Tech debt → maintenance load

on Ben’s Blog

I came across this incredible series about technical debt by Chelsea Troy. (Her site is a treasure trove of articles on topics I care about and I'll probably spend some time reading and reflecting on them.)

In the first part of the series, she introduces a concept called maintenance load to think about technical debt. That is,

how much effort your development team spends to keep the existing features running the same as before

Maintenance load is a function of

She then gives some example scenarios where let's say you have a 10 y/o code base (✓) where devs wrote some tests (✓), some cursory documentation but not everything is documented (✓), and occasionally something got rethought or removed (✓). In a code base like this, 4-5 devs are just on maintenance 🤔.

I feel seen 😅.

My ears perked because not only does this largely apply, but my team just began to pilot a scheme I devised where we split our team into a new feature team and a maintenance team. A big motivation was to allow some developers to focus on building and avoid context switching. So in some ways, we have made explicit the maintenance load on our team.

I still have yet to digest parts two and three where she describes how to avoid and reduce technical debt, but it feels good to acknowledge and understand the issue more clearly.