On a dark and stormy night, a team of software engineers worked furiously to deploy their latest project. Their eyes were bleary, their fingers ached, and the tension in the room was palpable. As they submitted the last of their code, they knew they had just made a critical error. As the proverbial Damocles’ sword dangled above their heads, the consequences of their decision would have severe, far-reaching implications. But why did they let it happen? What could they have done differently? The answer lies in understanding and managing technical debt.
Technical debt is an inevitable part of software development. As projects grow and evolve, shortcuts are often taken to meet tight deadlines, and the accumulated compromises can lead to messy, inefficient, and even risky code. Sometimes it is necessary to accept technical debts. The window of opportunity may be small, and the software must be released within a short time span which demands shortcuts. A stakeholder demands something that works, even knowing it may be at the price of future redevelopment costs. The concept should not be understood as something that should be avoided at all costs.
However, like financial debt, it can be managed effectively if recognised and addressed promptly. In this article, we will delve into the nuances of the concept, reveal strategies for managing it, and revisit our opening anecdote to uncover the resolution of the precarious situation our engineers found themselves in.
What is Technical Debt?
The term can be described as the accumulation of suboptimal decisions, design choices, and code compromises during development. In addition, if the software is not constantly updated, it can accumulate. It is the result of prioritising short-term gains over long-term sustainability, often to meet deadlines or satisfy stakeholders. Here are some examples:
- Inadequate documentation: Lack of proper documentation can make it difficult for developers to understand and maintain the code in the future.
- Poor code quality: Hasty, ill-thought-out code can result in inefficiency, bugs, and security vulnerabilities.
- Outdated dependencies: Using outdated libraries or frameworks can lead to compatibility issues, security risks, and a lack of support.
- When a company does not spend sufficient time upgrading the software libraries and supporting the software. While in this case, it is not because anyone took a shortcut initially. Libraries are constantly updated; some are depreciated and need replacing. Unless sufficient funds are allocated to regular maintenance, the technical debt will accumulate.
It represents a very real future cost for companies. The Consortium for Information & Software Quality™ (CISQ™), in their report The Cost of Poor Software Quality in the US: A 2020 Report estimate that the total value of technical debt in all type of software worldwide was about $1.31 trillion. In a McKinsey report, CIOs estimate that about 20% of their development budget is dedicated to resolving technical debts.
Managing Technical Debt
As with financial debt, the key to managing technical debt is balancing short-term gains and long-term stability. Here are some strategies to help you manage technical debt effectively:
- Prioritise: Assess the severity of your technical debt by analysing its impact on maintainability, scalability, and security. Prioritise tasks based on their urgency and potential consequences.
- Allocate resources: Dedicate a portion of your development team’s time to addressing technical debt, whether through code refactoring, updating dependencies, or improving documentation.
- Automate: Utilise tools like static code analysers, linters, and automated testing frameworks to identify and fix technical debt issues.
- Communicate: Ensure stakeholders understand the importance of managing technical debt and how it affects the project’s long-term success.
The Final Piece of the Puzzle
As we return to our opening anecdote, we find the team of engineers frantically searching for a solution to the critical error they had made. Unbeknownst to them, a seasoned developer had joined the team just days earlier. They watched in awe as the developer calmly identified the root cause of the problem: a tangled web of technical debt that had been accumulating for years. With this newfound understanding, the team began to untangle the Gordian knot of technical debt, ultimately restoring the stability and integrity of their project.
While technical debt is unavoidable in software development, it need not be an insurmountable obstacle. By understanding its implications, prioritising tasks, allocating resources, automating processes, and communicating with stakeholders, you can effectively manage technical debt and ensure the long-term success of your projects. Like our team of engineers, you too can unravel the Gordian knot of technical debt and emerge triumphant like Alexander the Great!
At Gislen Software, we can help and guide you to avoid unnecessary technical debts. If you have applications with outdated libraries, we can help you to migrate these to newer versions. Given that we are located in India, perhaps we can help you at lower costs than using European software engineers. Contact us here.