Technical debt (also called design or code debt) happens when a company takes shortcuts while coding software or tech product. In other words, developers may sacrifice certain coding standards or go against best practices to ensure that the development meets a specific deadline.
While the solution isn’t ideal, engineers do so because they understand that following the schedule is better than delaying development because of a specific issue with a certain part of the code. Besides, technical debt implies that the developer puts the improvements of the problematic code on hold, incurring in a debt that will be “paid off” later on by reworking that code part.
Technical debt is a common practice in virtually every development team but abusing it can have a significant impact. It increases resource micromanagement, as the team has to dedicate more time and resources to fix delayed issues later on. Without proper management of technical debt, the project could derail entirely, affecting the company’s image while impacting the product’s release.
Types of technical debt
There are many types of technical debt. Architecture/design debt occurs when a developer implements sub-optimal architectural design in the hope of bringing short-term profits to the company. They may also introduce code debt into the product i.e. when untested or buggy code is deployed in production.
Infrastructure debt occurs when you buy new tools, cloud storage, etc., for your software development but don’t get to fully adopt them. It can also occur when you implement automation, which can cause changes in the existing infrastructure if it isn’t fully fleshed out. This leads to increased costs of labor and time.
Causes of Technical debt and how to measure it
Technical debt can be caused due to time constraints, insufficient code refactoring, or limited testing. Sometimes engineers submit buggy software just to meet the deadline. This may also be an informed decision, for example, when there is a need to push to market quickly.
Even if the code is correct, it may have poor readability or errors in documentation. This may lead to development problems later on. Another developer/ technical writer might have to rework the technical documents or manuals, wasting precious time.
To reduce technical debt, it’s essential to analyze and measure it. You can calculate technical debt by using remediation and development costs as parameters.
Remediation costs refer to the total expenditure involved in fixing bad software. Development cost is the costs involved in developing it. To calculate the technical debt ratio, you can divide the remediation cost by the development cost and multiply it by 100.
The result will be the technical debt ratio. If your ratio is less than 5%, then your debt is still manageable and within common limits. But if your ratio is above 5%, you may need to take measures to overcome the debt quickly, thus preventing loss.
How can you prevent technical debt?
A high level of technical debt isn’t a good sign for a company. Fortunately, there are many ways to reduce technical debt, including the following.
Automated testing is one of the most efficient ways to get rid of technical debt. It implies using a bot or automated solution to perform rigorous testing on your product. Automated testing makes sure that there are no bugs in the code by running multiple debugging cycles every time a module change is done.
Instead of organizing testing sprints, you should invest more in automated testing frameworks and software. You can also incorporate bug fixing into your automation tool so that it takes care of repetitive bugs. Automated tests and continuous integration are the solutions to all bug repo problems related to bad code. It also saves engineers time and prevents the possibility of future issues.
Be careful, though, as automated testing isn’t the solution for all your bugs. These automation solutions work best when you combine them with other manual tests throughout the development life cycle.
2. Establishing and standardizing codes
Even though it decreases development time, sub-standard code only results in short-term benefits. Introducing laxity in coding results in cumbersome software and delayed delivery dates.
One of the most practical ways to tackle this is by using the best practices for writing code. If a developer follows a good code structure and methodology, it helps in reducing debt and strategizing the product better.
You can also use pair programming. This will have you paring up 2 developers on a single workstation/system to produce better and more productive results. One developer works as the driver, who performs all the coding actions, whereas the other works as a navigator. The latter directs all the strategic actions to make sure that things are going in the right direction.
3. Using project management tools
One of the best ways to eliminate tech debt is by planning your project better. You can do this with the help of project management tools. They help organize and synchronize the work performed by developers and improve the efficiency of the project.
Through project management tools, you can also manage global teams. Shared documents and calendars inform everyone about major events and help them prepare accordingly. Jira and Trello are examples of task management tools.
4. Using issue trackers
Another way to reduce technical debt is by tracking the problems in your software and rapidly fixing them. You can use issue tracking tools/ testing tools to record specific errors and correct them in later modules.
Tools like SonarGraph and Klocwork analyze your code and run scripts that flag it when a specific error occurs. Later, you can check on the problematic areas and restructure them. Following this approach will fix your code, produce better results, and save time.
5. System and Discovery testing
Often systems become outdated. They are unable to perform their task and need continuous fixing to do their work. This happens largely because of years of bad incremental changes by people who don’t fully understand the system architecture.
You have to continuously refactor your system design to future-proof your system. You also have to ensure that you’re not introducing unnecessary complexity into the system, which can cause bigger problems.
Discovery testing is used to identify why a system isn’t performing according to standards. Using human insight shows whether your actions match the needs of the customers or not.
It’s important to understand the root cause of technical debt in your business. Even though you can’t fully eradicate technical debt, you can certainly reduce its impact if you follow the best guidelines and practices. If you use the methods mentioned above, you can minimize the probability of technical debt and create better software products.