Technical debt is a common concept in software development. Also known as Tech debt or Code debt, It can make or break software updates. If this problem is not solved for a long time, its negative consequences will be easily noticeable.
In this article, let’s dive deeper into technical debt, its causes, and ways to address them.
What is Technical Debt?
‘Technical Debt’ was coined by Ward Cunningham in 1992. It arises when software engineering teams take short cuts to develop projects. This, in turn, leads to creating more work for themselves. Since they choose the quickest solution rather than the most effective solution.
It could be because of insufficient information about users’ needs, pressure to prioritize release over quality or not paying enough attention to code quality.
However, this isn’t always an issue. But, it can become one when a software product isn’t optimized properly or has excessively dysfunctional code.
When Technical debt increases, it can cause a chain reaction that can spill into other departments as well. It can also result in existing problems getting worse over time.
Causes of Technical Debt
Prioritizing business needs and the company’s evolving conditions can put pressure on development teams to cut corners. It can result in preponing deadlines or reducing costs to achieve desired goals; often at the expense of long-term technical debt cost. Insufficient technological leadership and last-minute changes can also lead to misalignment in strategies and funding.
As new technologies are evolving rapidly, It makes it difficult for teams to switch or upgrade them quickly. Especially when already dealing with the burden of bad code.
Unclear project requirement is another cause of technical debt. As it leads to going back to the code and reworking it. Lack of code documentation or testing procedures is another reason for technical debt.
Human resources causes:
When team members lack the necessary skills or knowledge to implement best practices, unintentional technical debt can occur. It can result in more errors and insufficient solutions.
It can also be due to when the workload is distributed incorrectly or overburdened which doesn’t allow teams to implement complex and effective solutions.
Frequent turnovers or a high attrition rate is another factor. As there might be no proper documentation or knowledge transfer when one leaves.
As mentioned above, time and resources are major causes of technical debt. When teams don’t have either of them, they take short cuts by choosing the quickest solution. It can be due to budgetary constraints, insufficient processes and culture, deadlines, and so on.
How technical debt can impact business?
Managing technical debt is a crucial step. If not taken care of, it can hinder an organization’s ability to innovate, adapt, and deliver value to its customers.
Just like how financial debt can narrow down an organization’s ability to invest in new projects, technical debt restricts them from pursuing new projects or bringing new features. Hence, resulting in missed revenue streams.
Results in design debt:
When the development team fixes immediate issues caused by technical debt; it avoids the root cause which can accumulate over time and result in design debt – a suboptimal system design.
Leads to customer churn:
When tech debt prevails in the long run, it can result in the new features being delayed or a miss in delivery deadlines. As a result, customers can become frustrated and hence, seek alternatives.
Ways to reduce technical debt
The vicious cycle of technical debt begins with short cuts and compromises accumulate over time. Below are a few ways to reduce technical debt:
The automated testing process minimizes the risk of errors in the future and identifies defects in code quickly. Further, it increases the efficiency of engineers. Hence, giving them more time to solve problems that need human interference. It also helps uncover issues that are not easily detected through manual testing.
Automated testing also serves as a backbone for other practices that improve code quality such as code refactoring.
Regular code reviews:
Code review in routine allows the team to handle technical debt in the long run. As it helps in constant error checking and catching potential issues which enhance code quality.
Code reviews also give valuable input on code structure, scalability, and modularity. It allows engineers to look at the bugs or design flaws in the development issues. There needs to be a document stating preferred coding practices and other important points.
Refactoring involves making changes to the codebase without altering its external behavior. It is an ongoing process that is performed regularly throughout the software development life cycle.
Refactoring sped things up and improves clarity, readability, maintainability, and performance.
But, as per engineering teams, it could be risky and time-consuming. Hence, it is advisable to get everyone on the same page. Acknowledge technical debt and understand why refactoring can be the right way.
Track with the right metrics:
Engineering metrics are a necessity. It helps in tracking the technical debt and understanding what can be done instead. A few of the suggestions are:
- Defect Escape Rate
- Cycle Time
- Lead Time
- Deployments Per Day
- Cumulative Flow
Identify the key metrics that are suitable for measuring technical debt in the software development process. Ensure that the teams have SMART goals that are based on organizational objectives. Accordingly, focus on the identified issues and create an actionable plan.
Adhere to Agile methodology:
Agile Methodology, such as Scrum or Kanban promotes continuous improvement and iterative development. It breaks down the development process into smaller parts or sprints.
As Agile methodology emphasizes regular retrospectives, it helps in reflecting on work, identifying areas for improvement, and discussing ways to address technical debt.
By combining agile practices with a proactive approach, teams can effectively manage and reduce it.
Listen to your engineers:
Last but not the least! Always listen to your engineers. They are the ones who are well aware of ongoing development. They are working closely with a database and developing the applications. Listen to what they have to say and take their suggestions and opinions. It helps in gaining a better understanding of the product and getting valuable insights.
Besides this, when they know they are valued at the workplace, they tend to take ownership to address technical debt.
Addressing technical debt with Typo
To remediate technical debt, focus on resources, teams, and business goals. Each of them is an important factor and needs to be taken into consideration.
With Typo, enable your development team to code better, deploy faster, and align with the business goals. With the valuable insights, gain real-time visibility into SDLC metrics and identify bottlenecks. Not to forget, keep a tap on your teams’ burnout level and blind spots they need to work on.