Dan Tombs tech debt

“How can I reduce tech debt using automation?” Reducing tech debt is crucial for managing risks and streamlining processes. On this episode of Appfire Presents: The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire, Atlassian Architect Dan Tombs joins Sergejs Cuhrajs to discuss best practices for reducing tech debt as well as highlighting the benefits of using no-code or low-code automation to do so.

About the guest

Dan Tombs is an Atlassian Architect at Inmarsat. Dan has extensive experience within the Software development industry where he has worked as a technical consultant & solution Architect around the Atlassian ecosystem for the last 7 years.

About the show

The BEST Work Management Show by Appfire features smart leaders sharing their secrets for optimizing business processes and increasing productivity. Get the goods on how they handle everything from setting up workflows to automating processes. Every episode is 10 minutes or less, packed with insights you can use right away to supercharge your team’s productivity.

For your convenience, here is the transcript of this episode:

How can I reduce tech debt using automation?

Sergejs:  Today we’re covering the topic of tech debt. With me, I have Dan, who is one of our app customers for JSU Automation Suite for Jira Workflows. Dan, would you like to introduce yourself?

Dan:  Thanks. Hi. I’m Dan Tombs. I’m an Atlassian architect background. I’ve been in the ecosystem for about seven years and worked both for solution partners for four years and now within customers.

Sergejs:  We hear the term tech debt a lot and it can mean different things to different people. Can you tell us what it means to you?

Dan:  For me, I think a lot of it is about building reliance, increasing risk, things like that. Ultimately, you’re building reliance on people, on certain skills, it could be code languages or third-party extensions, apps, and things like that. Basically, tech debt is when the cost of building or maintaining something outweighs the benefits that you get, you are then in debt to yourself. Obviously, that carries a huge amount of risk, and businesses nowadays are looking to remove that risk wherever possible.

When you think about how that fits into your Atlassian environment, I think one of the best analogies that I’ve seen so far is imagining your Atlassian environment like a glass jar. Some of you may have seen previously that video when that went viral on social media about how your life is that glass jar. The more complicated matters are the golf ball sized items, then you have your small little items that are pebbles and tiny things. 

It’s the same for your Atlassian ecosystem. The more complicated, the larger tech debt heavy items are those golf balls. The more you have in there, the more your environment gets filled up, and you can only manage so much as a person as an admin. We have to make sure that we’re always keeping those golf ball sized items down as much as possible.

Sergejs:  Awesome. To me, it seems like tech debt basically means you get over-reliant on some people, specific skill sets, code to maintain a piece of software.

Dan:  Absolutely.

Sergejs:  Can you give me a few practical examples why tech debt is a bad thing? 

Dan:  It has a huge cost, especially nowadays. I think it’s certainly being more recognized in the industry. 

The McKinsey Group did a study not so long ago where it reviewed loads of CIOs and looked into how they’re managing their tech debt. They noticed that some companies were going from 75% engineer time down to 25% engineer time of managing tech debt because they were dealing with it actively. They spent loads of time, they dealt with the problem, and they were able to reduce the time. That was 50% they were giving back to the company to spend in more productive manners, effectively. 

I think that’s really key and important, that we need to address these risks to stop services becoming horrible to maintain in the future. Having a really modern environment is brilliant for people to come work in and for admins to maintain nowadays. I think it becomes much more attractive when you’re dealing with these things. 

Tech debt for me is probably the most common and largest friction between systems, so reducing tech debt means that you can perform better integrations, that information can flow more freely to the people that need it when they need it. I think all in all, dealing with these types of things is really important. 

Sergejs:  Got it. Tech debt brings a lot of risks and those become even more painful down the line, especially if you are managing already complex systems. In your vast experience, what are some of the steps our viewers can take to reduce tech debt? 

Dan:  I think the most important thing is that we have to dedicate time to resolving these matters. As engineers, as software developers, you’re actively encouraged to go and scan your environment, proactively look for where you can find these improvements. 

It’s the same with our ecosystems, the applications we use to run our day to day lives. We have to proactively scan them. We have to go looking for problems because we can’t stand still, in this day and age, we just have to keep moving. Find those problems. Once you identify them, don’t just let them sit there, deal with them. Actively look for them, dedicate time to do that. 

Some definite areas where you’ll find some improvements that you can probably make is with rewriting scripts from code heavy based things that are more like no-code or low-code alternatives. No-code automation engines are huge, they’re growing in popularity, they’re highly productive tools. For all of their benefits, that’s a really great for juicing. 

You have things like creating standards, reusing configuration wherever possible. That’s really key because there’s less for us to maintain, it’s easier to spread that across multiple projects and things like that. 

Lastly, I’d say train education. It’s really key nowadays to make sure that our staff are trained as much as possible in the things that we should be educating them on. Best practice we need to spread as far and wide as we can.

Sergejs:  You mentioned keeping these as low or no-code as possible, avoiding scripts. One of the ways I think is JSU. Do you use JSU yourself?

Dan:  Definitely. Love JSU.

Sergejs:  I just want to quickly show that we have a few no-code and low-code apps. Of course, starting with JSU. It comes with an entirely code-free configuration process. Also, on Cloud, we have these great drag and drop rule builder with a friendly UI and things like that. It’s a really great choice for somebody who doesn’t want to deal with code or if you are a less experienced admin.

We also have a few other options. JMWE, which offers a mix of no-code and low-code capabilities. It has some awesome time saving features like shared actions that you can use to apply low-code configurations to multiple transitions and workflows. It’s a great way to advance your automation with that app. If you want to have more flexibility and you are comfortable dealing with scripts, we also have Power Scripts, which allows you to access deep levels of automation in Jira. 

I would encourage the viewers to check out these apps via the QR code we’re going to show on the screen and also by visiting Appfire.com.

Dan, if you could leave our viewers with a few things to remember on tech debt today, what would be those key pieces of advice?

Dan:  I’ve got three. My first one is as an admin, you are in control. I think that’s a really important thing to remember nowadays. You are the one that will effectively come in and have to maintain whatever the configuration is that you’re being asked to do. As people are asking for certain things, if they don’t sit right, you have the absolute obligation to push back. 

Don’t immediately shut down. Work with your requesting end users to find a less tech debt heavy alternative, because there are some out there. You may be able to work with them. You have to remain in control and think about all of the users when you’re doing this type of stuff.

The second would be look for low-code, no-code alternatives for wherever you are script heavy. You’ll probably find that most of your scripts can probably get turned into low-code, no-code alternatives. We’ve converted about 95% of our automations to those alternatives. They’re just as powerful and they’re easier to set up and maintain, so find those wherever you can.

On that, I don’t want anybody to ever feel afraid to automate. We have to automate. It’s a great way of improving user experience and our lives in these tools. Just when you’re doing, build with the scale in mind and don’t just think about the here and now.

Finally, I would say bespoke versus maintenance is a very fine line. Find where you need to fit on that line and work with it as best you can. Don’t get stuck all about creating bespoke configuration every time. Think about how you’re going to maintain it, does it fit with anything else that you have similarly, and can use reuse and reduce. 

Sergejs:  I totally agree. That’s great advice. I’m sure Jira admins looking to reduce tech debt will find these tips useful. 

That’s it for our episode. Thank you very much to everyone viewing this. Until next time…

Last updated: 2023-06-05

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