Agile Pain Point: Product Debt

A scribble with the word Product Debt

What's Product Debt?

Product Debt is the culmination of competing business needs, functionality requests, hastily made design decisions, quick fixes, wonky workarounds, and then some –  that has led to a feature-crowded, possibly clunky, and oftentimes not very usable product.

You’ve heard it before, agile product delivery is a balancing act between building the right thingbuilding the thing right, and building the thing fast. Product Debt mainly happens while you’re trying to build the right thing.  How do you choose which features and feedback to incorporate with constant feedback and input from your stakeholders and customers? How do you prioritize requests? Or how do you make one person happy while knowing someone else won’t be?

Design with the end in mind.

Become a product and service-focused “machine.” Understand the problem (or need) you’re trying to solve and have a strong vision for your product solution strategy, both internal and external. This is how you do it:

 The business articulates its needs

• Stakeholders prioritize those needs through support and funding

• Product Owners create and drive the product vision and ensure alignment of delivery

• Business needs and product strategy are visualized and communicated through the roadmap, and

• The Product backlog visualizes the decomposition of the roadmap into traceable, digestible pieces of work.

Through the balance of customer collaboration, rolling wave planning, and transparent delivery practices, your product direction, prioritization, and delivery strategy will be to the benefit of everyone because everyone was a part of the process. And everyone will be on the same page and know where they’re headed.

SIDE NOTE: To build the roadmap, you absolutely must have input from business experts, technical experts, process experts, and the people doing the work. You won’t have an accurate projection of what is possible if any representative is missing . You might aim high but not have the tech foundation to back it up. Or, you may set out to build a high-tech product, but it’s not what your customer wants or needs. Every one of those voices working together to represent and balance their interests is vital when deciding on the ultimate goal. It takes a village – and an agile coach!

Intentional Problem Solving

With a strong vision and product solution strategy, you can make decisions with intent.  The Product Owner will make sure teams are building the right thing. Not at the mercy of fire drills and random requests. Responsiveness to the business and technology is needed but should not always be the driving force.

here will always be a constant tension between building the right thingbuilding the thing right, and building the thing fast. Releasing the tension in any of the three areas will be a decision you’ll have to pay for later. Robbing Peter to pay Paul, so to speak, leads to possible product debt. Or tech debt, or time debt, but that’s another blog. Maybe you’re short on funding or time and need something fast. Building a quick and dirty prototype is perfectly acceptable.  It’s another story if you’re building an enterprise solution.  Each decision is a tradeoff that needs to be made with intent and with a complete understanding of the consequences. This brings me back to the beginning….

Decide what’s important to your customer, execute on your strategy, and build with the end in mind.

You don’t have to go it alone! Let us help!


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