Technical debt (aka code debt or design debt), in software development, refers to a financial metaphor coined by Ward Cunningham in 1992.
It illustrates a case scenario in which the software development team is believed to have followed an easy and short-term solution approach than implementing a labor-intensive and more optimal strategy. In turn, it causes more time, effort, and resource deployment to make required changes in the product.
Technical debt is based on the philosophy of monetary debt analogy in which compounding interests run incessantly as a result of unpaid debts. Just as your monetary debt keeps piling up as long as the same is not repaid to your bank in full settlement, technical debt also requires a similar type of repayment.
In technical terms, such repayment means suffering a loss on return on investment by a company until necessary steps are taken by its development teams to fix the substandard quality of software and make it compatible with modern technologies. Unfortunately, by the time such steps are prioritized, damage to the ROI is already done, as the faulty app or product has accumulated considerable tech debts requiring costly iteration sessions and maintenance.
According to Martin Fowler, technical debt is known as cruft (i.e.– poorly designed programming elements) that results in software entropy (i.e. rotting or decaying the quality of software) due to various factors, including adding new application features by cutting corners.
Is Technical Debt a Bad Thing?
Technical debt arises due to a lack of direction and mutual understanding among team members regarding a project’s goals and long-term thinking. Technically, it may not sound like a bad thing but can be counterproductive in due course of time if not addressed immediately.
Is Technical Debt Predictable?
Companies seldom want to see its product incurring considerable technical debt, but it is mostly predictable.
Because your project will never see the light of day (i.e. coming out of the development stage) if your tech team keeps on waiting and waiting till every line of code is perfect. Besides, when you choose a short-term fix, you end up having weaker software conflicting with your business requirements.
However, tech debt can be monitored and managed through various strategies, including setting coding standards, identifying a sign of debt, prioritizing tasks, writing automated tests, branching the codebase, etc.
Repercussions of Technical Debt in Software Development
Similar to the financial debt analogy in which debts have to be paid off one way or another, technical debt warrants repayment in software development as well.
In tech parlance, it is all about prioritizing necessary works to fix the ramifications of technical debt caused by initializing sub-optimal coding in place of full-scale solutions.
Even if technical debt occurs due to some unavoidable circumstances, you can’t procrastinate its fixing. The longer your tech team waits to deal with the cruft, the more it would quantity the issues, leading to a labor-intensive fixing of the faulty software design adhering to new changes.
How to Know If a Project has Encountered a Technical Debt?
- It will signal a subtle sign known as Code Smell, indicating something problematic in the source code.
- When you see technologies overlapping each other due to higher levels of complexity
- When an entire system crashes due to bugs
- When the coding style is inappropriately refactored
- When the project conflicts with compatibility with other software or hardware, encounters security hacks, slow performance, etc.
Five Points Indicating the Cause of Technical Debt
Organizations seldom want to encounter technical debt, but some factors account for its genesis. It could be planned, unintentional, or unavoidable. Let’s find out.
1. Attempting to Save Costs on Budget
In contrast to what most companies do to reduce costs and speed up development to save costs on budget, what pans out eventually defeats the initial approach. For example, deploying minimal resources, leveraging a poor tech stack, and dedicating less time to a project collectively lead to technical debt.
2. Rushing the Project Development
A case of technical debt arises followed by the tech team being pressurized to rush the project development, thereby limiting or compromising its quality.
3. Development Processes not Aligned with the Team
When the development team lacks a well-documented concept regarding the project development, it causes confusion and no desired coordination among team members coupled with a lack of test automation.
4. Lack of Experienced Tech Team
The likelihood of encountering tech debt can be avoided if the experienced team handles the project development lifecycle. Such a team facilities early detection of common issues that, if not addressed promptly, would lead to tech debts.
5. Poor Quality Testing
Testing is one of the most vital parts of any software development lifecycle, ensuring that the product functions satisfactorily on required quality parameters. When the necessary testing is ignored due to a lack of QA support or rushing the project to market, it leads to technical debt, in course of time.
