Huh? Maybe?

The retrospective starts with a bang…

This technical debt is killing us! We can’t get anything done!

Imagine the internal monologue of someone (or multiple people) in the room:

  • What is technical debt exactly? All of the technical debt, or some of it? Is all debt created equal? Is there technical debt I don’t know about?
  • Killing you? Literally? Frustrating you? Mild annoyance? How long has it been killing you? Is it getting worse?
  • Who is us? Everyone? The whole company? You? The team?
  • Who is we? Your team, right? All developers?
  • Can’t? Like you are literally blocked? Do you try and get blocked? Can you even start?
  • Anything? Nothing? Wait, nothing is getting done at all?
  • Done? Do you mean done-done? Done to a certain level of quality? Wait, so things are in progress? Started AND done?

Depending not the audience you may have ALL of those questions in the room, or NONE of those questions. If you’re a developer gettting “killed” by technical debt and can’t get anything done…well, you’ll nod, even if your understanding of the statement is different from the developer next to you.

Unintentionally loose language is everywhere. Let’s take some other examples. I’ll spare you the breakdown. With each statement consider all the ways these words might be interpreted.

  • We never get to iterate on stuff we ship (We, never, get to, iterate, stuff, ship)
  • We need to take the sprint goal more seriously (We, need, sprint goal, more, seriously)
  • The team is doing great, except for a couple slip-ups (the team, doing great, couple, slip-ups)
  • For a while we’ve played pretty loose with quality so we could move more quickly. And, um, it is time we grow up a bit and take it more seriously. (For a while, we’ve, played pretty loose, quality, we, move, more quickly, time, we, grow up, a bit, it, more, seriously)
  • I really need Sia to step up, and show more accountability (really need, step up, show, more, accountability)
  • It is QA’s responsibility to surface that when they feel their testing may push the project over-schedule (it, responsibility, surface, that, when, they feel, may push, over-schedule)


Everyone gets this, right? Everyone knows about the importance of clear/constructive communication. We practice, and invite coaches to help our teams when communication breaks down. We all strive for concise, unambiguous, and safe language whenever possible. We use specific examples/observations, avoid platitudes, avoid hyperbole, and counteract various cognitive biases (like base rate neglect, duration neglect, the focusing effect, etc.). When emotions are running high, we step back and calmly observe, and then use words/language that align 100% with our long-term objectives.

This is all 101 level stuff, right? We’re on to the tougher stuff now?


But imagine if you could improve on this by just 20%? What would that mean for your org, team, and career?

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