Monday, November 2, 2020

CPP and Technical debt -- history


debt (n): that which is owed
technical debt (n): unmet scope items owed for project completion
The term "debt" as applied to projects has been promoted as part of Agile methods since at least the late 1990s, certainly more than a generation ago. As a matter of process, debt is added to backlog, and scheduled, according to priority, in sprints or iterations like all other scope is processed.

But, guess what!
Debt has been around longer than 25 years. Who knew?!
Well, of course, there have been "punch lists" and "check lists" and "parking lots" and the infamous version 2.0, but really: how old is this debt concept?
 
Circa 18th century
In the late 18th century, a small group of American politicians, the elite of their day, met to frame a new constitution for the United States.  Heretofore the country had been operating under Articles of Confederation which were judged to be too weak to hold the union together.

Crafting a new constitution for a republican form of government, to operate at continental scale! Never been attempted. A rather massive project when you get right down to it.
 
One of the first orders of business in the Constitutional Convention was to form the "Committee on Postponed Parts"
 
Committee on Postponed Parts
Brilliant! There you have it, perhaps one of the first technical debt vehicles applied to a large scale project -- the CPP!.
 
Different, but also similar, to the priority ranking and scheduling of technical debt we see today, the Committee was an active body. Its members, like PMs today, set priorities, scheduled when to birth it's ideas on the main body, and debated alternatives for "customer satisfaction". 

So, curiously, what were some of the "postponed parts" from the Constitutional Convention?
  • The first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, was deferred to the first Congress seated under the new constitution (*)
  • The location of the permanent capital city
  • The assumption of war debt by the "general" (aka federal) government
  • A central bank

Actually, there were a lot of "parts" postponed. By design, the Constitution had to be skinny in its enumerated powers to gain state ratification, but robust in other ways to form a strong union. No small matter, architecturally.

And so, many thorny issues were labeled "postponed parts" and were not closed for many years after the ratification. Nonetheless, the American constitution today is testimony to the workability of the debt concept embodied in the Committee on Postponed Parts.

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(*) Actually, the first Bill of Rights was a set of 12 amendments. But two were not approved and left with the CPP. Thus, what we popularly know as the "First Amendment" was actually numbered "3rd". Ah, but ordinal numbers, like first, second, third, do not convey importance or priority -- just order.

 

 



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