Operating Software

Manage technical debt in SAFe

Any company aiming for category leadership has to be a great software company. That requires setting quality, architecture and security standards when applying SAFe - and gaining full control over technical debt.

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Your company’s success depends on your ability to build good software

Organizations in nearly every industry are increasing their bet on software-driven innovation, transforming themselves into tech companies. 

This new reality introduces new competitive dynamics, and bringing high-quality applications to market faster is a crucial differentiator. The firms that don’t invest in software and data capabilities risk falling behind. 

So how to use software to create a competitive advantage? 

The answer lies in your ability to:

  1. Attract the best developers
  2. Develop the best software
  3. Efficiently handle any obstacle between 1 and 2

Good developers are attracted to the opportunity to work on good software – which results in better applications. 

Manage Technical Debt in SAFe

Technical debt insights

When evolving from a traditional industry, like retail, finance or manufacturing, to a software company, you don’t get to start from scratch. You have to deal with your existing systems, which often support or even run your key business processes. They’re also usually poorly built with outdated technologies.

Over time, more and more shortcuts are made to keep the systems up and running, something often referred to as technical debt. Now, this technical debt is slowing the software development within your organization - along with your innovation speed.

As with real debt, taking on some technical debt can be a sound tactical decision. However, most technical debt is unintended and invisible to the business, even to developers. Below are three ways to get a handle on technical debt:

Preventing technical debt

A direct consequence of the adoption of SAFe is development teams become far more autonomous and therefore harder to manage. How do you ensure your developers will still create high-quality software? What is missing is the ability to measure quality, security and all architecture-related matters in exactly the same way for all teams and technologies. Developers should be able to use the results to improve their work where needed and management should be able to have a more abstract, less detailed view on the same source data so that they can control and steer where needed.

Addressing technical debt

Most technical debt in legacy systems should be ignored. The key is to identify those instances which require a limited investment to remove it, while delivering a much larger improvement in productivity. Interesting places to start are low quality units of code which are untested, play a central role in a system's architecture and are often changed by developers. Such an informed approach to identification of refactoring candidates empowers developers to quickly improve system quality, to internalize approaches to development of high-quality software, and to spend no more time on development of quality code than is actually needed.

Managing technical debt

Technical debt must be inventoried and quantified in monetary terms for all development teams, technologies and software in an organization's portfolio. This is a prerequisite for the leadership to prioritise and decide on potential business cases. These typically are a development effort investment in return for increased development productivity for specific software systems or development teams. The objective is to either speed up development for specific systems or to free up development capacity for innovation elsewhere.

Manage technical debt in SAFe

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