5 Steps for Effective Technical Debt Reduction

Dec 30, 2021

Digiteum Team

technical debt

Digital Strategy

5 Steps for Effective Technical Debt Reduction

Technical debt is a common issue in software development that appears for different reasons. It can transform into a costly problem if ignored and unaddressed. To make sure it won’t happen, business and tech executives adopt smart and efficient strategies for technical debt reduction.

If you are looking for ways to understand and manage technical debt on your project, read on – this post will come in handy. We will answer major questions about tech debt and ways to reduce and avoid it.

  • What is technical debt and how to identify it?
  • What are the key reasons for growing technical debt and how it affects a software project?
  • How to reduce existing technical debt and prevent new debt from emerging?
  • Where to find help to develop an effective technical debt reduction plan?

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Understanding technical debt: causes and effects

Technical debt is the delayed development work that was set aside, often on purpose, to speed up software project delivery. Companies may decide to accumulate some technical debt to achieve certain business objectives, e.g. meet a tight deadline or roll the product out as fast as possible to outrun competitors. One of the most frequent causes of technical debt is the need to get the system out in the field to better understand how to solve a given problem and get the missing information needed to design and develop a better product.

Read: How to create successful business strategy for digital transformation

Technical debt in software engineering often refers to choosing a good working solution over a perfect one to save time or resources. For the time being, this solution reflects current business goals and can later be polished, amended or improved.

Technical debt, however, has nothing to do with poor coding. Bad code is never an option.

Key causes of technical debt

As we mentioned before, there are many reasons why technical debt may appear. While some companies deliberately opt for some debt as a tradeoff for faster delivery, others have to deal with unintentional debt caused by changing market reality and business goals.

Insufficient information

Design or development teams may have not enough information to find an optimal technical solution for a problem. In this case, they choose a temporary working solution to win time, gather user feedback and other insights necessary to work out a better solution or technical approach.

Changing business goals

It’s not unusual for business goals to change halfway through a software development project. This may shake up priorities, add new requirements or event modify the overall product strategy. As a result, previous technical solutions may become obsolete and create technical debt.

Technology evolution

Technologies evolve now faster than ever before. When software modernization gets postponed for too long, it may end up with emerging and growing technical debt.

Tight deadline, limited resources

One of the key causes of technical debt is a tight project deadline that forces a development team to take shortcuts to deliver in time.

Depending on the cause of debt, it may pose different risks for a software project.

Effects and risks of technical debt

Just like financial debt, technical debt must be paid off in time and as planned (if it was intentional). Otherwise, it may build up and create a domino effect making it harder to keep track and deal with it later. Among the common risks associated with ignored or mismanaged tech debt are:

  • Slower performance and the increasing difficulty to make changes and scale
  • Overlapping, incompatible technologies
  • Higher development and maintenance cost
  • Increased number of bugs, difficulty finding solutions for new problems
  • Decreased usability, security risks

The longer the debt is unaddressed, the higher the interest is – the difficulty and cost of dealing with the development work that was put off. To prevent the debt from eating up the resources that could otherwise be used to further develop the system, we recommend an effective approach to technical debt reduction.

How to reduce technical debt effectively

Here are 5 essential steps to keep technical debt under control and make sure it is paid off in time and with minimum investment.

Step 1. Acknowledge and understand debt

Effective technical debt reduction strategy starts with acknowledging the debt and understanding its source. At this step, you need to figure out how the debt occurred in the first place.

Was it planned or unintentional? Was it caused by changing scope, project goals, the evolution of technologies? Could it be avoided? Answering these questions will help you understand the nature of your debt and determine how you can reduce technical debt later on.

Step 2. Evaluate and measure

Depending on the causes and effects of technical debt, you may use different factors and techniques to analyze and measure it.

Technical debt may decrease the speed of development (e.g. because of the growing code complexity), so analyzing the amount of work done from iteration to iteration may show the impact of tech debt on team performance. In other cases, teams may use analytics tools that monitor system performance to track down the problems and see how these problems correlate with the technical decisions that caused the debt.

After having the debt evaluated and measured, you can assess the risks and make the cost-benefits analysis.

