Addressing Technical Debt in Retail

5 minutes read
on 05 June, 2019

Addressing Technical Debt in Retail


Strategies that Help in Getting Executive Buy-In



As retail brands are moving towards a more digital existence, they are piling up technical debt at an unprecedented rate. The CIOs and CTOs are highly conscious about this growing burden and its crushing repercussions. But for the non-technical leaders of the business, this debt sounds more like a mythical figure than an actual threat.



While the concept of technical debt itself is difficult, it is further complicated by how it is accumulated over a period of time. The fast-paced digital advances and technology adoption are to blame. Kind of a paradox isn’t it? How can digital adoption lead to business growth as well as existential crisis in the form of technical debt?



It is not a sudden death that we are talking about. Technical debt is more a death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts kind of scenario. So how do you get executive buy-in to address technical debt in retail business?



Here are a few strategies that can work.



Strategies that Help in Getting Executive Buy-In



Quantify the Problem

Executive boards love numbers. Almost all boardroom discussions happen around numbers. So, it makes sense to use the same language as the board members when discussing technical debt.

Instead of just sharing theoretical information, try to quantify the problem of technical debt and make it more relatable. If you quantify technical debt, it would be easier for you to have a conversation where you have their attention. For example, if the technical debt is impacting product or service quality, then you can quantify it as sales lost. Or you can say how technical debt is impacting your resource efficiency adding to your operating cost.



Relate Technical Debt to Business Goals

Merely putting a number to the impact of technical debt may get you the attention. But you may still not be able to convince the board. So, we tell our retail clients to always put this number forward with a business context.

Ask yourself what the business really wants in the next 3 years. New customers? Entry into new markets? Add to the product line? If you have this clarity you can create a real business case for addressing technical debt. You can construct your conversation around how you can help the business achieve these goals if the technical debt was addressed.



Empathize with Decision Makers

There was a time when people believed that there was nothing personal when it came to business. But today, the tables have turned completely and business is all about being personal. This is not with respect to just the business-customer relationship. Even the relationship of decision makers with business has become more personal.

The people who are occupying positions of power have invested themselves in the business. They have their own pressures and apprehensions to deal with. Try to put yourselves in their shoes and understand them better.

We insist that our retail clients develop a better understanding of their executive board and how they make decisions. We help them think like a business owner so that they can have a more meaningful conversation. Adding a context to technology debt that the decision maker can relate to will help.



Talk About Value

Addressing technical debt may involve shaking up a few teams or even reconsidering a few investment decisions. This may require you to point fingers. Nobody likes to have someone else walk up to them and say this is the problem and I am going to fix it.

So, we tell our retail partners to talk about the value of the effort and not about fixing the problem. Showcase the real value in your effort and how it is going to benefit the entire organization. Show them how addressing technical debt is going to make their life easy.

Our experience shows that a little value-based conversation goes a long way!



Try a Makeover

When you think about it, the term debt is associated with negative feeling. Nobody likes to hear about carrying debt. So, the idea is to give the same concept a makeover that makes it look something work considering.

We have worked with some retail leaders who have called it a continuous improvement initiative. This sounded more positive and the entire organization stood behind it. It also helped them get other functions to shoulder the responsibility and pitch in. There are some organizations that call addressing technical debt a self-care program.

All in all, the idea is to make it sound less like a problem and more like a healthy habit worth embracing.



Convince the IT

When talking about technical debt, the focus is mostly on getting buy-in from executive boards. The line level managers and people actually working on digital solutions are easily forgotten. But they are the ones who will be inconvenienced the most. So, it is important that you have them onboard with you.

We insist retail leaders talk down their organizational hierarchy and not just above. Talk to your line managers and get them to see the value in your proposal. Have them aligned to your thought process.

This is where you need a more evolved digital culture within the organization. If you don’t have that in place today, you can drive that cultural shift.




Technical debt exists with almost every organization that is undergoing a digital transformation. You may choose to ignore it today but you will have to address it someday. The ones who do it sooner are able to optimize the benefits of digital transformation.

You can talk to our consultants to know how other retail leaders are dealing with their technical debt and what strategies have helped them.

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