Technical Debt is a model in software development that reflects the implied cost of future rework when an organization utilizes a quick and easy short-term fix over a better long-term approach. Technical debt involves rushed and inelegant coding that will ultimately cause problems, and like using duct tape to keep your broken muffler from falling down; eventually a mechanic needs to make it right.
Technical debt is cumulative, and can weigh down an entire project/enterprise because the longer the organization waits to “pay” in the form of the right technology, the more “interest” it owes. Changes to software solutions are typically more difficult to implement the longer they’ve been in place and have had a chance to become entrenched and if ignored for too long, the code debt can cause massive liability problems, and turn into “9-digit defects” where the costs of a software issue can result in losses in the hundreds of millions.
There are several core causes of technical debt, which can have compounding negative effects for the organization if allowed to continue unchecked. Here are some insights into the causes and consequences as well as how companies can recognize their technical debt loads.
Causes and Consequences of Carrying Excessive Debt
Many development teams will at some point find themselves working at a lower output, which puts a strain on their performance. In order to get projects “out the door”, the team might take on more design debt without offering solutions to repair it.
As the debt load increases gradually, and the software development team is not given the time to pare it down, it culminates with a complete overhaul of all of the code through a time-intensive rewrite process that takes the team away from other revenue-generating projects.
Too much technical debt directly impacts the team’s ability to operate with agility and velocity.
They often encounter a backlog of tasks due to the debt, which can then undermine staff morale, drive higher turnover, and restrict innovation.
There are some reoccurring causes of technical debt, including;
- Not setting requirements up front
- Pressure from business leaders to complete IT projects that forces shortcuts in the coding
- A lack of understanding about the ramifications of technical debt
- Poor collaboration among the management and within development teams which can result in lack of test suites, poor documentation, and increased instances of duplication
- Unskilled developers who do not write elegant code and cause issues
- Management does not encourage (or actively discourages) developers from cleaning up code after a product/platform launches
Crafting a Debt Management Plan
Firms that want to conquer existing Technology debt and prevent new accumulations must first account for debt-related decisions. They should note any instances where a shortcut is taken that adds to the overall software/coding backlog. Another step is to find existing instances of liability, which can be done via technology tools to spot duplications, violation of various rules, and documentation problems. Taking this step helps the company to visualize their duty and begin the process of strategizing ways for reduction.
Turning the debt into a dollar amount is a useful exercise to provide a value amount, which gives management insight into the depth of the problem. Estimate the hours required to fix the various shortfalls and multiply that by the total number of deficits to create an approximation of the monetized value of the liability. Then, build a debt limit which is essentially a measurement of risk and ability to make timely “payments.”
Tackling this obligation involves training the team on how to recognize code problems and how to employ the best practices to fix the issues. For example, offer training on fixing rules violations and techniques for spotting duplications. Similar to a household that’s struggling with multiple kinds of debt, it’s best to tackle the short-term and high-interest problems that are frequently changed (patches, quick fixes, etc.) And then move onto the longer-term issues found in systems that are rarely changed but still need updating. Remember the analogy to household debt isn’t 100 percent accurate since you don’t want to be “debt free”, just to have stability and a gradual decrease.
Managing such Technical debt is essentially about making strategic choices. A company might accept imperfect code in order to launch a service, and then will quickly fix the issue in the following days or weeks. But if they choose to ignore needed fix and let it pile up, then the debt grows and starts to negatively impact the business.
The consultants at TechBlocks can provide guidance to development teams on how to recognize and reduce technical debt. They can do this strategically in a way that targets both short and long-term debt to pay the most dividends for the organization. Visit www.Tblocks.com to learn more.