Imagine you are building a software application and you encounter a choice. Do you take the time to build the project slowly and minimize problems but miss an opportunity? Or do you push for a tighter timeframe, and seize the market opportunity, but increase the risk of technical issues? This is the issue surrounding technical debt.
Opting for the latter may save time in the early stages but will generate debt. And it’s something that will need to be paid off later. Balancing timeframes and technical debt is a common choice that software development teams face. But how should you manage debt in your project?
In today’s blog, I will take you through:
- How to identify technical debt?
- The types of technical debt
- How to manage technical debt?
- Why technical debt might not always be bad.
Table of contents:
- Identifying Technical Debt
- What types of technical debt are there?
- How do you manage Technical Debt
- Why might Technical Debt not always be a bad thing?
Identifying Technical Debt
First thing on the agenda today, what are some of the signs of technical debt?
- Frequent software issues: such as bugs or crashes.
- Slow performance: if your software takes a long time to process tasks.
- Difficulty implementing changes: making updates or adding new features to your software is a challenging and time-consuming process.
- Inconsistent or messy code: if your software’s code is hard to understand or appears disorganized.
- Lack of up-to-date documentation: if you find that your software lacks proper documentation, or the available documentation is outdated.
- High maintenance costs: if you’re spending a significant amount of time and money on maintaining and supporting your software.
- Challenges with onboarding new developers: if new developers struggle to understand and work with your software.
What types of technical debt are there?
Not all debt is the same, depending on the stage or priorities of the project you can find different types. But how do they impact the project?
Code debt is a common issue. It happens when developers take shortcuts instead of following best practices. This kind of code can be difficult to read, understand, and maintain, making it more likely to have bugs and problems down the line.
Impact: code debt slows down development because developers have to spend time fixing complicated code and bugs. It also increases the chances of introducing new bugs when making changes. This means more maintenance work and less reliable software.
Design debt occurs when developers rush or don’t think through the architecture and design decisions. This can result in messy system structures. As well as poorly organized code, and difficulties in adapting and scaling the software in the future.
Impact: design debt hampers the growth and scalability of a software project. As the project evolves, making changes to a poorly designed system becomes time-consuming and expensive. It can also cause performance issues and limit the software’s flexibility.
Testing debt happens when developers don’t prioritize writing thorough tests. Or delay necessary test improvements. This debt builds over time and leaves the software with inadequate test coverage, making it harder to catch and fix bugs promptly.
Impact: testing debt puts software quality at risk. leading to potential issues that might only surface when they cause major problems in production. This damages user trust, harms the software’s reputation, and puts a heavier burden on the development team.
Documentation debt arises when developers neglect to maintain clear and up-to-date documentation. Poor documentation makes it harder for new team members to get up to speed. Creating challenges in understanding the code, and increasing the likelihood of misunderstandings.
Impact: documentation debt hinders collaboration and knowledge sharing within the development team. It also raises the chances of costly errors due to misunderstandings or misinterpretations of the code.
Infrastructure debt occurs when developers don’t pay enough attention to the underlying systems and tools. This can involve using outdated frameworks, unsupported libraries, or obsolete technologies. This hinders development progress and increases the risk of security vulnerabilities.
Impact: infrastructure debt leads to more downtime and security breaches. Making it difficult to adopt new technologies and practices. It can also cause performance bottlenecks and limit the software’s ability to meet the changing demands of users.
How do you manage technical debt?
Taking the time to manage your debt is crucial. Often the choice is a strategic one. For instance, do you push harder for a shorter timeframe and increase the chance of debt that you will need to pay off later? However, not all debt is created equal. And balancing which debt to settle first is important.
Below is a guide to the different ways software companies manage technical debt.
- Prioritize the technical debt: not all debt is created equal. Some debts will impact the project more than others. So, it’s important to prioritize which debt to tackle first. You should consider factors such as the impact on functionality, and user experience among some. Start by looking for debt that is causing immediate problems. By addressing these critical areas first, you can achieve improvements.
- Balancing new features with technical debt: while it’s tempting to focus on delivering new features, ignoring technical debt can have long-term consequences. Striking a balance between adding new functions and addressing technical debt is vital. That’s why it’s important to address technical debt as part of the software process.
- Best practices for managing technical debt: best practices can greatly help manage debt in a project.
- Regular code reviews: frequent code reviews identify and address potential debt as early as possible. By encouraging constructive feedback and collaboration you can minimize debt.
- Automated testing: often developers use automated tools to check for code improvements and issues, helping to keep debt down.
- Documentation: developers should keep a record of all changes and updates. By keeping documentation up to date, issues surrounding technical debt can be spotted.
Why might technical debt not always be a bad thing?
So far, I’ve painted technical debt as a big problem that needs to be fixed. But there are a few situations where increasing technical debt might be beneficial. It’s often the tradeoff between short-term goals and the long-term success of the project. So, what are those situations?
Rapid prototyping and time-to-market: sometimes getting your ideas to market is important. Here technical debt is supported to speed up development process. Developers may take shortcuts to focus on delivering the core features and testing the product’s market viability. This approach allows businesses to gather early feedback. This means that they save valuable time and resources.
Resource constraints and business priorities: when resources are limited or business priorities shift, technical debt may be incurred. Developers may compromise on code quality or architectural decisions due to tight schedules.
New technology: Embracing new technologies can introduce technical debt. Developers may use new technologies that are not yet mature or widely established. Over time, as technology matures, this debt can be gradually repaid. Using new technology helps to keep businesses ahead of the competition.
Temporary solutions and proof of concept: technical debt may happen when creating temporary solutions or proof of concept projects. These projects aim to confirm ideas, or secure funding before committing to full-scale development. By accepting technical debt in these cases, developers can prioritize speed. Once the concept is proven any debt can be addressed.
To wrap it up, effectively managing technical debt is key to the success of software development projects. By spotting the signs of debt and prioritizing fixing it, teams can maintain functionality and keep users satisfied.
Striking a balance between new features and debt is crucial. And following best practices like code reviews and automated testing goes a long way in managing debt.
While debt is generally seen as a problem, there are instances where it can be helpful. Such as when quickly prototyping or dealing with resource constraints or new technologies. So, managing technical debt is essential for project growth and overall project success.
If you want to discover more about software development, book a meeting today.