1. Falling behind
Each week their backlog is longer than the week before. People are working extremely hard but not making a lot of progress. Morale is low. Users are vocally dissatisfied.
Hire more people until team moves to treading water. Increase overall capacity. Find easy wins. Inject optimism.
2. Treading water
Unable to get critical work done but not able to pay technical debt or begin new projeects. Morale is a bit higher. People are working hard. Users are happier.
Consolidate team's efforts to finish more things. Reduce concurrent work until you're able to begin repaying debt. Limit work in progress.
3. Repaying debt
Able to start paying down technical debt and are beginning to benefit from debt repayment snowball. Each debt you repay leaves more time to repay more debt.
Add time. Everything is already working. Find space to allow compounding value of paying down technical debt to grow. Find ways to support users and also repay debt.
Technical debt is sustainability low. Morale is high. Majority of work is satisfying new user needs.
Maintain enough slack in the schedule to let the team build quality into their work, operate continuously in innovation and avoid backtracking. Ensure work your team is valued and not considered a science project.
Teams want to climb from falling behind to innovating and while entropy drags them backward. Each state requires a different tact/system fix. System fixes are slow. Systems accumulate months or years of static that needs to be drained all away. Same properties that make these slow to fix, make them durable. Hard part is to maintain personal and organisational faith in the plan.