Those unfamiliar with the technology industry may view the notion of “technical debt” as an inadequate excuse for launching an imperfect or unfinished product. And it’s understandable why they may think this way; many software developers use this concept as a defense when a project fails.
It can be argued that a technician who uses a hammer to forcefully remove a bolt is not the fault of the hammer, just as the misuse of technical debt as a tool is not the fault of the tool itself.
The term “technical debt” was first coined by Ward Cunningham, one of the seventeen authors of the Agile Manifesto. This concept is analogous to financial debt in that it allows for an investment to be made without having to wait for funds to become available, and then the loan will need to be repaid with interest to compensate the lender for taking on additional risk.
The analogy can be extended to the loan being provided in the form of time or resources during software development. Despite the initial solution being substandard, the team does not abandon the project but instead commits to refining it as and when more information or superior strategies become available. This can be thought of as the ‘interest charge’ for the loan.
As a project progresses in size and complexity, managing its technological debt becomes increasingly difficult; much like managing monetary debt. This involves more refactoring, resolving issues, creating documentation and keeping an eye on code quality.
Team members who understand the concept of technical debt as an investment approach can use it strategically to create high quality work. However, as with any other tool, it is important to adhere to its instructions for optimal results. Although there is no guaranteed way of avoiding technical debt, highly effective teams share certain practices.
Talking to your customers is a great way to evaluate the costs and risks associated with your debt.
It is essential to be aware of the details of your debt, such as the amount and the reasons for it, in order to make informed decisions. Utilize the following user metrics to gain an understanding of your debt:
Costs:As the responsible party for this amount of technical debt, it is important to consider the potential “costs” that could be incurred. These could include a loss of potential opportunities, reduced profits or wasted time. Depending on the particular customer, the severity of each of these losses can vary greatly. For example, for a company, a lack of efficiency in a process may be an inconvenience, however, in the healthcare industry, this could be potentially disastrous. To ensure that customer needs are met, it is essential to gain a thorough understanding of their requirements.
Risks:Risk is the possibility of an unfavourable outcome, while cost is a form of loss. The worst possible outcome is that the technical debt cannot be addressed. When assessing potential threats, the client’s business model should be taken into account. An example of a danger to be aware of is the potential for cyberattacks due to security vulnerabilities.
As a project manager, it is beneficial to have a good understanding of the client’s company and to maintain regular contact with end-users. This allows for the prediction of costs and risks that may arise throughout the course of the software’s development. Additionally, it is important to be aware of any potential repercussions that may arise after the software’s release.
Work together to determine the specifics of your debt.
The Software Engineering Institute has produced a document with guidelines to help you with the management of 13 different types of debt. Understanding the specifics of your debt can be beneficial in constructing a plan of action.
- Structure Owes a Lot of Money
- Increase Debt
- Deficit in Software Development Time (code Debt)
- Bad Debt
- Structural Indebtedness
- The Debt of Documentation
- Public Works Obligation
- Indebtedness of the People
- Debt Processing
- Debt Service Needed
- Pay Off Debt
- Debt in Test Automation
- Stress Debt
It can be difficult to decide which debt is more important based solely on their different types. Therefore, it is advisable to think carefully about the potential consequences before making any decisions. Having an understanding of the details of where the debt is held can be beneficial in managing your resources effectively, and can enable you to consider consolidating several loans into one single debt.
Teams can ensure that any debts owed to each other are identified and categorized through regular meetings, the sharing of information and review sessions. The presence of a new perspective can help to spot any financial obligations that may have been previously overlooked. It is important to remind staff that debts do not constitute the end of the world; although risks are an unavoidable part of business, they should be viewed as potential opportunities.
To Avoid Falling Further into Debt, It’s Important to Keep Tabs on Your Financial Situation.
It is essential to not only identify potential threats and their sources, and calculate their costs, but also to accurately record any debts as they arise. The project manager should maintain an up-to-date record of any outstanding obligations. Although this may seem obvious, only 7% of developers actually adhere to this practice.
It is important to keep track of technical debt in order to reduce the cost of its development. Ensuring adequate record keeping will save both time and money when making loan payments.
Project managers should be aware of the importance of monitoring technical debt tickets and static code analysis. Failing to maintain a technical debt list in line with other requests can lead to this being overlooked until the very end of a project.
Spread Information About the Debt
If your team is not actively managing their technical debt, they may find that it continues to accumulate in the future, similar to when you shop without keeping track of your receipts and end up spending more than anticipated.
Teams are more likely to be aware of the cost implications of taking on additional debt for the project if they have access to a readily available counter that displays the amount of technical debt they hold, or a comprehensive list of all tickets and their respective priority levels.
Help your team stay ahead of potential issues by informing them of the risks associated with technical debt, as well as any unique risks that are specific to your debt.
Reduce Debt via the Use of Best Practices
It can be difficult to avoid incurring technical debt, however, it is important to make an effort to do so. Adopting good coding practices can help to reduce the risk of accumulating debt. To achieve this, it is advisable to:
- Make use of abstractions and stay away from tight connections.
- It’s important to keep your code covering percentage high.
- Promote code reviews and pull requests.
- Just keep refactoring till it’s perfect.
Encourage your team to engage in dialogue and provide opportunities for them to gain insights from each other’s perspectives. As previously mentioned, a different perspective can often lead to more effective solutions.
It is advisable to consider technical debt as an indicator of software development progress, rather than an immovable constraint. Teams should be incentivized to reduce existing technical debt prior to accepting any further commitments.
To Sum Up
Whether or not technical debt is a deliberate choice, it can still be managed and used as an opportunity for development provided that the project manager and team are aware of the associated risks and implications, and have a system in place for keeping tabs on it.