Understanding Technical Debt & How To Minimize it?

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Debt always comes with a price. Be it financial debt or Technical Debt!

If you are connected to the software industry, the term Technical Debt shouldn’t be new to you. Projects start, the demand from the clients, and the pressure of meeting deadlines prevent developers from producing clean, structured code. This unstructured code multiplies the developer’s time to maintain the code for enhancements and bug fixing.

But the question is can you make this system work for you instead of against you? The answer is YES! Below in this article, we will give an overview of what technical debt is, along with its types and the solutions that can help you minimize it.

In the article, we will see:

  • What is Technical Debt 
  • Types of Technical Debt 
  • Impact of Agile Methodologies on Technical Debt 
  • Why Is It Important To Assess Technical Debt?
  • Good Practices around reducing technical debt 
  • How Outsourcing Can Help with the Technical Debt Reduction
  • Our experience with minimizing and resolving technical debt 
  • Conclusion

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt is a term primarily used in the technical community since a computer programmer Ward Cunningham coined it in 1992. It occurs when you take shortcuts in writing your code that will take more work to fix at a later time—typically to achieve quick gains.

According to Duensing, “Technical debt – or code debt – is the consequence of software development decisions prioritizing speed or release over the well-designed code. It is often the result of using quick fixes and patches rather than full-scale solutions.”

In simple language, it is like making a room tidy for now by hiding everything under the couch, but nothing is in its correct spot. This will eventually result in more time cleaning and organizing to find something you seek.

The reality is that software teams often rush to release the prominent feature out the door quickly, which may seem like a practical approach because teams can deliver projects on time and within budget. Still, they are taking “borrowed money” in the long term because they use shortcuts to deliver projects without understanding how this change or new feature might impact the overall picture.

As a result, teams have to pay back the interest on that borrowed money in the future. Certain things need consideration when it comes to payback. 

  • A good architecture i-e flexible, extendible, and usable in the long run.
  • Scalable components, i-e, the ability of a system to handle sudden changes in workload or features without negatively impacting performance. 
  • A well-structured code i-e well documented and must follow good coding practices.

Is Technical Debt Always Bad?

There is no simple answer to this question. Like financial debt, technical debt also comes with a price, but it does not necessarily have to be bad. Taking a financial loan for educational or business purposes with a proper plan helps you get ahead.

Similarly, technical debt might come in handy as a tool for startups to quickly release the product. But when it comes to scalability, they restructure the code through a proper plan or sometimes only invest in reducing technical debt.

Types of Technical Debt

There is no one-size-fits-all solution to managing technical debt in projects, but categorizing it can help communicate and resolve technical debt issues within and across teams.

It can be broken down into three broad categories when identifying technical debt: intentional, unintentional, and bit rot.

Let’s briefly discuss them.

  1. Intentional Technical Debt
  2. Unintentional Technical Debt
  3. Bit Rot Technical Debt

Intentional Technical Debt

This type of technical debt occurs when the software developers deliberately take the shortcut to make the product ready for the market. This debt often results from irrational business decisions and the need for quick delivery.

Unintentional Technical Debt

Technology is ever-evolving. The code that worked fine yesterday might break or fail to deliver tomorrow. As the systems evolve and the project requirements change, this type of technical debt can cost more than you expect. Lack of design thinking is one of the major causes of this type of debt.

Bit Rot Technical Debt

When several people are working on the same project, merging multiple repositories, code quality compromises, and the system slowly gets complicated. The main reasons for this technical debt may include people who do not understand the design and structure, copy-pasting the code, and constant requirement changes.

After understanding the types of technical debt, let’s discuss the impact Agile Methodology has on reducing it!

What is the Impact of Agile on Technical Debt

In Agile, teams likely accumulate technical debt as they prioritize speed and accelerated delivery on every sprint. This speed prioritization usually results in inefficient or low-quality code. 

But now, the companies following Scrum or any of the Agile methodologies have started built-in sprints for tech debt reduction. After every few sprints, teams follow a sprint in which they only restructure and refactor the code and manage to keep it under control by iterating on it.

