Tech Debt – What is it? How to Manage it Right?

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Software Development Process | Tech debt

One of the biggest problems in technology is tech debt. Given how fast things are changing and how new the technology is, is it ever possible to manage tech debt? This blog answers that question and looks at some of the ways you can manage tech debt.

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The term tech debt sounds quite interesting, but do you know what it is really? Technical debt or code debt is when the development team focuses more on the speed of the process of a project rather than ensuring a consistently good quality of the project, which might need restructuring afterward. In simple words, tech debt is the result of prioritizing speed over the quality of coding. 

The phrase, technical debt, was coined by one of the software developers, Ward Cunningham. He used this metaphor first to explain to the non-technical stakeholders at WyCash why resources must be budgeted for refactoring. 

What are the Different Types of Tech Debt?

In practice, there are 5 types of technical debt. We will be doing a deep analysis of all to implement the best practices:

1. Maintenance Debt

The Maintenance debt accumulates when an organization keeps delaying the changes, leading to a point where building new features becomes difficult. Maintenance debt can also be called long-term debt, which results in accumulated disorganization over a long period.

2. Developer Efficiency Debt

The productivity and efficiency of developers reduce drastically when most of their time goes into maintaining systems and decreasing technical debt. According to a report by Stripe, developers are spending more than 17.3 hours on average on debugging, refactoring, maintenance jobs, and reducing technical debt. Therefore, to allow developers to focus on innovation it is necessary to reduce the time spent on technical debts. 

3. Stability Debt

Software stability is the key to an immaculate user experience. But technical debt can prove to be a blockage in software stability. To measure stability you need to factor in several factors: 

  • The period between the two crashes
  • Availability 
  • Feature responsiveness 

Technical debt can affect your software stability because of rushed code building, third-party services, and lack of testing strategy. According to a survey, 62% of users uninstall an application after they experience crashes or errors. This is why it is essential to reduce tech debt if you need an application with higher conversion rates.

4. Security Debt

Quite often, organizations with a rushed development process skip one of the most crucial aspects of developing an application, security. Software security allows them to protect their services and assets from cyberattacks and security debt can impede the developers’ productivity and burden them with long-term problems. 

Equifax is the perfect example of how a weak security system can affect a company. In 2017, the company faced a data breach due to the lack of security patches in a famous web app framework, Apache Struts. 

The patch was made available for months but the company delayed its implementation, which led to the data of over 143 million users being compromised.  

5. Decision Debt

There are multiple types of decision debts like when a company leaves an actionable event neglected or a particular decision made by the company which later affects the future. Such issues are naturally aggravated if there is a delay in the required action or it is not taken at all. 

Decision debt is the most consequential as it can impact all the other technical debts. 

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How to Manage Tech Debt?

We are now well aware of the types of tech debt, but a question that arises now is how should we manage them. Here are 6 ways to manage technical debt like an expert:

1. Track Your Technical Debt

Work is often delayed due to various reasons like technology, resources, and lack of skilled professionals. And when kept unnoticed for a long time, these can cause major problems. Here are a few metrics you can use to track tech debts- 

  • Defect Ratio: Software development teams can evaluate defects via the ratio of new and old ones. When new defects are small and fixed defects have a higher number, the ratio would be small. Similarly, if new defects are more than the fixed flaws, the defect ratio will be higher, showing an increase in technical debts.
  • Code Quality: To assess quality and complexity, you can use cognitive and cyclomatic complexity which helps you measure the number of linear paths that each node will take in your code. You can also use lines of code which is a metric that allows measurement of all lines of source code. 

2. Rethink the Software Development Strategy 

A software development team should be clear about its approach toward the requirements of the individual organizations. The best way for that is to find a middle ground between outcomes and expectations. So when the aggregation of technical debts is reduced, it allows improvement with each iteration. 

3. Bank on Data Analytics 

The best practice for reducing technical debts is to make decisions by using data. Here are various data points which you should consider:  

  • Log each fix and bug of the software
  • Calculate the cost of every fix
  • Gather all documents on code issues and security breach
  • Record and maintain software performance data

4. Refactor the Source Code

Refactoring the source code is a huge question for any organization, but it does reduce technical debt. If you decide to refactor codes, you should do it gradually, even though it will take more time, the results will be better. Especially if you want to be updated with the latest technology. If you consider restructuring, re-architecture is also essential to reduce technical debt. 

5. Restructure the Architecture 

Restructuring the software or web architecture per the latest technologies is another way to reduce tech debt. Unfortunately, organizations tend to put their ideas on the market as soon as possible and rush the software development process, making the architecture-building process also hasty. The lack of good software architecture can cause technical debt. It is crucial to make a flexible architecture for your software if there is too much debt. 

6. Leverage Automated Testing

This is one of the most significant tests of a company’s timeline. This phase requires a dedicated strategy, time, and resources. Automation can help in reducing testing time and allows teams to focus on the quality of the project. So automated testing can directly reduce technical debts and errors. 

Some key benefits of automation are:

  • Enables rapid testing
  • Improves productivity 
  • Reduces cost
  • Requires less developer focus

Conclusion

Understanding and managing tech debt is crucial in order to ensure the efficiency of technical developments within the organization. If managed well, the companies can make use of the time and resources more productively while enabling positive growth in terms of technical aspects.

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