Technical Debt and how to deal with it

24. 7. 2022

Monika Kinlovicova

What Technical Debt is, what it is NOT, what can be the consequences, and how to deal with them – and of course, how we can help there

What is technical debt?

If you’re not an absolute rookie in the tech industry, chances are that you heard about the term “Technical Debt”.  Also known as design debt or code debt, this term is widely used in the technology space and covers everything from bugs to legacy codes, to missing documentation. But what exactly is technical debt anyway? And why do we call it that?

Tech Debt occurs frequently in the IT world.

Nowadays are software companies under constant pressure from the market and their competitors to develop and ship fast. This can often lead to the trade-off between taking on technical debt or launching later. In other words – Tech companies deliberately skip certain steps in the development process to be up-to-speed, and not to delay the release of the product. This is nothing unusual, and it happens quite frequently.

Most of the agile teams don’t view technical debt as inherently bad. In fact, most, if not all software products have some degree of technical debt. The issue is when the debt is unknown, or not tracked  – or even worse – ignored. These are the cases when Tech Debt can cause massive issues to the business. In this article we will speak not only about how to prevent this from happening, but also how DEV PACK can help you with the process of eliminating the Tech Debt.

What is NOT Technical Debt?

Tech Debt is NOT a mess

A mess is not a technical debt. A mess is just a mess. Technical debt decisions are made based on real project constraints. They are risky, but they can be beneficial. The decision to make a mess is never rational. It’s always based on laziness and unprofessionalism and has no chance of paying off in the future. A mess is always a loss.

How is Technical Debt created

As we mentioned above, the most common reason for the Tech Debt is a constant pressure from the market and the stakeholders to be fast in the development and products’ launch. This often results the tech companies omitting to make changes in the product development. But based on our experiences, there are also a few other reasons, such as insufficient testing (QA and QC), which leads to quick band-aid fixes, inadequate technological leadership, coding without supporting documentation, last minute changes to specification, and mostly – lack of talents and skill gaps.

While none of this can be 100% prevented, we, in DEV PACK, can certainly help you to eliminate the most obvious issues. The team of our SW specialists follows the best practices in Software Development, and with their help, the Tech Debt will be kept at a minimum.

What are the consequences of the Technical debt?

Like all debts, Tech debt has its consequences too. If it is left untreated, it can become very harmful for the business. How? For example…:

  • Technical debt, especially in the legacy systems is putting companies in danger. At least 50% companies operating with the legacy systems experienced 2-3 major disruptions or outage over the past decade.
  • It is an obstruction for any innovation. When the companies spend too much time on resolving the Tech Debt, it is highly unlikely that there will be any time left to work on the new, innovative solutions. This ultimately means, losing the competitive advantage.  
  • It reduces team agility, produces poor quality code, strains the testing team and eventually reduce your company’s overall productivity.
  • It forces developers to spend their time inefficiently.
  • Loss of competitive edge.
  • And many, many more.

How to prevent the Tech debt causing issues to the business?

Well, firstly – be aware of your technical debt, and don’t forget that it has its consequences, especially if you leave it untreated. Therefore, you must do more than only hoping that the debt will disappear on its own, or pray that it won’t cause too many issues.

6 most common strategies that DEV PACK specialists can help you with to deal with the Tech Debt:

1. Standardization of the Tech Debt definition in your company

Sometimes there are too many opinions, from business, and tech when it comes to the Tech Debt definition – and they can become confusing. Business tends to view the Technical Debts primarily as something negative, as they can cause technological failures, trigger higher operational costs and impact the markets. In a tech context, Dev teams concentrate purely on the impact of the Technical Debt on the technical side, such as reduced quality of code, testing, and design. Frankly, all opinions in the above scenario are correct, but to come up with the corrective plan and actions, Technical Debt should be evaluated from the common perspective, understanding both the business and technical implications of debt. In this step, we can help you to unify the business units, and find the common consensus on the definition.

2. Define the activities to mitigate the Tech debt

Recognition of the problem, is just a beginning of the solution, not the end of it. Unfortunately, it often happens that businesses are aware of the technical debt, yet put no procedures in place to handle it. So, after you identify what the problem is, also agree on the further actions before it harms your business and clients. Establish the collaboration between IT and the business, agree on the next steps, and timelines, and assign the dedicated person responsible for handling the tasks. Hence, when we’re working together with your company, acknowledging the issue is the first step in the whole process.

3. We will help you to put in place the code standards and the regular reviews

Code standards are a must for every company, and we will assist you to put the standardized process around them. Not only they help developers write clean, readable code, but the proper documentation helps to easily address any changes that may need to be made later. We will help you to implement the coding standards that will reduce the tech debt in the long run by clarifying and unifying the standards of a “good app”. Code review is a process where developers audit each other’s codes for errors. In addition to avoiding potential issues, this practice allows the team to learn from one another and develop their skills.

4. Follow Agile Software Development Practices

We know that mitigating technical debt is more effective when we pay it off regularly every single sprint. We ensure that all Technical Debt tasks are included in the Product Backlog, which makes tracking easier. Also, by following the Agile methodology, we track the current status and keep the technical debt under control.

5. We make testing a mandatory part of your development process

As one of the key activities in our company is Testing, we know more than anyone else about importance of it, and the risks if omitted. Automated and manual testing helps us to detect bugs and errors in the system, double-check the code, and validate the quality of the software. Our software developers, as well as dedicated QA engineers, are typically responsible for conducting automated testing alongside their regular development activities. By proper automated testing, we increase quality control because it eliminates the need for manual testing, which speeds up issue detection and reduces the chance of human error. Also, automated tests allow QA teams to work on more sensitive issues that require human expertise. Automated testing accelerates the bug detection process and reduces human intervention, negating technical debt.

6. Start with refactoring of problematic codes

Refactoring, or restructuring the messy code to make it more understandable, maintainable, and bug-less is one of the go-to practices when dealing with the Technical Debt. This practice is a necessary part of modernization and tech debt payoff, as it helps to transform the legacy code. By regular execution of minor refactoring we ensure that we reduce technical debt to a possible minimum. Our refactoring produces clean code, making future refactoring activities easier to perform. You can therefore consider this an investment in your future battles against negative consequences of the Tech Debt.

To conclude:

Tech Debt is something that will always be a part of the SW development process, but with the correct measures it can be resolved before it results in more serious issues that will harm your company’s productivity and your reputation.

In our company, we offer our clients a thorough mapping of their all existing processes and systems, and we are able to identify Tech Debt in legacy systems and codes while your internal resources can continue in BAU. If you want to know more details about it, get in touch with the DEV PACK specialists.

Authors: Iva Gracova

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