a product owner has the heady feeling of seeing features one after the other, it’s difficult for that product owner to consider anything other than features in an agile project.

I can understand when a product owner wants features first. But if you are working on a legacy product, you have technical debt. The product owner must also rank technical debt. But some product owners have “feature-itis”, an inability to see the technical debt. If you have a product owner like that, you will work with both the project team and the product owner to manage the technical debt.

Because any project team who doesn’t manage its current and legacy technical debt will eventually discover that it is impossible to produce features. It’s a slippery slope. Here’s what an agile project manager can do to work with a project team and a product owner.

Help the Project Team Avoid Any Current Technical Debt
As a team produces features, the team must discuss what “done” means so it doesn’t incur any current technical debt. It must address architecture debt, design debt, test debt…any kind of technical debt it can imagine. A …

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