Studies show that around 33% of the overall project duration is spent on software updates and maintenance tasks. Meanwhile, more than 50% of this time is associated with technical debt reduction. We’re not trying to convince you that technical debts are the bane of software development companies. However, these are very common problems that produce an actual impact.
So, if you ever had a question on how to reduce technical debt, you’re in the right place. In this article, you will find a comprehensive overview of technical debt, its main causes, and its types. And don’t miss our step-by-step approach and useful tips that will help you solve this problem! Sounds intriguing? If the answer is positive, let’s dive into the topic without further interruption.
What Is Technical Debt?
To begin with, let’s clarify the essence of technical debt. Generally, it is an amount of money you have to spend on the app’s rework, often after its initial release. Typically, a technical debt appears when a tech team wants to achieve its goals in the shortest terms and takes a risky shortcut. Finishing a complex technical project in just a few months, doesn’t it sound great? Well, everything turns out to be not so great if a team has missed important technical parts of the project in its chase for rapid achievement.
In the long run, such an approach may lead to technical debt. It includes the things that should be done but, for some reason, have not been completed earlier. For example, if you launch a medical app without decent security features, you will need to implement them in the future anyway. After all, non-secure healthcare software can bring you great trouble in the future. Or, perhaps, you delivered an e-commerce platform but had not prepared solid scale-up mechanics? Then, be sure that you will need to implement these mechanics in the future when your platform grows. All these are examples of technical debt. And all of them may appear for different reasons.
Reasons that Make Technical Debts Appear
Now that we have clarified the essence of technical debt, it’s just about time to discuss the reasons for its appearance in more detail. The problem is not always about the team trying to deliver the solution as fast as possible and applying various questionable shortcuts. And even when things go this way, there is still a deeper reason. At least, there are factors that make the development team seek these shortcuts and use them despite any risks. Let’s discuss the most common issues pushing software engineering teams deep into the depths of technical debt.
As we have already mentioned, short deadlines and the desire to complete everything ASAP are a common reason for technical debt. And the desire to release the product as soon as possible and raise as much money as possible is what creates these short deadlines. In a perfect world, a tech team tells business analysts and key stakeholders about more realistic deadlines, and these deadlines are accepted. Unfortunately, our world is far from perfect. Therefore, there are too many situations in which the developers must accept the deadlines and do their work in haste. That’s where all these shortcuts and missed parts that later create a technical debt come from.
These cases are especially challenging. Even if the project is well-organized, a human factor can ruin everything. Here it goes primarily about engaging inexperienced or irresponsible developers. Or just specialists that lack a specific skill that is especially important for this project. Surely, we don’t try to blame specific people for their faults. Just mind that even the most experienced and proficient developers also make mistakes. These faults can lead to significant project gaps. And the bigger the number of such gaps, the deeper your technical debt.
Change of Context
Sometimes, project requirements change long before the final product is released. There may be many reasons, including business requirements, technical needs, or even changes in official regulations. What is really important is that such project plan shifts may lead to process inconsistencies. And those inconsistencies, in turn, create gaps that contribute to the technical debt. That’s why we recommend development teams be extremely careful when it comes to dramatic project shifts. At least, get prepared for additional updates and fixing after each such shift.
Sometimes, inconsistencies appear even in linear projects that go without context shifts. In such cases, the problem is faults in the integral development process. There may be issues with task coordination, distribution, or flow. Even the most experienced project managers sometimes fail to keep all things under their control. Anyway, all such problems can negatively affect the result of the project. Up to the point when important project parts are missed or failed. And, you already know what happens when the development team misses a particular project part…
Actually, we can refer to this cause in the category of business reasons. However, the number of projects suffering because of budget cuts is so big that we will discuss this problem as a separate category. Just imagine an ambitious software founder who dreams of delivering an innovative app and is full of enthusiasm when it comes to planning. At the earliest project stages, money is not a problem for him. He wants everything and creates an ambitious plan for a rather costly app. So, the entrepreneur asks his team to deliver a feature-packed product built according to all quality requirements.
