True North & Technical Debt

At Findmypast we constantly bickered about the way we worked, what problems we had and how we should fix them. All I can say is that we had a lot of problems and could never reach agreement on how we should be delivering our software. What we needed was a direction and absolute clarity for decision making when it came to improvements to our system of work. We settled on creating our own True North, a set of guiding engineering principles. True North is a technique borrowed from Toyota and Lean teachings to help cut down debate in favour of action. We set our True North and these guiding engineering principles now give us a single, focussed direction to our improvement efforts.

In this talk I’ll explain how we reached consensus on our True North principles, and how we’re putting them into practice today. Having convinced our upper management on the merits of continuous improvement, all our engineering teams now have 20% of their time to spend on improvement. The teams are free to prioritise however they see fit as long as they’re working towards one of our True North principles. We borrowed from the Phoenix Project’s four types of work and built a lightweight process to identify and understand the technical debt within our system. We now plan and execute improvements to remove these limitations. I’ll further explain the parts that were successful, those that weren’t, the mistakes we made, and what we learned along the way. My hope is that attendees of the presentation will be inspired to go away and roll out their own True North, with a rough framework and idea of how to manage the change based on our approach at Findmypast.



Neil Crawford

Neil Crawford is head of technology at Findmypast after serving as software architect and technical lead. He made his start in games programming but found his passion for web development working on ...