Why Is Technical Debt Assessment Important?

Measuring technical debt is essential for two main reasons:

  • Tech debt decreases productivity. Technical debt is an ongoing tax on the cost of operating and extending a system. If you’re working on a system with a lot of technical debt, more time is spent circumventing the debt than innovating and advancing new product features.
  • Tech debt grows if left unchecked. Unless you make a concerted effort to manage technical debt, it will undoubtedly increase. Over time, you’ll achieve fewer outcomes for your business for the same amount of effort. Given the constant growth rate of technical debt in the systems your team is operating and enhancing, it’s incumbent on engineering teams to have a strategy to manage that debt.

Good Practices to Reduce Technical Debt

By following the below-listed practices, you can reduce the factors causing you much trouble.

  1. Automate Your Testing Process
  2. Choose Flexible and Modern Architecture
  3. Refactor Your Source Code
  4. Define Best Coding Practices

Automate Your Testing Process

One of the successful ways to reduce technical debt is automated testing. This includes regression testing, which is done to verify that a code change in the software does not impact the existing functionality of the product. It helps eliminate code problems because of automated debugging cycles and scans the code for issues every time a module is updated. Some of the automated regression testing tools are AVO, TimeShiftX, and Selenium.

Choose Flexible and Modern Architecture

Flexible microservices-based architecture helps developers create scalable software. Dividing a system into small functional components provides better stability, maintainability, and security and makes it easier for engineers to support and upgrade the system.

Refactor Your Source Code

Always take advantage of refactoring to alter the source code’s internal quality without having a change in external behavior. Remember the rule of 3 for refactoring your code.

  1. The first time you write to make it done.
  2. The second time you write to fix it.
  3. The third time you write to refactor.

If teams refactor at regular intervals, they can improve the code’s maintainability and readability and also help in decreasing the existing technical debt.

Define Best Coding Practices

Prepare a standard coding document for your company that includes best practices for developers to follow. The best practices include proper documentation, adding comments for future references, consistent indentation, and following the DRY principle, which says Don’t Repeat Yourself. Following these practices by the developers will help reduce technical debt considerably.

How Outsourcing Technology Partners Can Help with the Technical Debt Reduction

Even with all the knowledge about what causes technical debt and how to minimize it, you may still find yourself stuck in the following scenarios:

  1. Lack of technical talent
  2. Lack of knowledge or expertise
  3. A challenging project that you haven’t worked on before

There is a single solution for all or one of the above situations: Outsourcing!

Yes, it might sound like an additional cost, but in reality, the value of the work delivered and the experience involved will help reduce the debts incurred to you and your project! And in most cases, it even costs less.

Outsourcing provides professional knowledge with a fresh perspective, and there are teams available that specialize in working with legacy systems and systems drowning in technical debt. 

Case studies of the most successful business entities like Whatsapp, Google, and Skype show how outsourcing teams from all around the world helped them add more skilled people to their team, which resulted in technical debt reduction.

Our Experience as an Outsource Technology Partner

Choosing the right technology partner can help your teams establish a proactive strategy to manage things over time. This is what we do! Our team at Genetech Solutions has been working with numerous clients all over the globe to provide technology services and develop products that are used by hundreds and thousands of users. We helped build long-term outcomes by keeping technical debt minimum by having a mandatory code review process to ensure the high quality of the code written and pushed. However, there are times when the features need to be delivered quickly, so appropriate strategies are used to build a decision-making framework that works for everyone.

Wrapping Up

To sum up the entire blog post, here is what we have to say!

Technical debt is inevitable and the only available option to move forward in most cases. But by following a plan, refactoring the code, and keeping up with the good practices mentioned above, you have a high chance of minimizing the debt.But if you feel all of this is cumbersome and need help paying off your technical debt, outsource your project to Genetech Solutions. We will ensure that our skilled and experienced team of developers will bring additional value to your business and will help you overcome it.

Habiba Murtaza

I am a CodeGirls graduate with a passion for tech and content creation, currently working as a technical content writer at Genetech Solutions, one of Pakistan's leading software houses.

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