What is technical debt?
In simple words, it is the gap between what was promised and what really transpired. The technological simplifications that had to be made in order to finish delivery on time are all included in the concept of technical debt.
Every release starts with a phase where new features are developed and, ideally, work that was incomplete in the previous release is finished (let’s be honest: this rarely happens). The cycle enters alpha development when every feature is developed and prepared for testing. When sufficient bugs have been fixed, a beta version can be developed so that it can be shown to users for input.
Unfortunately, new bugs keep cropping up as the team is working to fix existing ones for the beta release. It’s like battling a hydra: solve one bug, and two more pop up right away. You have attained a milestone when you hold the final version with all problems fixed. Typically, some known issues are resolved while others are tabled until the following release in order to maintain it free of unresolved bugs.
The constant delay in fixing bugs puts the entire software development process at risk. The more unresolved bugs, the less willing developers are to deal with this daunting task, and they fall into a vicious, deadly cycle of technical debt. To make matters worse, delivery times are shifting as bugs slow down development. And customers, meanwhile, have to put up with uncorrected defects that slowly but surely cut off their oxygen. Not surprisingly, some of them will go to competitors. Keep reading, and you’ll learn how to avoid and manage technical debt and not waste money down the drain.
What is Technical Debt?
Technical debt has diverse meanings for product managers and developers at times. Let’s resolve these disagreements once and for all. In simple words, it is the gap between what was promised and what really transpired. The technological simplifications that had to be made in order to finish delivery on time are all included in the concept of technical debt.
Architecture updates are frequently categorized as technical debt by developers. The type of modification will determine whether this is accurate or not (changing “crutches” with a comprehensive solution is one thing and breaking up a monolithic code base into microservices is another). On the other hand, for product managers, adding new features is frequently a higher priority than eliminating errors or enhancing functionality. Everyone must comprehend the distinction between technical debt, desirable architectural modifications in the code base, and new features to avoid these pointless disputes. Clarity of communication between developers and product managers is crucial for proper backlog job prioritization and code base optimization.
Understanding Technical and Non-Technical Causes of Debt
Let’s divide the causes of technical debt into those that are technical and non-technical by nature to determine how to avoid or recover from it. If a significant time constraint limits your team and they don’t have enough time to run sufficient testing, that is a major technical sign of debt. Plus, insufficient testing and postponed code optimization are some of the most common technical causes.
The primary non-technical causes of TD are ineffective management and poorly conceived strategies. They might include poor project management coordination, incorrect planning, an inefficiently distributed budget, a lack of technological leadership, etc.
How to Manage Technical Debt?
Let’s find out what are the working strategies to manage technical debt.
Do Not Get into Debt Ahead of Time
Paying interest on technical debt is easier if you start thinking about it at the stage of creating a product.
- Make one-off MVP prototypes and include only confirmed hypotheses in work.
- Create an architecture that is easy to change: microservices, versioned APIs.
- Choose cloud solutions—for example, Microsoft Azure, AWS Amazon Cloud, and so on.
- Set a clear definition of “done” in your team, including quality metrics. It helps a lot to include a clause in the DOD that excludes the “acceptance” of a feature if there are bugs associated with it.
- It is good for an MVP to design the system so that the migration of users from prototypes to the stable part is imperceptible.
The most important thing is not to cut corners when choosing a technical lead (technical director) for a product or direction, to research current architectural design trends, and to contact technological specialists for advice—many of them are happy to do so for free.
Review the Initial Development Strategy
Very often, the emergence of technical debt indicates that the initial development strategy has some flaws. If the TD is already there, it is crucial to review your strategy, discover missing points and weaknesses and start reworking it. In this case, one of the best solutions would be to set updated code requirements and develop an effective TD tracking system to avoid future complications. Adopting an agile approach can also be of great use since it will enable a sprint-by-sprint method that will allow the team to access the problem gradually. We naturally spend more time cleaning up areas that change regularly when we practice incremental improvement, which has many advantages.
Do Not Dedicate Entire Sprints to Testing
Resist the temptation to forgo the “done” criteria and add a separate test task to the original user story. Such tasks are too easily kicked into the long grass and the technical debt from these only increases. If the original story or fix did not undergo testing, then that story or fix is not ready. Set clear criteria for readiness in your program, including the need for fully automated testing, and adhere to them strictly. Nothing undermines the effect of agile quite like manual testing and a codebase full of old bugs. If you believe your program contains a bug, make the effort to create an automated test script that will discover it. Test the code once it has been corrected to ensure that it passes. This is the fundamental principle of managing technical debt and running test-driven development, a tried-and-true technique for keeping agile development’s quality levels high.
Run Unit Tests
Writing and running unit tests more frequently is a simple method to pay off the technical debt by eradicating the issue of regression problems. Unit tests can make the coding process more agile, help the software engineer find defects more quickly, and enhance the quality of the code. This approach also helps automate the testing process. Early in the development phase, unit tests can be used to “smoke test” an application and find simple mistakes before spending more effort on more complex testing.
Consider Low Code
Reduced entropy is a different method of preventing the growth of technical debt. The number of tools and frameworks required must be decreased to achieve this. A low-code approach, for instance, can be helpful for functional prototyping and hypothesis testing in specific circumstances. By the way, by 2023, more than half of medium and large enterprises will reportedly use low-code platforms in one form or another, according to Gartner. Without using programming languages, such systems use graphical user interfaces with drag-and-drop capabilities to start and alter services. They shorten development cycles, standardize the stack, and lower support costs.
Read more about the ways to reduce technical debt here.
It is challenging to keep up with a team, even if it consists of ten developers because technical debt builds up faster than the team can rewrite the code. In any case, if the team initially chose the improper approaches to deal with experimental solutions, there are significant chances that you will have to rewrite the product in a year or two practically from scratch. That’s why it is crucial to consider the possibility of technical debt and ways to manage it at the earliest stages of development.