The Silent Saboteur: How Technical Debt Undermines Development

September 12, 2023

Have you ever experienced a system crash? Had developers complain of convoluted code? Found it troublesome to hire developers for your niche system? Had slow running code? Or grew frustrated at ever-extending timelines to deliver simple changes to your system? If so, you may be experiencing the effects of technical debt.

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt is the accumulation of code inefficiencies implemented over a system or product’s life. These inefficiencies can accumulate due to:

  • Time Constraints 
    • A developer creates the feature as fast as possible with little regard for coding best practices.
    • The quality assurance team does not have time to test all use cases before implementing the feature or fix.
  • Knowledge Gaps
    • A developer checks in a ‘workaround’ because they do not know the best way to implement a feature.
    • The quality assurance team is not made aware of all use cases, nor does it have the proper unit tests in place to detect bugs.
  • Legacy Software/Code
    • As time passes, a system gradually becomes old-fashioned. There are fewer people who know how to work with the system so there becomes a reluctance to make improvements or redesign it for fear of breaking it without the skills to fix it.

In essence, it is caused by development teams prioritizing short-term gains over long-term sustainability.

Why Technical Debt Persists

Technical debt often remains unaddressed within organizations due to a combination of factors:

  • Prioritization
    • A new feature to meet market demands is viewed as more important than reviewing existing infrastructure.
  • Visibility
    • It is hard to quantify the impact of technical debt. It is nearly impossible to put a number on lost team productivity hours or incremental maintenance costs.
  • Culture
    • If team metrics are based on feature output, the ‘behind the scenes’ nature of addressing technical debt results in an inaccurate ‘result’ of team input.
  • Time
    • It builds up when you’re constantly working on a project and making changes. You can’t completely avoid it because it naturally piles up over time when you fix bugs, make revisions, or improve technology and processes.
Why you should reduce your technical debt

Technical debt is often ignored within organizations due to the prioritization of new features, limited visibility of its impact, and a culture that values output over addressing infrastructure issues. Think of technical debt as a credit card – if you only make a minimum payment, you get deeper and deeper into debt. Fixing technical debt doesn’t produce immediate business value like new features can, so it appears expensive to use development time to pay down tech debt. However, as tech debt accumulates, developer velocity decreases, and future changes become more difficult to implement.

So, the only thing more expensive than paying down technical debt is *not* paying down technical debt.

Why You Should Address Technical Debt

Short-term (“quick-n-dirty”) fixes accumulate over time as technical debt and usually result in increased maintenance costs, reduced innovation, and even decreased customer satisfaction in your business. Neglecting technical debt is serious and the risks of letting it run rampant are significant. There are several reasons why addressing it should be a priority:

  • Increased Performance
    • Technical debt can stem from redundant and complex code, outdated tools, and convoluted architecture, all of which can impede system speed and reduce productivity. To increase performance, existing code can be optimized, more efficient tools and languages can be utilized, and system architecture can be updated.
  • Stability
    • Using reliable tools with a reputable provider can ensure ongoing support for your systems and validate that developers will have the skills to support it, properly addressing bugs will ensure code resilience when adding features in the future.
  • Developer Velocity
    • Reduces time spent on workarounds and maintenance.
    • Avoids a ‘don’t mess with that legacy system (that nobody knows how it works)’ mindset.
    • Provides a more stable and efficient development environment for faster implementation and testing for new features in the future.

If you want scalability and data quality in your business, you need to prioritize stability and performance by addressing tech debt regularly and prioritizing long-term solutions.

How To Reduce Technical Debt

  • Review your system architecture to identify inefficiencies and areas for improvement.
  • Review your existing code for bugs and shortcomings that may be impeding performance and productivity.
  • Allocate resources and time to reduction. This includes adding a technical debt work item to sprints and dedicating development sprints to technical debt initiatives.
  • Analyze your chosen languages and tools for their longevity and potential impact on technical debt.
  • Build a development atmosphere that prioritizes quality over speed, encouraging developers to follow best practices and invest in sustainable solutions.

Technical debt is a real and pressing issue for businesses in today’s digital age. Ignoring it can have far-reaching and costly consequences. Addressing it can unlock numerous benefits and opportunities for growth and success. By prioritizing long-term sustainability and investing in efficient and effective solutions, you will ensure your business remains competitive, innovative, and resilient in the face of rapidly changing technological demands.

Imaginet puts a high priority on developing business value for our customers, and we place high importance on the agility and velocity of our teams and the quality of our work. Addressing technical debt is one of the fundamental principles of our services. If you are interested in learning more fill out the form below. Make sure to subscribe to our blog for more helpful tips and tricks.

Emily Meyer is an expert in Technical Debt and wanted to share her knowledge.

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