What Is Technical Debt?
Technical debt refers to the implied cost of additional work caused by choosing an easy solution now instead of using a better approach that would take longer. As teams rush to release features and fix bugs, corners inevitably get cut, creating debt that has to be paid back later with interest.
Left unaddressed, technical debt accumulates and increasingly slows down development as teams struggle under the burden of fixing preventable issues. However, by taking proactive measures, you can minimize new debt and reduce old debt before it brings your software development to a grinding halt.
How Technical Debt Accumulates
Technical debt piles up gradually over time in the form of:
- Quick fixes – Patching errors or defects instead of re-engineering the root cause
- Duplicated code – Copying/pasting code instead of creating common functions
- Outdated practices – Using deprecated APIs, outdated frameworks or old language versions
- Testing debt – Minimal automated tests or skipping important test cases
- Documentation debt – Lack of comprehensive documentation on architectures, workflows, etc
- Infrastructure debt – Staying on aging servers/systems instead of upgrading proactively
The “interest payments” on this debt come in the form of reduced productivity, defects, and inability to implement new features easily. As more band-aid solutions accumulate, productivity slows to a crawl.
Strategies to Reduce Technical Debt
The key is addressing the debt before it spirals out of control:
- Enforce coding standards and code reviews – Ensure best practices are adhered to avoid quick fix solutions.
- Refactor legacy code – Allocate time to pay down debt by cleaning up outdated/messy sections of code.
- Prioritise testing – Invest in test automation to prevent regressions and enable easy refactoring.
- Upgrade systems/infrastructure – Stay current on frameworks/languages/tools and proactively upgrade systems.
- Improve documentation – Keep architecture/API/process documentation comprehensive and up-to-date.
- Monitor metrics – Track defect rates, velocity, and other metrics to identify increasing debt.
- Incorporate debt reduction into processes – Schedule regular debt repayment tasks (refactoring, documentation, etc).
- Communicate debt ownership – Ensure each team owns and is accountable for repayment of its own technical debt.
The earlier you start paying down technical debt, the easier it is to adopt good practices and avoid compounding interest payments. Schedule regular debt repayment activities, track debt metrics, and communicate debt ownership across teams. With proactive management, you can keep your software development process running smoothly by reducing technical debt before it grinds your progress to a halt.
If you need help assessing and addressing technical debt in your codebase, the expert software architects at LA5 Digital can provide guidance and hands-on support. Contact us today to discuss strategies for reducing technical debt and optimising your development workflow.