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Introduction to Technical Debt


During the development of a project, there is a chance that you might have heard the term Technical Debt. You may have come across it many times in your development career, or soon realize what it is. It is contemporaneous in every development life cycle and has been a topic of several discussions.

The true meaning of Technical Debt depends up to interpretation. There are different personal definitions of technical debt.

So, what actually is technical debt? An article in the Information and Software Technology Journal defines technical debt as:

“Technical Debt describes the consequences of software development actions that intentionally or unintentionally prioritize client value and/or project constraints such as delivery deadlines, over more technical implementation and design considerations…”

Techopedia defines technical debt as:

“A concept in programming that reflects the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best overall solution.”

Causes of Technical Debt

There are several reasons for Technical Debt. Different factors like a tight deadline, customer pressure, lack of documentation, inexperienced developers, bad architectural design all result in technical debt. It is similar to the monetary debt where interest growth is rapid if not paid on time.

Technical Debt can make an inconsequential task complex and time consuming than planned. Consequently, Technical Debt becomes a significant cause for dissatisfaction among the developers and client.

Image: monkeyuser.com

Clarity in Requirements

Are the requirements provided to the developers on a need-to-know basis? Lack of proper requirements results in the most skilled developers to create a sub-par product; when team members start developing without a detailed product analysis, requirements, and understanding the statistics for the success or failure of the proposed solution.

Launching New Features

When you decide to add new features without the technical team’s consultation, the development team faces difficulty in meeting deadline while developing an over-promised software.

When the budget is small and the team is trying to validate the ideas, you’ll resort to hacks which is sometimes necessary as you are testing out your features quickly in the market. However, in the long run, it’s important to plan for technology decisions with your thoughts on the future. Without a plan, the Technical Debt increases which in turn hampers scalability and maintainability of a product.

Software Architecture

Choose the right software architecture while building quality software. Not following static code rules, violation of fundamental design principles negatively impacts code design and thus makes way for Technical Debt.

Documentation

Proper documentation helps in understanding software. Improper or an out of date documentation makes it difficult to understand the components of the system. Proper documentation always helps to move the team faster.

How To Reduce Technical Debt

Technical debt can be appropriately managed if addressed.

Refactoring

The software architecture should be reviewed in a timely manner. Code refactoring can help reduce the code duplication or the lack of modularity. Refactoring can be done in between sprints to minimize complex code structure. If the complexity of the code increases, it leads to a conflict to solve even a simple issue.

Technology Update

Keeping technology up-to-date is important where necessary. Be aware of new practices and try to follow them in smaller modules. Improve the big modules with proper planning with your team. Again the old adage will apply: “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”

Solving the Quickest Problem

The debt which can be solved quickly should be solved! It is the best way to reduce technical debt. Quick code formatting takes very less time. A quick code fix can be made which can later be applied to similar code problems. Solving the most immediate issues can help in addressing many complex issues in the long run.

Wrapping Things Up

Addressing Technical Debt does not cost money, but avoiding it keeps on adding the debt which increases the interests over time. It causes consequences ranging from simple to complex. Missed deadlines, unmotivated development team, longer development time for simple software features, and constant bug fixes are some of the symptoms.

As a developer, manager or team leader of the project be mindful of Technical Debt before it piles up for a catastrophe. Software are like buildings which erode over time and must be adapted, and modified accordingly as new requirements and constraints emerge.

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