In the fast-paced world of software development, where some occasions call for efficiency above all else, solutions can acquire what is known as “technical debt.” This refers to the accumulated consequences of hasty or suboptimal decisions during the development process. This debt manifests as software flaws, inefficiencies, and limitations that can hinder future progress, reduce software quality, and ultimately impact customer satisfaction.
Technical debt is a metaphor that illustrates the long-term costs incurred by taking shortcuts or compromising quality during software development. Just as financial debt accumulates interest, technical debt manifests in the form of unresolved issues, obsolete code, and architectural complexities. Examples include implementing quick fixes instead of comprehensive solutions, neglecting code refactoring, and delaying necessary updates or upgrades.
These actions may be necessary to meet immediate deadlines but can lead to long-term consequences if left unaddressed, and those consequences can go beyond technological issues. Too much technical debt can lead to burnout among developers and take time away from innovation.
The barriers to fixing technical debt
Several barriers can hinder the resolution of technical debt:
Resource constraints: Limited time and/or budget may make it challenging to allocate sufficient resources for addressing technical debt.
Lack of awareness: Stakeholders, including management, may not fully comprehend the impact of technical debt, leading to its underestimation or neglect.
Overemphasis on new features: The pressure to introduce new features and meet customer demands often takes precedence over debt-reduction efforts.
Resistance to change: Developers may resist refactoring or rewriting code due to concerns about introducing new bugs or disrupting existing functionality.
Paying back technical debt
The reality is there will always be technical debt to pay, the key is keeping on top of it—or “paying it back”.
As a company you need a framework for prioritising the maintenance of your code. Consider looking at the following impacts:
Business: How does it affect how we deliver value to our customers? How does it affect our revenue?
Resource: How much does it cost to repay the debt vs. the amount it costs to carry it?
Technical: How big is the impact across the full tech stack? What are the implications for scale and performance? Does it affect security?
Roadmap: How does it impact future development?
At Walr, we evaluate each impact, apply weighting, and calculate a normalised score that we use for prioritisation. This gives us a much clearer overview of all debt and directly allows us to classify it into a low, medium or high priority category. Generally speaking, we deal with all high priority debt and most of the medium priorities.
If you’re not repaying technical debt, it is going to accrue and begin to impact the execution of your roadmap. To make sure you keep your eye on the overall prize—innovation—having a plan in place is crucial. Once you have your debt in order, you can free up time to work on what drives the business forward, welcoming more creative thinking that will support the team’s morale.
Technical debt is an inherent challenge in software development. Understanding its nature, causes, and barriers is important for effectively managing and reducing its impact. Innovation and creativity will inevitably fall to the wayside if tech developers allow themselves to be consumed by technical debt.