Andy Kelk

Fire Marshal Fridays and Technical Debt

One of the teams that I’m working with came up with a great way of managing their technical debt backlog. The developers are split across five or six cross-functional teams (named after Game of Thrones families, but that’s another story). They wanted to make sure they were starting to clear technical debt already created in the platform and staying on top of new technical decisions.

The firefighting metaphor came up in our discussions but it’s not one I am fond of promoting as it could lead to being reactive (running around, putting out fires). Instead, the team opted for being fire marshals. A “fire marshal’s duties vary but usually include fire code enforcement and/or investigating fires for origin and cause.” (wikipedia). This seemed like a great description of what the team wanted to do – enforce codes that prevent fires and investigate the causes of any fires that do occur.

And so Fire Marshal Friday was born – one day every iteration when the team work in their functional group to make their world a better place.


One of the first things they’ve put in place is the technical debt box. Inspired by the retrospective input inbox (Janlén), the team write up new items of technical debt as they are created or uncovered and post them into the box. Every Fire Marshal Friday, they empty the box together and discuss each one and make a plan for resolving it. Items are either solved on the spot or are put into the tech debt epic that is tracked at a programme level.


This doesn’t preclude developers and teams from having technical debt discussions out of cycle but it does provide a convenient way for technical decisions which may not be the most important right now to not be forgotten so they don’t turn into full fires.

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