What is technical debt and how to reduce it?

What is technical debt and how to reduce it?

Just like financial teams want to avoid financial debt, IT teams wish to have their work clean of technical debt.
But does that mean exactly?

Put simply, technical debt (also called code debt) is the labour cost associated with having to rework previously implemented faulty code or software. It happens frequently and can quickly escalate to nightmarish levels for developers.

What is the root cause of technical debt?

Let’s illustrate the concept of technical debt with a common occurrence:

Imagine a company that is launching an app. The dev team, already working under pressure, encounters a complex problem and applies a quick fix to meet the deadline. Not a big deal, right? They can just revisit it later, before it causes any troubles. Well, this is exactly how technical debt is created.

Technical debt can be caused by much more than just sloppy developers or faulty code. Sometimes, it might be unavoidable, as a consequence of software upgrades, releases of newer versions of programming languages, company expansions, budgets limitations, outdated legacy systems, and more. Whatever the cause, the impact can be tremendous on a team’s morale and productivity, as well as in the overall quality of the software.




Source: Developedia


Technical debt can be divided into three categories:

– Intentional tech debt results from, for instance, sacrificing code quality for the sake of reducing time-to-market. It can stem from management decisions, IT departments, or even the choice of a coding platform.

– Unintentional tech debt happens when the code needs improvement after a period due to outdated designs, additional features, etc. This kind is quite hard to avoid completely, as companies and products grow, but also the easiest to solve.

– Software entropy technical debt, which is what happens when software (legacy systems, for example) experiences a deterioration of performance over time that affects your product.


When technical debt becomes actual debt

And while the term “debt” in technical debt refers to the amount of work needed to correct, rework, or change code, it also translates into financial costs for a company.

According to a 2018 Stripe report, most developers spend almost one third of their time dealing with technical debt. Technical debt seems to steal an average of 3.8h weekly and is one of the main reasons hindering developer productivity at companies. This translates to a staggering 85 billion dollars annually–all spent on… bad code.



Source: Stripe


So, technical debt has a direct effect on a companies’ finances, but there are also less immediate consequences:

– Creation of negative value: system downtimes, volatile performance or bad user interface impact user satisfaction, thus creating negative value for your product and business.

– Dev team productivity: technical debt puts a lot of strain on an IT department, as it is time-consuming and halts progress. In other words, technical debt not only uses up engineering time but also causes the developing team to lose momentum. As a result, innovation is played down.

– Hindering new releases: technical debt makes it exponentially harder and riskier to alter existing source code, and this reflects both in the product and in the market. Longer lead times reduce opportunities and increase Time-to-Market of new features.


How to prevent it?

The good news about technical debt is that it can be prevented, in a combined effort between technical teams and management. What if we had a good word for it… maybe, collaboration? But there are other steps to take when avoiding technical debt, especially with intentional and software entropy technical debt.

1. High Code Quality: this one is mandatory. Bad code equals technical debt, eventually. Having a skilled developing team who follows rigorous business processes is crucial to steer clear of code debt. Technical debt is also very common in companies that don’t have a high-level technical management or a CTO.

2. Strong Architecture: just as important as a sterling code is a strong architecture that allows you to start with a lightweight design and grow overtime, step by step, and to actively track and manage (unavoidable) technical debt. The choice of coding platform should consider how legacy systems will be integrated, since this is one factor contributing to software entropy technical debt. These are the “top 7” features to look for in an app development software.

3. Quality Assurance: obviously, the war on technical debt includes implementing a proactive QA practice that prioritises effective testing like identifying app defects after every activity or task, or even testing automation.

4. Refactoring: regularly re-writing components in software, in order to remove redundancies and optimize performance might seem the very definition of technical debt–but, in this case, it is not. Refactoring code as a precaution will help increase its endurance over time, avoiding technical deb Rather than wait for things to fall apart, savvy teams pre-emptively act to improve the code’s immune system.

5. Agile development approach: some might argue that Agile prioritises speed over quality–and to them we say: that’s because they don’t understand Agile like we do. A faster pace does not mean careless work, and Agile is not synonym with “quick and dirty”. Instead, the Agile approach (in development and in mindset) is technical debt’s nemesis, with frequent iterations of work, tackling small chunks of work at a time, testing automation, modularization of architecture and so on.

Say goodbye to doubts: this is what you can build with lowcode platforms.

Partnering up to stay away from technical debt

Technical debt is technically unavoidable. Unless you have no desire to grow, innovate, improve your products, you’ll always deal with some degree of technical debt.

However, some of these situations can be prevented. It might be the case that a team lacks the time or experience to work on technical debt solutions, for example. At Near Partner, our team technical debt experts can go through your system and work on old “debts” while your teams devote resources to tackling future problems. Managing technical debt is this way keeps businesses on a trajectory of innovation and growth.

And if outsourcing is still a big question mark for you, and you are not sure how to choose the best partner, download our free e-book on Outsourcing 101.

Need help in developing your product, migrating to new systems, or even some counselling on how to tackle technical debt in your organisation? Get in touch! At Near Partner, our team of experienced developers is used to (and eager!) to tackle all kinds of development issues, opportunities and solutions with customers. So far, we’ve gotten great results, happy customers, and a growing team of talented programmers.

What can we say? We are problem solvers.

Drop us a message and start tackling technical debt.

Pedro Veloso

I'm a serial entrepreneur and a (quasi-serial) father. I'm particularly fond of technology, solving problems and team culture, and my life lies at the intersection of those interests.