No one likes being in debt. Whether personal or professional, debt is something you want to avoid. However, not all debt is financial. In the IT world, especially software development, technical debt is a significant problem that often remains unaddressed. In the simplest terms, technical debt is the coding or work you have to do tomorrow because you took a shortcut to deliver the software today. While delivering work on time is something you should strive for, having to redo the work you’ve already completed at a later date can add a mountain of technical debt on the backend of a project.
More than likely, your technical debt is a conscious decision. You decide that you’re going to cut a corner, but sometimes it can also happen unknowingly. For example, you might leave no annotation to the code, no automated testing, or decide not to address bugs. Let’s look at some of the most common causes for technical debt:
- Lack of upfront definitions in design & development
- Starting a project without completing the proper requirements gathering in an attempt to save time
- Deadlines and pressure to release software outweigh the desire to complete the project properly
- Budget issues or restrictions
- Lack of code documentation or testing procedures
Having technical debt doesn’t mean your team is lazy or always taking shortcuts. Without proper requirements gathering & milestones set on the front end, you may place unrealistic expectations on the project due to time constraints or lack of resources. The ability to get an MVP out the door and beat competitors to market is often a driving factor. Yet you can’t expect someone to complete a project that would typically take two months in a week without making some concessions. This technical debt will build up on the backend of the project, leading to delays and higher costs later.
The secret to technical debt (much like financial debt) is how you plan for it and manage it accordingly. Not many people can make a large purchase such as a home without taking out a loan. When you’re looking at taking out a loan, you’ll look at the interest rates, monthly payments, how long you’ll have to make those payments, and start making a plan to work those payments into your budget. Consider your technical debt a loan in the same way. If you already have a large workload on the front end of a project and find yourself starting to fall behind, you must address & reassess before the debt load grows. So how can we manage tech debt to help you achieve your goals without creating extra work in the future?
- Make technical debt a part of your daily conversations — This will help you and your team manage their workloads more effectively. Ask the following questions if needed.
- What will this shortcut save now?
- Will we gain anything by opting for a less ideal fix right now?
- Why can’t we address this today?
- What will happen in the future if you take on this debt today?
- Will this cause issues with future release plans and updates?
- Be an advocate for maintenance — Don’t let your tasks that were pushed to the side be forgotten. Make sure your team circles back to them soon.
- Have KPIs set for basic product expectations — If your team knows what is expected of them, they will keep your technical debt low.
- Plan reasonable workloads to account for technical debt.
If technical debt gets out of hand, it can put a considerable strain on your team and yourself. Don’t let your debt get out of control. Working smarter, not harder, is always a better way of thinking and managing your technical debt. To do so, your product manager should be able to ensure their developer’s workloads are aligned with the desired date of completion. At Arcanium, we can assess your project and provide you with a PM who will keep your team on track. If you are looking for a development team that can deliver a high-quality product with low volume debt, contact us today!