“We all think we’re going to get out of debt.”
Louie Anderson, even being the amazing comic that he is, has somewhat said the underlying truth about debt. It is never necessary what we think is what we are going to achieve. Be it financial or technical, debt is the scotch tape that will come handy for a quick fix, but someday, sooner or later, it is going to reveal what it was holding back until now.
In this more evident world of computer engineering and software development, the concept of technical debt is relatively new and not yet completely explored. All we know is that it is the shortcut, created to meet deadlines of projects. They eventually end up negatively affecting in the long run. It does not matter how small or large your organization is, you can run, you can hide, but you cannot escape from technical debt.
What is Technical Debt?
We all begin with a visionary design in our mind when it comes to crafting a software solution and invest in all our time, resources & efforts to build on it. There is no dedicated Technical Debt definition available, it is more of a theory-based concept talking about a real-time practical issue. The underlying idea here is to create a solution that resonates with agile methods and is adaptive to the changes that could crop up in the future.
But, eventually, with deadlines and minor setbacks, we end up taking the shortcuts to speed up, increasing the overall complexity of the system. This resulting code, in the end, is messy, unclean and complicated. This pairs up with compromising on lousy design choices, poor programming, changing requirements or the presence of outdated libraries or frameworks that made sense in the past but have become a liability now. Congratulations! You have taken upon uncalled technical debt just to meet the time to market demands.
A lot of companies, whenever they are in a critical situation, always go with the “Hack it, for now, fix it later” mantra to ship the project fast and acquire more users than their competition. But it is not how we want to go about hoarding technical debt in the long run.
How Technical Debt Arises?
There are three types of technical debt:
Planned Technical Debt
– An informed decision made by the enterprise to generate some technical debt and an understanding of the risks and costs involved. It becomes critical when it comes to defining the compromises the enterprise intends to make.
Unintentional Technical Debt
– an unplanned technical debt created, due to poor communication within the enterprise, misaligned goals of business & programming or poor practices involved.
Unavoidable Technical Debt
– when there is a change in the business, a change of project scope or technological advancement in mid-project, an immediate debt is created as these new features cannot be incorporated into the existing design.
The biggest problem with technical debt in agile is that it often leads to more debt—or worse, a misuse of the phrase to excuse poor practices. Good code is considered an asset, bad code is worse than a liability. Your customers are not concerned about how your code looks. They just want a product that fulfills their needs and works well. The idea is to not let technical debt become the elephant in the room that we choose to ignore, but address this and pay these debts off before they turn into pains.
All too often, the work to reduce technical debt is delayed in deference to competing priorities. That’s where the problem becomes worse, as these decisions sum up to become the causes of technical debt to accumulate further over time. Left unchecked, this debt grows slowly and insidiously until it becomes the proverbial ball and chain that can prevent an organization from keeping pace with its nimbler rivals.
How to reduce Technical Debt?
Technical Debt is soul-crushing and we have to find ways to reduce technical debt. The following mentioned are 8 ways to avoid, reduce or eliminate technical debt with bare minimum adverse effects.
Align relevant teams for the project
Taking control over the technical debt is a team effort and requires ideas and inputs from the relevant decision-makers involved in the project.
While you are chalking out plans for any new project, it is a good practice to include both IT operations and the business team together for the discussion. This becomes a good platform for the operations team to voice out their opinions and concerns while also keeping the market point of view and how they trade-off with the overall costing of the project.
This will make sure to prioritize technical debt and ensuring team alignment without wasting an ample amount of time.
Set achievable goals and measure results
We generally give into timely delivery pressure and go ahead with design shortcuts to speed up the development process because we do not want to deal with the negative after-effects of a hastily developed software that would require all of the attention in future.
A good practice is to spend more time understanding the end-user requirements, foretell the future changes and mastermind a solution that scales for both development and production. This helps to avoid setting unrealistic exorbitant design goals.
Instead of trying to publish a larger set of functionality, scope down to a smaller solution increment that allows you to allocate the proper time to adequately design and test.
Adopt Agile Development Process
Agile Software Development is a set of practices and methods that places projects in the hands of collaborative, self-organizing and cross-functional teams. A growing number of organizations are adopting this at the earliest for seamless functioning.
Instead of opting for a ‘Big Bang’ approach for project development, the agile approach focuses more on streamlined development that targets capability as well as quality where the project is developed in intervals, making sure the products evolve smoothly and slowly in stages, making sure there are bare minimum disruptions in the process.
The agile process majorly helps the team to build and launch new products quickly and in regular iterations. As soon as the developed products and capabilities get in the hands of the end-user in stages created through the agile process, it helps organizations to avoid technical debt. The improvements and fixes in the project have to be addressed at the earliest, with new versions being delivered, improving the overall product for the end-user.
Avoid outdated tech
Every 6 months, there is a new update/addition in the technology. Continuing with the old legacy systems, outdated tech, and other such disparate platforms is only going to cost you heavy and become a technical debt which is then going to be a burden to get it replaced with new technology.
The older assets end up with security vulnerabilities, difficulties to integrate & automate with the new features, finding resources to manage the legacy applications built on complex code is also scarcely available. This directly negatively affects the company’s capabilities to innovate, grow as an organization and be competitive.
Research about what your company’s technical needs are and allocate the valuable budget and time to invest in new applications and systems built to escalate and speed up to match the requirements of the modern-day business than bleed for technical debt.
Retire lightly-used resources
Another good way to avoid technical debt is to review the usage levels of existing platforms, applications and resources at regular intervals. If any of these remain unused or are rarely used instead of opting for an updated resource, it is time to eliminate this technical debt. It can often be the case that technical debt is worse in areas with the least usage.
It is difficult for large organizations to keep track of and know all of the applications and resources in their environment and their usage. Technical debt can be reduced by efficient life cycling, focusing on platforms and applications that are critical to everyday needs and shedding non-essential products that, while perhaps not exactly legacy tools, require a steady stream of updates and fixes to serve a dwindling number of users.
Heed the warning signs
Organizations should also pay heed to the warning signs like- super fast turnaround time, maintenance of a project takes up essential time & resources, missing deadlines, inelegant code base, etc. These signs appear when technical debt reaches an inflection point and must be addressed at the earliest. Never hesitate to get something out of the door, to save the future.