Technical debt, or the coding compromises companies make to produce a product, is the most typical problem when it comes to obstacles preventing scaleups from expanding. Because of imperfect coding, engineers frequently find that it is beginning to slow down development tasks. Alternately, your system may have grown vulnerable since the team couldn’t make necessary updates or take advantage of recent developments because you now use outdated libraries or frameworks. These tradeoffs start to manifest in many ways as a startup grows.
Technical debt arises when developers add new application features quickly in response to client requests. In other words, when programmers expand an app’s functionality, scalability, or interoperability, without paying attention to code quality, they increase the danger of accruing technical debt. These issues may require additional effort in the future, such as refactoring.
How do you identify technical debt?
It’s simple to comprehend why organizations accumulate excessive tech debt. In truth, some degree of technical debt is both inevitable and acceptable. Making compromises to develop an application is expected when you must balance the scope of delivery and timelines.
There are indications that a company’s technology debt has crossed the line from acceptable to potentially becoming a hindrance. We’ll list the top five indicators that tech debt is about to reach a crisis stage. Although not all-inclusive, these are helpful warning signs to look out for so that you may manage technical debt before it leads to significant problems in the future.
Top 5 Indicators to identify Tech Debt
Listen to your engineering team
Keep an eye out for any concerns from your developers. Since they encounter issues daily, they know when they will have the most impact because of a problem. The engineering team will be able to assess the friction these issues are bringing to the company. For example, whether they find it hard to onboard new team members due to tech access issues, unreasonable delays, or they cannot embrace more recent tools and methods to improve their productivity like CI, CD, etc.
Keep a check on overall value lead time
Take a look at how long it generally takes to deliver user benefits. Value lead time is the total time it takes to develop, deploy, and roll out such an idea to users. An increase in this measure frequently suggests that tech debt is impeding effective workflows. Poor code quality may be holding up development. Friction in the development experience is another possibility. It’s also possible that tech debt causes errors and outages, which divert developers’ attention away from their primary jobs. A longer value lead-time results from all of these.
Patchy user experience
Is onboarding new users taking a long time? or perhaps there is a rise in consumer complaints at your call center? The consumer experiencing quality problems shows that your technology has to be improved. But many times effect may not be immediately apparent. Salespeople may be downplaying the faults, customer service representatives are helping consumers, or developers quickly debug any problems as soon as they arise. Or perhaps users are just giving up on the product and switching to alternatives. The most important lesson is to monitor what your users are experiencing.
Problem integrating new developers
Your pilot development may have grown accustomed to cutting corners for all the above reasons. However, as you start hiring additional engineers, they can grow impatient with the technical problems that the launch team was happy to overlook. Too much tech debt is frequently to blame if new developers are having trouble getting up to speed and being productive or if more recent hires are complaining.
Deteriorated, ineffective measures
Run-time infrastructure expenditures, decreased performance and availability, or stale data are some common symptoms of tech debt. Although you can also refer to them as non-functional needs, we prefer to refer to them as cross-functional requirements because of their direct impact on the customer experience. Although we might not observe issues that may directly impact the client in this case, we can still observe how the systems react to a spike in traffic, customers, or data. This approach will enable us to forecast potential scaling, growth rates, and whether we should give technical debt a higher priority.
Examine your product roadmap more closely to identify areas that need development. Here, shortcuts have the potential to jeopardize both the future development of the product and the viability of the company.
How do you manage technical debt?
Technical debt is prevalent and predictable, even though businesses do not intentionally create it. If organizations wait until every single line of code is flawless, projects will never go past the development stage. The technical debt ratio can be pivotal in addressing code quality issues and reducing technical debt.
What is the technical debt ratio?
It is the ratio of remedial cost to development cost for a code base. You can determine the efforts required to address code issues in a particular section of the codebase and the efforts needed to redevelop it.
