Agile 2018

Agile 2018
Speaking at Agile 2018

Monday, October 9, 2017

The fatberg in your organization

This is grotesque monster is lurking in your organization
Last week I shared some thoughts about technical debt.  It is a pretty important topic because plenty of organizations are dealing with the repercussions.  As a scrum master and coach, you will have to navigate this treacherous territory because in the world of enterprise technology you are often attempting to update systems while trying to keep the business running.  I liken it to performing heart by-pass surgery on someone running a marathon. 

To illustrate the damage of technical debt, I point to the city of London.  It is suffering from a particular problem which is grotesque and illustrative of legacy systems.  A “fatberg,” is clogging the sewers of the city.  Over the length of the tower bridge spanning the Thames River, it weighs several thousands of metric tons.  Composed of fat, condoms, towelettes, and sewage, it is a drain clog of biblical proportions.  City officials concede that if the object is not broken up, it will cause the sewers on the cities east end to back up.  Combine a sewer system first constructed in the 1750’s with twenty-first-century human waste you create a “fatberg.”  It is a perfect metaphor for technical debt. 

The sewer system was not designed to scale to accommodate a population of over 8.5 million people.  Making matters worse non-biodegradable towelettes and latex condoms did not exist in the 18th century.  Finally, human behavior changed with people dumping their cooking fat into the drain instead of recycling it for soap and further cooking.  The result is one of the most repulsive examples of human waste created by humankind. 

There is no easy fix for this disaster.  Workers are spending time breaking up the “fatberg,” and civil engineers are attempting to find ways to prevent this environmental abomination from happening again.   Some of the problems can be mitigated by banning moist towelettes which are not bio-degradable.  That is still not going to prevent people from dumping cooking fat down the drain unless the government can come up with a program to recycle it.  Such a recycling program would rival what happened in the United States during the Second World War.  We have also not come up with a decent substitute for latex condoms. 

The depressing reality of this situation is similar to what happens every day in a fortune 500 company.  Bad data pollutes systems, and that data requires teams of professionals to organize and understand it.  People exchange excel spreadsheets via e-mail with no change management or concern for security inside an organization.  Finally, countless human hands are used to bill, invoice, and collect money from customers.  It has all the making are a “fatberg.” 

I am a lonely voice in the wilderness about this issue, but continuous improvement depends on the removal and mitigation of technical debt.  Otherwise, your organization is going to confront its own “fatberg,” and it will not be pretty.

Until next time.