Blog post

Technical Debt Benchmarks Are a Waste of Time

By Roger Williams | January 07, 2022 | 0 Comments

It’s goal-setting season and reducing technical debt levels continues to be a top challenge for I&O leaders. When I talk with I&O leaders about how to reduce infrastructure technical debt, I’m often asked “What’s the average level of technical debt / end of life components in other organizations like mine?” It’s a reasonable question, yet I’ve found it’s a useless one.

Even if we could get credible estimates for this (which could be a long blog post itself), knowing this figure and how we compare to it would not actually help us make better decisions about technical debt. Imagine our organization is estimated to be at 25%, compared to a pretend median of 20% for our specific geo/industry/size combination. We inform the CFO of this and request a budget increase to close the gap. Are they likely to approve this, or will they decline under the rationale “I don’t see any problems, so it’s to our advantage that we can keep spending less on refreshes than our competition!”

Conversely, if our organization is at 25% and the pretend median for our geo/industry/size is at 30%, does that fact make us happy? Will we be submitting a smaller budget for refreshes next year because we are overperforming? I won’t hold my breath. Clearly, we don’t want the baseline to guide our decision making, we want it to justify a higher budget for this work to persuade those who won’t listen to (our) reason!

We have talked with enough C-level execs to know that they won’t just blindly approve budget increases because of a benchmark, even if comes from a credible source like us. So, what to do instead? We must build the case for investment the same way we justify any other investment – we can demonstrate more value for the enterprise from investing that what it will cost us.

Thus, a much better question is “How do I help our leaders understand the true cost of technical debt and put the right pieces in place to reduce those levels to the best balance of costs and risks for us?” If that question is on your mind, please reach out to your Gartner account team to talk to me about that – I’d be happy to help.

The Gartner Blog Network provides an opportunity for Gartner analysts to test ideas and move research forward. Because the content posted by Gartner analysts on this site does not undergo our standard editorial review, all comments or opinions expressed hereunder are those of the individual contributors and do not represent the views of Gartner, Inc. or its management.

Leave a Comment