Trade-offs are common in life and the same is true in software development. Sometimes, a development team is forced to take a shortcut or two. This is often a necessary decision in order to deliver a project commitment on time. But sooner or later, the repercussions from accumulated debt may impede and add complexity to the development process. Compounding the problem, business stakeholders are often unaware of the impact that their technical debt has on the team’s productivity. So, the first step to addressing the issue is clearly communicating what the technical debt is, next outlining its consequences on development, and then agreeing on what steps should be taken to address it.
Some technical debt occurs because companies face trade-offs in the design process. Their budgets limit what items they can test and try to fix. In addition, they are under pressure to get updates out as quickly as possible, which can reduce technical quality.
Humans make mistakes. Consequently, some technical debt results from insufficient workmanship, i.e. incomplete requirements, inexperienced developers’ design, and a lack of Quality Assurance.
Pull the String
The various imperfections sit incubating until a change triggers a series of events that results in a problem, slows response time, prevents needed data from being found, and delivers an interface that confuses users.
In addition, computer technology moves at a lightning pace. What was once considered leading edge quickly becomes passe’. As a result, such solutions cannot adapt as quickly as needed nowadays. In effect, software begins to atrophy as soon as it is released. Technology can be relatively new (a handful of years old) but still become compound interest on the debt, for instance adding capacity in order to scale a successful application strains physical and personnel resources.
Pay Down Technical Debt
Companies have several options for paying off their technical debt. They can include a technical debt sprint in the development process. Here, the team sets aside a budgeted amount of time to clean up the code before the debt becomes larger and perhaps unmanageable.
Another option is to upgrade their systems and invest in modern solutions. Upgrading to new technology provides the company with a more robust, flexible, digital computing foundation. With it, organizations rapidly release new features that enhance functionality, performance, and security. In addition, they are able to support high growth for the next several years.
However, this option may or may not be feasible depending on what their infrastructure currently is. In some cases, corporations may need to continue with legacy solutions because of compliance concerns. Also, the complexity involved moving from the old to the new can inhibit this step.
Account for Technical Debt
As a result, business and technology must work together to prioritize, and “pay off” the technical debts that cost the business the most, i.e. areas that require maintenance, AND are the least maintainable. But select technical debt should never be paid off because the cost/benefit is not there.
Companies must balance many trade-offs during the development process. Perfect code is the ultimate goal but not a realistic one. The process invariably means creating technical debt. Each project team needs to identify technical debt’s possibilities and then take steps to minimize its impact as best as they can.