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Reducing Technology Debt

Narcis M. Pap

26 Oct 2020

2 min read

Reducing Technology Debt
  • Distributed Applications

Technology Debt is an unavoidable part of operating within any Information Technology-enabled business. Attempting to avoid any debt can be as unhealthy as accumulating too much debt - striking a balance between your existing debt can instead offer a substantial market advantage.

Frequently, the accumulated technology debt remains invisible to the upper management and decision-making business team until it manifests crippling delays on release cycles, developer productivity and long-term sustainability considerations.

Understanding Debt

Understanding what causes technology debt has more to do with a close counterpart, financial debt, than it has to do with with the intricated details of the technology sector.

Business requirements in a competitive field change at high speeds and most development teams have the ability, at the early stage of the product life-cycle, to quickly implement changes. These modifications, however, carry a hidden cost, one of increased complexity and inefficiency within the product architecture causing substantial business damage.

Even simple changes, from the management perspective, can have substantial implications, requiring comprehensive changes and re-architecting elements without taking in the proper considerations for other aspects: security, efficiency, long-term sustainability or even platform impact.

Technical debt, when understood and planned, can be used as an outstanding business tool - innovation at light speeds can give your business the advantage it needs to determine the product-market fit or outperform your competitors in a fast-moving field.

Signs of Technology Debt

Engineering productivity is affected by a multitude of factors, one of the most crucial metrics being the inherited complexity of the software architecture they are developing.

The first signs of technology debt are not only harder to spot but represent the tip of the iceberg. Your engineering department will start to miss expected deadlines consistently, produce output with lower quality and in many cases, engineers will become frustrated and look for other opportunities.

Keeping Debt in Check

Avoiding reaching such a stage in your product development process requires a proactive, rather than reactive approach. As a leader, you must understand what debt it and how to balance it in a similar way you would balance your credit cards or operational loans to run your operations.

Complexity in software is highly correlated with the maturity of the product itself or the efficiency of the development process employed by the company.

Constant source code monitoring, by a dedicated operations team and static source code analyzes, can assist with identifying debt from an early stage. Once potential debt situations are determined, your engineering teams can perform changes that avoid long-lasting impact.

Out of Control Debt and taking Extreme Measures

With most business-critical projects that have not proactively implemented debt control measures, the accumulated debt spirals out control and grinds the capability to innovate to a stop.

A profound understanding of the business requirements, project maturity and engineering team capability are essential to identify a resolution plan. Training engineering, operations and even management teams on how to proactively work together to prevent technology debt is the first step.

Depending on the level of the debt accumulated, some projects require extreme measures in the form of a complete re-architecture. Such an option is akin to declaring bankruptcy in the financial world - it discards all debt accumulated but comes with a set of risks and challenges.

In essence, the most crucial part of reducing technical debt in your company comes down to understand it and know where you can use it to your advantage. Proactive debt management is infinitely more efficient and reactive management.

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