Unfortunately, in some time, he loses a solid portion of one’s interest in app development. Therefore, this founder becomes savvier and starts cutting the project’s budget. Meanwhile, the demands for developers remain the same. As a result, he may receive a product with some features that require further development or optimization. And if the founder thinks of the ongoing development of his product, he needs to reduce this technical debt.
The Most Common Technical Debt Types
General causes aside, let’s discuss a more specific classification for tech debts. There is a great variety of tech debt classifications, but there’s one that most digital businesses accept. It was based on the experience of many software companies and published by the Software Engineering Institute in 2014. If you want more info, make sure to check out the material called Towards the Ontology of Terms on Technical Debt. As for this article, here we provide a brief dive into this classification and its basic types, along with tips on how to solve the problems of these types.
It is about issues in the entire system design. Typically, such issues ruin the system’s productivity and drop its performance metrics. Almost any cause from the chapter above may lead to this type of debt. The bad news is that you often have to dive deep into the project and change its fundamental parts in order to reduce this kind of debt. That’s when a comprehensive architecture assessment becomes mandatory. Also, such challenges may require you to update legacy systems, boost them with microservices architecture solutions, or redesign specific parts of your architecture.
Here it goes about source code issues. Typically, the developers call them “code smells.” The problems include prolonged code strains, duplicates, and missing code parts. The best way to avoid such debts is to review the code as thoroughly as possible at the end of each stage. However, if the moment has gone and you face a code debt when most of the product is already developed, there’s still a tried and trusted solution. Go for refactoring that allows you to update the system without changing the app’s functionality and dropping its productivity.
This debt appears when you spend too little time and effort on testing. As a result, there appear solid gaps in product test coverage. Some test scenarios are not executed and there remains a certain number of bugs that may ruin your user’s experience with the app. To reduce this kind of debt, you should thoroughly review your QA approach. Typically, you will have to increase the test coverage, apply a greater diversity of test scenarios, or implement automation testing for better examination of routine processes. But each case is individual, so thorough research is required.
This kind of debt is, mostly, about inconsistencies in the app’s infrastructure code. These issues may disrupt your app monitoring practices, app deployment, and CI/CD pipelines. Fortunately, there are tried and trusted solutions that will help you reduce this kind of debt. In most cases, it goes about applying DevOps practices. Bring consistency to your production, development, and test environments. This will help you bring order to the infrastructure chaos. As a result, you’ll have much better chances to identify and fix all issues in the shortest terms.
Your Journey to Reducing Technical Debt
The bigger your technical debt, the more challenging its reduction. You’ll have to settle many issues when the software solution is already released and running. So, get prepared that some attempts to reduce the technical debt will make you stop your product for a while. And this can mean significant funds lost. So, the logical question here is: How can you reduce technical debt in the least painful way? We’ll try to answer this question in this article chapter. So, how about a step-by-step approach to reducing technical debt? Here are some steps that you’ll definitely have to take. We build them on 28 years of software development experience and many years of experience in the reduction of technical debt. So, just like most of the other step-by-step methodologies, this approach starts with…
First, you should research the debt and identify its source. Whether the root of the problem is business reasons, change in project objectives, process issues, or specific people, you should clearly understand the root cause of the problem. Because, in many cases, it’s all about going from the problem’s core to its outcomes. For example, if the technical debt has been caused by some development process inconsistencies, consider starting with fixing these inconsistencies first. Remember that the better you research the problem, the less challenging its solution will be to you.
2. Adopt a New Approach to Solve the Debt
Regardless of the root cause of your problem, changing the approach is a tried and trusted solution. A potential way is to use reusable solution parts from other projects. At least, the application of reusable APIs is a common practice for reducing tech debts. Or, perhaps, you should engage new people with problem-specific experience in the project. Probably, the problem is in the project management system you apply. Sometimes, even a change in the task management software used on a project can make a difference and help things go much better.