The technical debt ratio can be measured and tracked to control and minimize code quality issues. For instance, readily available tools like SonarQube and Coverity track code quality and give the information needed to determine the technical debt ratio and maintain the development schedule.
As soon as a team determines its ratio, it can continue to monitor and manage its development and take care of any future problems.
Technical Debt and Agile Development
Speed & faster feature delivery is the key to agile development. For development to continue, application features must be usable. Even if the application functions flawlessly, teams will probably incur technical debt because they value expedited delivery and speed over best practices and quality control.
Teams that rush to achieve sprint deadlines produce long methods, ineffective procedures, or poor-quality code. Teams that prioritize new features over bug fixes also accumulate technical debt that must be paid off; before moving on to the next stage of development.
Agile programmers must be accountable for their work, even if that means acknowledging that they cut corners to achieve deadlines. Agile sprints are fundamentally about excellence and consistency, yet these qualities can be expensive.
Track the amount of technical debt your team is accumulating and make a plan to pay it off throughout the product backlog stage.
What are the costs associated with tech debt?
- Quality of Code — If deadlines drive developers, it will impact code quality. Clean and well-organized code is a key part of managing technical debt. Even if they complete the project on schedule, poor design and coding methods lead to long-term problems. Later, developers will have to deal with those errors, and they can find it problematic to maintain and keep track of the codebase. Due to this bad code design, the team accrues technical debt, which causes a backlog of work for code cleanup.
- Less forward movement — The work required to maintain the project climbs proportionally as technical debt builds up. It takes longer to complete the project than it should, whether it is due to testing difficulties, code complexity, or any other problems. Therefore, instead of doing other tasks that have business value, your engineers will devote more effort to fixing these issues.
- Low team spirit — Understanding the current system state and the work required to implement new functionality gets harder when technical debt builds up. The productivity of your team may suffer significantly due to technical debt. The team morale will suffer as production grinds to a standstill as they spend time resolving avoidable issues — hopefully without making new ones.
- Higher failure rates — Defects are a frequent result of technical debt. These flaws degrade the consumer experience and increase the product life-cycle maintenance expenses.
What are the ways to reduce technical debt?
Some of the ways to reduce technical debt include:
Better project structure
Well-structured project structure that is as per industry acknowledged best practices helps the team to understand it quickly. This is one of the crucial strategies for minimizing technical debt. Teams can track development statuses and adhere to deadlines using project management tools like Jira Asana Monitoring and swiftly resolving code issues is another technique to lower technical debt.
Automated testing helps in reducing technical debt as it decreases debug cycles and highlights code challenges immediately. Because each time when code is updated, testing scripts check for conformance. Thus automated testing reduces defects as well as potential defects.
Implementing best coding practices
Organizations should create a document outlining coding standards and best practices for the development team to adhere to & follow. When everyone in your team follows coding best practices, it will significantly reduce technical debt.
Select appropriate Application Architecture
During the initial stages of development, if your team spends time defining a secure, scalable architecture, there will be fewer instances that will need code refactoring in later stages. Technical debt caused due to architecture is expensive, but so are the actual dollars owed. Review the latest technology and architectural advances, pros and cons for going with a particular technology architecture. Also, ensure that the selected architecture will support a potential roadmap for feature expansions and integration requirements.
Refactor and improve your source code — Refactoring is yet another method for addressing technical debt. Refactoring allows you to improve the internal consistency of the source code without affecting its outward behavior. You must keep an eye on the Technical Debt ratio while refactoring code decisions.
There isn’t just one way to get out of tech debt – it will vary from company to company, depending on their culture and strategy. However, there are some guidelines that everyone can follow to reduce tech debt before it becomes a crisis. Not all technical debt is bad – sometimes, it can help an application advance, for instance, if the development backlog is full of enhancement ideas rather than bug fixes. However, it’s still generally preferable to avoid technical debt if possible. Teams can improve their development process and avoid these issues in the future by determining the primary reasons for the debt.
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