The past six months have seen massive downsizing in the tech world thanks to companies overexpanding and now reacting to the impending economic downturn. While downsizing solves the short term problem, it doesn’t get rid of the need to manage your company’s software and minimize technical debt.
How IT leaders manage the subsequent technical debt defines the success or failure of software projects since it causes friction and significantly slows down the delivery of solutions. Given what is at stake, IT leaders must understand and deal with technical debt so they can adequately meet the needs of their businesses. Overlooking or failing to recognize technical debt can render organizations unable to deliver at their scale, leading to higher production costs and lower financial returns. This article explores strategies to avoid hindering growth or getting into trouble down the road.
Technical debt, also known as tech debt or code debt, are the costs associated with rushed, low quality, or bug-filled code that are the result of cutting corners or expenses, skipping necessary features, or trying to reach a goal faster.
Compare technical debt to someone rushing to complete building a house without all the required blueprints and proper foundation just to finish construction sooner. While the building is finished quickly and cheaply, there’s every chance some structural issues could emerge later that need fixing, requiring extra input in terms of time and money.
Technical debt refers to any part of the software, app, or web development related to general programming and code refactoring. While technical debt is in many ways inevitable – some companies use it as strategic leverage – a 2020 McKinsey Survey revealed that between 10 and 20% of most companies’ technology budget goes to fix issues relating to technical debt. Moreover, other studies indicated that the figures could be 20-40% of companies’ entire technology estates before depreciation. And similar to financial debt, code debt will accrue interest, and the amount of work and resources it will take to rectify depends on the duration of the debt or backlog that allowed the issues to build up.
Web server endpoints, company websites, apps, and general infrastructure form the bulk of codebases that accumulate considerable technical debt. Some 61% of engineering teams involved in a study conducted by Stepsize claimed that the most significant amount of technical debt originated from the backend. Per the findings, addressing technical debt in the named areas of the codebase would enable companies to dramatically enhance their productivity.
Among the main factors contributing to technical debt includes lack of skill, complex technical design, poor management, insufficient testing, delayed refactoring, suboptimal code, excessive focus on quick profit, and failure to adapt to standards and good practices in the preliminary stages. When engineering teams are short-handed due to downsizing, the odds of these factors increase significantly. When such issues are left unsupervised and allowed to accumulate over time, they result in technical insufficiencies that must be addressed eventually.
Like financial debt, some technical debt, which seems like a compromise between high quality and cost savings, may be inevitable in running a business. However, since it brings flexibility to businesses and development teams, the key is to manage it properly and pay it on time. When not managed correctly, technical debt can have severe consequences, including increasing development costs and being prone to cyber-attacks. Luckily, you can enter the path of managing technical debt and securing the future of your product and company by observing the following:
Managing technical debt should be a company’s long-term strategy comparable to self-care, where you go to the gym and eat healthy as a long-term focus on health. Just like living healthy should be made an everyday practice, effective technical health maintenance should become a regular practice that begins with acknowledging it exists and identifying its source. Knowing how the debt occurred, whether deliberate or accidental, will enable you to understand its nature to determine how to reduce it. You must evaluate different factors and techniques necessary to analyze and measure so you can assess the attendant risks besides making a cost-benefit analysis.
Use analytics tools to monitor system performance and track related problems to see how they correlate with the initial decisions that caused the technical debt. Code debt assessment will give decision-makers better visibility, helping them put a price tag on the problem and how it affects the project. Most importantly, having a precise cost-benefit analysis will help you prioritize better and create a payment strategy to reduce the technical debt without compromising your ongoing projects.
Automation remains the bedrock of any technological development and should be integrated into managing existing code debt while avoiding future debt accumulation. Consider automating repetitive, time-intensive, and error-prone tasks and processes to give your existing technical team ample time to work on relieving code debt. Since paying off technical debt constantly is an effective way of mitigating it, your company should realize a more stable and higher quality code or project as automation grows.
Development teams interested in maintaining productivity and velocity must recognize the place of using the right tools in managing technical debt. While technical debt is part and parcel of software development processes, research shows that only about 7% of developers use tools and documentation to track technical debt. According to a different study, teams that have a good tech debt management strategy save their organizations millions in revenue besides shipping their projects over 50% faster.
Reducing technical debt can be an uphill task across most development teams, especially when dealing with an ever-shrinking workforce and timelines. While quick fixes and temporary workarounds can help sometimes, they almost always create a backlog of items that eventually slow down product lifecycles.
Most teams need more time to ideate and implement independently. They cannot establish a proper code debt management strategy due to a lack of qualified staff, knowledge, or concerns about reducing its consequences. An outsourced technology partner should offer much-needed support with operations because they have specialized teams, process improvements, and capacity management. In addition to helping deliver on one-off projects and short-term initiatives, such development partners can help reduce code debt and give your team breathing space to enable them to become more efficient.
Most importantly, managed development teams provide much needed engineering resources to short-staffed in-house teams without the cost of bringing on full-time team members. This presents a scalable way to stay competitive through downsizing without allowing your code to suffer.