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Chaos Management in Software: A Guide on How to Conduct it

Author: Pricilla Bilavendran

Last updated: April 21, 2024

chaos management in software
Table of Contents

Introduction to Chaos Management

The Oxford Dictionary defines chaos as “a state of great confusion and disorder; turmoil.”

The technique of managing projects with high unpredictability is known as chaos management. It is described as the “asymmetrical inverse” of project management.

Many natural systems, such as climate, weather patterns, and human behavior, are naturally unpredictable, according to chaos theory

It is about being adaptable and agile in the face of change since all systems are unpredictable to some level, resulting in inherent chaos. It is all about building mental agility so that you can deal with unexpected changes in your surroundings and be ready to take advantage of new chances.

For three reasons, chaos management is crucial in software engineering, project management, and other industries:

  • Although chaos has a detrimental effect, it may be extremely helpful and vital for some enterprises or professions.
  • Organizations that do not use chaos administer their projects in a “safe” manner, which implies they are less innovative and adaptable.
  • For certain jobs, maintaining control over all situations is impractical.



Indications of a Chaotic System


“Chaos at the bottom means order at the top. Order at the bottom means chaos at the top.” – Stephen K Hayes

Turbulence and uncertainty are the initial indicators of a chaotic system. A chaotic system has an unpredictable future that cannot be anticipated as precisely as a stable system.

When too much development occurs too soon, this is one symptom that chaos may be present in an organization. Growth is usually beneficial, but not when it causes chaos and confusion.

Companies also exhibit indications of disorder when they overstretch their operational capacity or resources, such as money or people, creating an unstable atmosphere for both employees and consumers.

The following are some key aspects of measuring chaos:

  • The number of unknowns in a system.
  • The number of degrees of freedom in the system.
  • The sensitivity to initial conditions will also play an important role in determining whether a system is stable, predictable, or chaotic.



A Case Study – What Happens When You Don’t Have Chaos Management in Place?

When running a business, it is fundamental to have an effective workflow and chaos control systems in place. The escalation hierarchy should also be properly defined and organized. Without these, the company’s productivity will be slowed to a halt.

Uber’s approach to consumer feedback is an excellent example of chaos management. They utilize their feedback channels to develop a system that compels customer support representatives to prioritize concerns and close them as soon as possible so that each case may be handled before another one arises.



How Chaos Hinders Productivity and Workplace Environment Quality

Chaos is a word that many of us are familiar with. Poorly managed chaos is damaging to productivity and people’s mental health. It harms a company’s reputation by making it look untrustworthy to its consumers. 

In the work environment, we can see how it can negatively and positively affect our output. It is essential to be in a healthy work environment that offers employees the opportunity to succeed and be rewarded for their achievements. The problem with chaos is that it can cause an unhealthy work environment, negatively affecting the worker’s productivity, quality of work, and physical health.

Chaos in the workplace also impacts team building because when people are in a chaotic space, they cannot focus on anything other than how they feel at that moment.

We have all been there – that one time when we did not get enough sleep, or the project was due tomorrow morning, or we needed to wake up early to get that presentation done before your meeting started. Unfortunately, these moments can result in increased errors and overall lower quality of work.

However, chaos is not always negative; sometimes, it drives us to produce our best work. It pushes us into hyper-focus mode and leads to an increased production rate. However, when chaos becomes chronic, and we are constantly being thrown off balance, it causes the team to lose their motivation. This can eventually lead them down a path of burnout or even worse – quitting their current job entirely because they need some peace for themselves. So, the balance and the threshold matter here. 



Introduction to Technical Debt

Many factors contribute to organizational chaos, one of which is technical debt.

Technical debt is a term used in the software development process to describe the cost of doing something prematurely. It’s also the cost of fixing something later that should have been fixed earlier. Technical debt is often the result of shortcuts taken during the software development process. These shortcuts can be in the form of code that is not well written or tested or features that are not well designed. In either case, the result is code that is more difficult to maintain and more likely to contain bugs. Technical debt accumulates when a company or individual fails to invest in the latest and greatest technology, software, or hardware. This can lead to decreased efficiency and increased costs.



Identifying the Sources of Technical Debt

There are several methods for determining the sources of technical debt. One approach is to simply examine the code itself. Is the code adequately structured and written? Are there any review comments? The code may become more difficult to read and maintain if this is not done.

Examining the development process is another technique to uncover the sources of technical debt. Was the software created utilizing an agile approach? Otherwise, there may be a significant amount of old code that has to be refactored. Furthermore, if the program was not created through an iterative process, it may be more difficult to add new features or modify current ones.

To sum up, the common reasons are:

  • Stringent Timelines
  • Insufficient testing
  • Obsolete technologies or tools
  • Lack of skill set with the technical teams
  • Lack of documentation
  • Lack of code quality



Effects of Technical Debt

Technical debts may harm your business and brand image. Yes, you read that correctly.

Errors and bad practices can lead to further accumulation of technical debt. This can cause problems with the system’s functionality, increased costs, and decreased efficiency.

What are the other areas it could affect?

  • Customer Satisfaction
  • Nature of the software development process and its speed
  • Cost of the new feature/modification of the existing one
  • Maintenance cost
  • Team Harmony
  • Operations



Ways to Manage Technical Debt:

Instead of being anxious, we should get our hands dirty and prepare for our next steps.

Here are a few manageable, simple tips and tricks to handle the technical debts in your projects/organization: 

  • Identify indicators of debt, calculate the time required to pay it off, and devise a strategy.
  • Establish coding standards and schedule pay-off intervals.
  • Develop the necessary features first.
  • Write your code and document them properly.
  • Demand early code freezes.
  • Write automated tests and refactor the code.
  • Using branching when required.
  • Perform code reviews and versioning.
  • Select scalable and expandable architecture.
  • Develop the necessary features first.
  • Write your code and document them properly.
  • Test early in the development process.



How to Manage Chaos and Earn your Own Personal Low-key Karma Points!

A chaordic organization is an organization that feels natural in its chaos, nurturing and amplifying the potential of human talent by giving individuals permission to collaborate and innovate as they see fit.

It’s not that it’s always low-key. It’s just that there are many points of focus or “hot spots” in the chaotic environment of a chaordic organization, where employees can make their own decisions.

If you’re managing chaos and earning your personal karma points, you can feel more confident about your leadership abilities.



Closing Thoughts:

“In the midst of Chaos, there is also opportunity” – Sun Tzu

As we can see, the world is full of chaos. Success is all about how we handle chaotic scenarios. Technical debts can be handled efficiently, and every organization should pay special attention to them. Plan which areas of your code base you want to rebuild and restructure, either alone or alongside your team. Even lowering technical debt in code as you encounter it has a cumulative effect on your development and user experience. Chaos control is critical for preventing technological debt accumulation and increasing system functionality.



Technical debt should be detected and scoped as systems evolve to evaluate its impact. Technical debt is managed with continuous process evaluation and maintenance.

“Chaos and debt are not just negative terms; they can deliver excellent outcomes to your business if you are clever enough to capitalize on the opportunities and plan perfectly.” – Pricilla Bilavendran

Pricilla Bilavendran

Pricila Bilavendran is a test engineer and a certified mentor, currently at Billennium, as well as an advocate for diversity and inclusion. Her experience with Functional, EDI, ETL, Automation, API testing and Postman is part of what she shares in her workshops, webinars, and writing. A global ambassador for the WomenTech Network, and one of the speakers at its 2023 conference, she can be found on LinkedIn, Twitter, and her blog.