3. Alter the Mindset of Your Team
This step may seem to be rather abstract, but it, actually, makes a lot of sense. If you’re applying a new project development methodology to the project, you should alter the approach and the mindsets of your employees as well. Sometimes, it goes about mastering the technologies with which your team members have not worked before. For example, you may implement reusable APIs to close some software gaps and reduce technical debt. But where are the guarantees that your team members are familiar with these APIs and can take full advantage of them?
Sometimes, the best idea is to ask a new team for help instead of trying to change the mindset and the organization of your existing team. You may even request a team with a proven methodology developed specifically for reducing technical debts to help you. If this team offers you help with reducing tech debts as one of its principal services, it probably has proven methodologies developed specifically for solving such problems. Here it goes about a rich arsenal of reusable APIs and custom solutions aimed at covering specific tech debt gaps.
4. Start Solving the Problem Gradually
Now that you have identified the root cause of your technical debt, came up with the right technical debt reduction strategies, and altered the mindset of your tech team, it is just about time to proceed with the actual work. Ideally, you’ve already organized a solid team and process, so your involvement is not mandatory. The right team that applies the right practices will handle all the problems independently. Just mind that you shouldn’t try to cover all technical gaps at once. Approach debt reduction gradually. This means that you should set specific tasks and fix specific problems one by one. Or, at least, make sure that there are just a few parallel tasks. Remember that haste is, probably, one of the main causes of your current tech debt. So, there’s no need to hurry because it can make the situation even worse.
How Do We Reduce Technical Debt at Intetics?
Speaking of companies that offer tried and trusted methods for debt reduction, Intetics is exactly such a pick. We apply the TETRA™ approach to help our customers solve their technical debt issues. This practice is based on the three main pillars. These are vast software engineering experience, a clear understanding of business objectives, and solid expertise in organizing step-by-step processes. We start with an in-depth analysis of your system and its efficiency from both technical and business sides. And we come up with the approach that maximizes both.
How does TETRA™ work? Its main goal is to assess your technical debt to help you come up with a process to reduce technical debt. Our specialists conducted 6K+ hours of research to understand the topic of tech debt in the slightest detail. So, while referring to our TETRA™ practice, you may be sure that nothing about your challenges will be missed. TETRA™ involves three main stages. First, we assess your software system, then we measure your technical debt, and, finally, we evaluate your product’s efficiency and decide on how to boost it. While evaluating your product, we focus on the 8 dimensions of quality that really matter. These are:
- Source code quality;
- Product usability, UI, and documentation;
- System security;
- Product performance;
- Product’s business logic;
- Architecture quality;
- Data quality;
- Open-source code use.
As a result of such analysis and consulting, you will get answers to the following questions:
- What is the size and the essence of your software technical debt?
- How can you improve software and data quality across systems?
- How can you reduce the cost of ongoing system development and support?
- Are your systems compliant with the basic quality regulations?
- Is your product usable?
- Is your system protected from security breaches?
- Does your system meet your business requirements?
- Is there transparency and well-organized documentation across different business units?
- How can you improve the proficiency of your development team?
One more important thing about the TETRA™ methodology is that the entire software product team can benefit from it. Investors can use the results of the TETRA™ assessment to find out whether a product is worth investing in. Users will use these results to understand whether it is safe and worth storing their private data. Clients will know whether the product works as expected and brings the required functional value. Developers understand whether the app’s code needs any improvement. And, finally, managers get ideas on the product’s conformity to requirements and potential in terms of KPIs. So, basically, the use of TETRA™ is everyone’s victory.
To sum up, technical debt is very common among software development businesses. There’s nothing tragic about it, but such debts tend to grow over time, which may become a real problem. Therefore, don’t wait until your tech debt grows to a cosmic size and start reducing it now. Fortunately, now you have more understanding of its essence, causes, types, and solution steps. And, speaking of solution steps, don’t forget about our TETRA™ methodology. And if you have more questions about TETRA™ or any other of our practices, don’t hesitate to contact us!
What does technical debt mean?
Tech debt is when you take a shortcut while developing a software product and, later, have to spend additional costs for software updates and rework. It may have different causes and outcomes and, generally, accounts for around 50% of product maintenance tasks.