A strong recommendation is adopting a DevOps model for automated efficiency in your software development lifecycle.
Steps to Manage and Reduce Technical Debt
Assess the Tech Debt
When figuring out what causes the tech debt, chances are that you may come across a variety of contributory factors, including low-performance ratings of the app or developers spending much time iterating.
One of the ways to measure this is to understand the number of days required by the developers to fix technical debt by deploying a host of activities, including application replacement or code refactoring.
Once done, initiate a cost/benefit analysis based on the remaining days before the software release date and lay out a projection of how you want technical debt to change over time.
Involve Technical Debt as a Part of the Discussion Topic with your Developers
Ensure that your developers are constantly reminded of technical debt so that they remain focused on long-term improvement, flexibility, and scalability concerning project development.
While the occurrence of tech debts is unavoidable, ensure where you are drawing the borderline in compromising your decision and whether it is reasonable and for how long. For example, if the code quality is a bit problematic, you need to ensure that it would be addressed later when you would have a new component library.
Acknowledge that Tech Debt Exists
One of the most important or perhaps the easiest ways to handle tech debt is acknowledging its existence and letting your key stakeholders know the same. If communicated well about the genuine cost of tech debts, the chances for playing down its existence would be none, thus enabling your developers to manage it efficiently.
Use Automated Testing
If the project development lifecycle is put on a strict timeline, it becomes challenging for a development team to ensure the quality of the software release. Under such circumstances, without resorting to cutting corners, organizations can adopt automated testing to reduce resource deployment on manual testing, thereby helping them focus on quality deliverables within the deadline.
Moreover, automated testing reduces code issues as it facilitates automated debugging cycles and initiates diverse other processes ensuring code doesn’t have problems once a module is updated.
Benefits of Automated Testing
- Enables rapid testing
- Reduces costs
- Helps developers save time to focus on other crucial tasks
- Boosts productivity level within the team
- Limits the possibility of encountering technical snags during the final development stage
Structure Project Better
This is one of the most efficient ways to handle tech debts. There are many project management tools, including Hive Trello that can be leveraged to monitor development statuses and maintain schedules. Moreover, code issues can also be monitored for early fixes whereas deploying code-analysis tools like SonarQube can help identify code-related problems and prioritize them accordingly.
Restructure Software Architecture
Restructuring the software architecture is a modern approach to reducing tech debts. From providing real-time data analytics to converting curated data into the desired state is the handiwork of an intelligent software architecture, among other capabilities it features.
Since most organizations rush to put their ideas on the market and initialize software development quickly, the process of building architecture gets hasty and account for tech debts, which they pay later through restructuring.
Restructuring architecture or building a flexible architecture for your software is a viable solution for reducing tech debts. You are advised to choose a software architecture that promises security, scalability, and flexibility.
Set up Code Best Practices
Make sure that the coding standards to be followed in software development are well-documented, indicating best practices for developers to exercise. Developers adhering to the best practices and coding standards manage to avoid the chance of racking up tech debts significantly.
Initiate Refactoring the Source Code
Refactoring affords the best assistance for developers to deal with technical debt. Leverage it to change the source code’s quality without inflicting any changes to its external behavior. Refactoring alters the code written poorly or changes filthy code that occurs when developers fail to provide an immediate workaround. If initialized at regular intervals, refactoring may reduce existing tech debt along with bringing efficiency to your code’s readability and maintainability.
Technical debt is an implication of additional rework on a project that was developed by following an easy and shortcut way than choosing a labor-intensive and more optimal approach by the development team.
Similar to the monetary debt analogy, tech debts require fixing before the cruft compound to a point of damaging a company’s return on investment. This means companies can’t afford to see the tech debt compounding in due course of time by procrastinating its immediate fixes.
Mentioned above is the detailed guide on a technology debt, its causes, and steps to manage it effectively so that you can help your business identify, manage, and decrease tech debts significantly.
An ideal way to avoid the possibility of technical debt is to hire a reputed software development company that will ensure you walk through every stage of your software development lifecycles for a high-quality project release.