Inefficient IT? Get rid of your Technical Debt!

Product Increment (PI) planning events are great occasions to talk through features and prioritize what will be the next feature the product team is going to implement. Looking at organizations’ backlogs, there are these kind of tickets, either not very prominent or not even documented explicitly. In turbulent times, those are the tickets that remain untouched. Independent of the fact if Technical Debt is a known (documented) or unknown (not documented), it does lead to unhappy customers and higher costs in the long run.

But before we go to the symptoms and consequences, let’s have a look at how Technical Debt comes to life.

Origins of Technical Debt

Even in excellent teams, under high delivery pressure, Technical Debt can be a way to still deliver what was agreed upon (cf. #1).

Frequent change in team members leads to loss of tacit knowledge. This can be a very different reason for technical debt (cf. #2).

Tight budget and upholding delivery pressure of new features are the most prominent examples (cf. #3). Like increased testing activities, eliminating Technical Debt does not provide direct value for your customer/business. Hence it is often neglected.

Among others, origins of Technical Debt are:

  1. Intentional Shortcuts:
    • Deliberate decisions to expedite development and meet tight deadlines.
    • Often due to time constraints and project pressure.
  2. Unintended Compromises:
    • Unintentional quality compromises arising from misunderstandings or oversight.
    • Commonly associated with inexperienced team members or communication gaps.
  3. Long-neglected Issues:
    • Accumulated problems that persist over time, despite awareness.
    • Typically results from prioritizing new features over addressing existing issues.

Impact of Technical Debt

Although not seeing the direct impact, customers (either internal or external) are about to experience Technical Debt that hung around long enough.

Do you know this one digital solution? It just runs too slow. Nobody particularly likes it. Everyone would want to change it, but it has been there forever. While some might think said digital solution just runs on undersized hardware – most likely there architectural shortcuts have been made, also known as Technical Debt. But a slow digital solution, while maybe not satisfying, does not mean, it does not function (cf. #1).

When an application is not resilient toward change, e.g. due to architectural smells or insufficient testing, new features tend to consume more time and resources. Features need much bug fixing which is then either visible as incidents in production or long lead times for new features due to unforeseen side-effects. In any case, your customer notices the effect of Technical Debt (cf. #2).

Unplanned outages can stem from technical debt. Latest, at this stage, Technical Debt shows its ugly face and becomes much more visible to the customer (cf. #3).

Among others, the impact of Technical Debt can be summarized as:

  1. Minimal Disruption:
    • Technical debt with limited consequences for system performance and maintainability.
    • Typically manageable issues without significant operational impact.
  2. Noticeable Effects:
    • Technical debt with discernible impacts on efficiency and code quality.
    • Requires effort to resolve but doesn’t pose immediate threats.
  3. Critical Implications:
    • Technical debt causing substantial harm to system stability, scalability, or security.
    • Demands high-priority attention for resolution.

Types of Technical Debt

We already mentioned architecture (design) and lack of testing as possible causes of Technical Debt. But let us have a more comprehensive look at where Technical Debt lures in digital solutions:

  1. Code-related Challenges:
    • Issues pertaining to the source code, encompassing code quality, documentation gaps, and inefficient algorithms.
  2. Design-related Complexities:
    • Problems stemming from architectural or design choices, such as tight integration, limited scalability, or poor modularity.
  3. Testing Dilemmas:
    • Issues tied to testing quality and coverage, increasing the risk of undetected bugs and regressions.
  4. Infrastructure Obstacles:
    • Concerns tied to the underlying technology stack, outdated libraries, or inefficient server setups.
  5. Documentation Gaps:
    • Absence of updated and comprehensive documentation, hindering comprehension for developers and stakeholders.

Technical Debt Resolution Strategies

When looking at large-scaled enterprise’s application landscapes, one needs to accept one fact: Technical Debt is just part of the game. But being part of the game does not mean it shall remain unmanaged. Here’s what you can do about Technical Debt:

  1. Refinement Approach:
    • A proactive method involving code and design enhancements to gradually eliminate technical debt.
  2. Reconstruction Strategy:
    • Rebuilding sections or the entire application to rectify accumulated technical debt.
  3. Tolerance Stance:
    • Acknowledging and managing Technical Debt’s presence, while accepting its impact.
  4. Priority-based Focus:
    • Evaluation and prioritization of Technical Debt issues based on importance and urgency.
  5. Automation Utilization:
    • Leveraging automated tools and scripts to identify and tackle Technical Debt.

From understanding to managing Technical Debt!

Understanding Technical Debt is an important factor to maintain healthy digital solutions. IT, not business, must have the solution for Technical Debt. Do not forget to prioritize Technical Debt related features! It can be as easy as a Technical Debt tax for new features. Managing Technical Debt helps teams prioritize issues and maintain a healthy development process & digital solution portfolio.