How to Avoid the Impact of Technical Debt

Published: 11 May 2022

A 2021 study by Stepsize showed that although 60% of software developers say technical debt causes bugs and slows down development, a shocking 58% of the companies surveyed had no process for managing technical debt. 

Managing or eliminating technical debt is essential in maintaining high productivity, avoiding bugs, and ensuring quality output. Therefore, development teams need to make sure they have plans in place to help identify the causes of technical debt early and mitigate its impact as much as possible.

This article will include the information you need to put these plans in place. We’ll provide a straightforward definition of technical debt, explain the potential causes, and suggest a few general tech debt management tips. 

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt, which some developers refer to as code debt or design debt, is a common concept in software development. However, it can be challenging to define what technical debt is. 

The difficulty arises mainly because “technical debt” is an umbrella term for several different problems. Any negative result of suboptimal coding or design choices can be called technical debt. These results are rarely immediate but become problematic when inadequacies are never improved or replaced due to time constraints. 

In short, technical debt could be anything from bugs to legacy code to missing documentation, but its defining characteristic is that it blocks productivity. Developers must resolve symptoms of technical debt before actual work on a project can begin. 

The problem with managing technical debt is that it’s sometimes a necessary evil. A development team may not always have the time or expertise to solve every problem immediately, so a suboptimal choice may be the only option left. 

Types of Technical Debt

Broadly speaking, there are two types of technical debt:

  • Deliberate technical debt is acknowledged as debt from its introduction but included with the intention of being replaced later.
  • Outdated design debt occurs when outdated components in a system are not updated. Patches can alleviate this kind of debt, but a full redevelopment of the system is often required.

It’s also worth mentioning bit rot, which can arise from either of the previous two types of technical debt but is somewhat different from the other symptoms of technical debt. Bit rot tech debt is when developers repeatedly patch a system or change it incrementally until it becomes bloated and difficult to work around or adjust further.

The Causes of Technical Debt

Time Pressures

Time pressures are a significant source of deliberate technical debt. In fact, 86% of developers say finishing a project on time is worth accruing some level of tech debt. 

It’s often necessary to institute a less-than-perfect solution to ensure the team completes a product on time. However, if that solution is never patched or updated, it can cause significant technical debt.

In an iterative methodology like agile, tight deadlines for new iterations may also lead to bit rot. If there’s not enough time for a full redesign of sub-standard features, the team will have no choice but to patch symptoms rather than solve issues at the source, leading to a complex and bloated system. 

Lack of Skill

Sometimes, a software development team simply doesn’t have someone with the necessary skills or experience to solve a problem. If there’s no option to hire or consult an expert, the team will have to do the best they can.

Deliberate technical debt might arise from a lack of skill, but outdated design debt could also occur. If a team doesn’t have an expert in a field, like cloud computing or mobile app design, they may not be aware of the most up-to-date technologies or solutions for a particular problem. 

Insufficient Testing

Without thoroughly testing a system or solution before implementing it, problems will occur down the line. This is a particularly dangerous source of tech debt, as a project could be sent to a client or released to users without anyone realising there’s a problem. Only once the product is in use will the bugs be identified, and solving the problem at that stage can be expensive and time-consuming.

Methods for Managing Technical Debt

Treat Tech Debt as a Tool

Tech debt is, in some cases, unavoidable. The key is teaching teams to use technical debt to their advantage rather than creating it without considering the implications. For instance, it’s smart to use a quick fix to get past a difficult problem blocking productivity. However, while some team members continue development, another group must institute a permanent solution.

Focus on Time Management

Time pressures lead to tech debt when the team can’t implement proper solutions due to impending deadlines. Better time management helps avoid tech debt, so a team manager needs to ensure everyone is working efficiently and no one is wasting time. Providing schedules and work calendars is vital in helping developers spend their time wisely.

Use Automation

If your team is still struggling to find the time to perform in-depth fixes, and time management practices aren’t helping, consider using automation. By having digital solutions complete simple, repetitive tasks, your developers will have more time to focus on the big problems.

You can also automate the process of identifying causes of tech debt with tools like BlueOptima’s Developer Analytics software.

Identifying Technical Debt Efficiently With BlueOptima

Our Developer Analytics tool provides insights into the efficiency of your software development team, as well as the quality of their code. The in-depth metrics that BlueOptima’s software helps leaders identify the causes of technical debt early, allowing for a fast resolution.

If you’re interested in finding out more about our Developer Analytics tool and how it can help you manage tech debt, click here.

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