Step 3. Communicate and deliver cost-benefits

Technical debt assessment is important for both tech executives and non-tech decision-makers in the organization.

First of all, because it gives better visibility and allows to communicate the problem. It often helps to put a price tag on a problem to show how it may affect the project and explain why paying a debt in time is important.

Secondly, clear cost-benefits analysis helps to better prioritize and plan the payment strategy.

Step 4. Schedule regular and frequent pay-off

How to reduce technical debt without compromising the ongoing progress? One of the most efficient strategies is to divide the scope of the extra work into smaller milestones and gradually pay it off by integrating it into the normal workflow. This approach helps the team stay on top of the technical debt and make sure it’s getting smaller over time.

Need help getting on top of technical debt? We can help you develop an actionable plan to reduce tech debt. Let's talk!

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Step 5. Introduce practices to minimize/avoid tech debt

This is the last step of the technical debt reduction strategy. However, we recommend introducing the practices that help minimize and avoid tech debt entirely as early as possible.

  • Develop and maintain a solid testing strategy to avoid bugs or imperfections from piling up.
  • Measure and monitor code quality and complexity to make sure it’s reusable and understandable.
  • Keep track of the technical debt and maintain a record of all the work done to reduce the debt.
  • Opt for smart requirements prioritization and an agile development approach to minimize the chance to accumulate any tech debt.

Let’s look into these practices in more detail and see how they can help you avoid technical debt entirely.

How to avoid technical debt on a software project

Focus on requirements prioritization

Reasonable requirements prioritization is a true way to avoid unnecessary technical debt. Using different techniques for requirements prioritization, project managers work out the scope and development strategy that reflects given business goals and timelines.

Often it means that only essential requirements get to the original scope, while the rest of the features are developed after the first version of the product is out. It allows the team to focus on well-balanced MVP development without the need to take shortcuts to meet tight deadlines.

Adhere to agile methodology

Agile software development is one of the key solutions for technical debt reduction. The idea of iterative development sits well with the incremental approach to tech debt reduction. Teams that work in an agile environment manage to keep technical debt under control by continuously reducing it, iteration by iteration.

Moreover, agile methodology provides the flexibility and testability needed to avoid technical debt in the first place.

Choose flexible and scalable 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. That, in turn, helps to avoid technical debt related to delayed software modernization.

Augment your development team

How to avoid technical debt which occurs due to lack of time or resources? Team augmentation is a viable strategy for companies that can’t meet tight deadlines. Instead of cutting corners to keep up with the delivery schedule, add extra talent to your in-house team and focus on achieving your business goals without risks.

Develop your technical debt reduction strategy with Digiteum

Are you looking for a reliable and experienced technology partner who could help you manage technical debt on your project? Contact our team and request a consultation.

For more than a decade in software development and consulting, we have been working with different projects for fast-evolving startups and enterprise-level SaaS providers. We can help you understand the source of your problem, develop an effective approach to technical debt reduction and integrate effective practices to avoid technical debt entirely.

Check our portfolio and range of services, including end-to-end web development services, IoT software development and UX/UI design.

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Final thought

Technical debt occurs for different reasons and can be deliberate, unintentional and unavoidable. Effective engineering and project management practices help effectively reduce and keep it under control. It involves acknowledging, evaluating and communicating technical debt followed by the gradual continuous pay-off in small parts.

FAQ

How to understand that technical debt gets out of control?
There are a few indicators that show that technical debt gets out of control and negatively impacts the project and team productivity. These indicators include increasing complexity of code, deteriorating usability, a growing number of bugs, and decreasing scalability and compatibility of the system.
Is there a strategy for effective technical debt reduction?
Effective technical debt reduction starts with acknowledging and understanding the reasons why technical debt occurred. To reduce your technical debt:
  • Acknowledge that it exists
  • Understand and evaluate technical debt
  • Communicate the problem to stakeholders
  • Develop a strategy to gradually reduce tech debt
  • Integrate practices that help avoid tech debt
How can I avoid technical debt?
Unplanned technical debt can be avoided or minimized by integrating effective engineering and project management practices. Opt for clever requirements prioritization, agile methodologies and maintain a solid testing strategy to keep away from technical debt.