technical debt type

Managing Technical Debt – A Brief Guide

We’re all familiar with the concept of debt. Most economies around the world today are built around the concept of credit and debt.  A debt, simply put, is an obligation to pay an amount that you are receiving in the present.

There are many reasons people go into debt, but the central principle is to fulfill an immediate need each time. Naturally, the benefits are immediate since the need is addressed. However, debt has to be managed carefully, or it can quickly spiral out of control.

Technical debt can be understood using the same framework. Software and application development teams often accrue what is referred to as technical debt. It is, much like financial debt, leveraging a short-term resource by committing to an obligation in the future.

Similar to financial debt, it is not evil in and of itself. It simply requires prudence and diligence. Technical debt can allow teams to speed through the development process when it’s on a time crunch.

By going into technical debt, the team can meet deadlines or fulfill requirements that need to be met urgently. This is true when a product needs to be the first to market or collect preliminary market analysis.

In any case, technical debt allows teams to leverage market opportunities when they emerge and potentially access revenues that would otherwise have been unavailable. In doing so, the debt is justified, and decision-makers can rest easy knowing that the right call was made.

But what is technical debt? At its heart, the cost arises as a result of taking a shortcut in software development. So, a development team may get working software into the market, but it would have to e reworked at some point.

If the solution is really poor, it might mean months of additional work that was circumvented originally. This rework would naturally cost time and resources – this cost is called technical debt. Let’s take a look at the three main types of technical debt and how you can address them.

The Three Types of Technical Debt

Technical debt can be grouped into three categories: deliberate, accidental, and bit rot technical debt. Here’s all you need to know about each type and how you can address it.

Deliberate Technical Debt

Every development team has to defer to stakeholders and decision-makers. The business side of the organization dictates how quickly a product or feature needs to be market-ready. Market-readiness is a broad term that can mean many things, and the exact definition will be based on the corners that the tech team has had to cut.

The practice of cutting corners to deliver the product in time is known as deliberate technical debt. In essence, this type of debt means making concessions in the present such as deliberately doing things in the incorrect manner.

The whole idea is encapsulated in the word “deliberate”. The engineers know well that they are reducing the long-term structural integrity of the product. However, they are judiciously weighing the pros and cons to maximize short-term gains, which can only be accessed by entering the market quickly.

They know that the technical debt must be repaid at some point by rebuilding the code once again. They also recognize that accruing this debt in the present could mean delays in future deployments. This is why all stakeholders need to be engaged prior to incur deliberate technical debt.

Given that the executive branch of the business drove the debt, there needs to be an acknowledgment of the pitfalls of this action and accountability so that the debt is actually paid in the end.

Solution

As stated, all stakeholders must keep track of the technical debt that has been accrued over the course of the development process. Repayment of the debt must be planned for diligently and a backlog must be maintained by the dev. team.

Outdated Design Technical Debt

Technology is always marching forward. This presents challenges for all industries but especially for software development teams. An engineering team could probably build a design that’ll be good for the next few years, but deployment will be slow.

As such, there’s always a balance between agility and future-proofing design. Furthermore, given how technology constantly evolves, there is a need to update designs to keep up with the competition consistently.

It may become apparent that there are flaws in the original design or that it is simply too inefficient for the contemporary environment, which is expected to happen throughout the product’s lifecycle. This is why good designs allow for incremental changes to be made over the life cycle.

Solution

You should ideally wait for when the system is steady and stable. Adding features and fixing bugs constantly can lead to over-engineering and cause more harm than good. The process of over-engineering may make the entire process slower than it needs to be.

Bit Rot Technical Debt

This is essentially a kind of entropy at work. A product will go through several iterations throughout its lifetime, and several people will work on any given iteration. Adding, removing, fixing things adds a layer of complexity each time.

Over time the complexity reaches critical mass, and the overall performance of the system is greatly reduced.

Solution

To prolong the life of your system, this kind of debt must be avoided at all costs. Teams should maintain strong processes, workflows, practices that ensure that everyone is engaged with every facet of the design process.

Conclusion to Managing Technical Debt – A Brief Guide

Documentation should be maintained to ensure new members can always refer back to the rationale for decisions. All individuals should avoid bit rot technical debt on the team, and all debt should be documented and resolved appropriately. Prevent becoming over-burdened with legacy systems by reviewing Managing Technical Debt – A Brief Guide.

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