Requirement gathering, design, development, testing, deployment, maintainenece. While an ideal software development process looks something like this, it is not the same in the real world. A development team encounters a number of roadblocks and technical debt is one amongst them.
In a Statista survey, 52% of respondents stated that the maintenance of legacy systems and technical debt hinders developer productivity in their company.
Hindrances to developer productivity in organizations worldwide as of 2018 | Statista
Since technical debt hinders a project development, it is important to understand what it is, how to calculate it, and how to make your business free from it. The later segment discusses all these aspects.
What is Technical Debt?
Just consider this. You are asked to clean a room and the guests are arriving in a while. Since there is less time provided, you hide things behind the couch and arrange everything in a way that it looks clean and tidy. While this might work for some time, you have to take out some time to organize the room and clean it properly to ensure things are at place. Technical debt is this extra work that’s needed to improve the performance of the software, enhance functionality, or optimize the code in any other way.
What causes technical debt?
Faster time-to-market is the prerequisite of every software development project today. In the hassle for rapid delivery, developers sometimes engage in less-than-optimal practices, which leads to unexpected rework to improve performance. This tradeoff between the short-term benefits of rapid delivery and long-term value is technical debt.
However, this concept does not belong to software under development process. Applications in production may suffer from technical debt. For example, a module of an application is written on some legacy or obsolete technology which is restricting its upgrade to new functionality or feature.
Insufficient/poor documentation, time-to-market pressure, improper testing, lack of team collboration, postponed refactoring, source code complexity, misunderstanding of business goals (by developers or architects), wrong technical decisions by business managers are some of the reasons contributing to technical debt.
Just like financial debt, technical debt results in interest. In this case, the interest is the increasing difficulty to implement changes, especially when the project has passed through multiple phases. That is why understanding technical debt, identifying it, and fixing it on time is crucial to ensure good health of the software.
How to Reduce/Eliminate Technical Debt?
Technical debt has a ripple effect. Now that you know the reasons for what’s causing it, it is important to work on solutions to remove it and eliminate practices that further cause them.
Step 1: Identify the Reason behind the Debt
To fix the problem, it is important to identify the cause and depth of it. While doing this manually it doesn’t seem practical, it is recommended to opt for tools that help in calculating technical debt such as SonarQube, Coverity.
Step 2: Adopt an Approch to Reduce the Debt
Once you estimate the depth of debt and the reason behind it, it is the time to adopt approaches to fix it. For example, if the application is built on some obsolete technology, software modernization is the solution. While modernizing, it’s not mandatory to replace the solution but modernize it using any of the seven different approaches.
Step 3: Eliminate Practices that Cause Debt
Technical debt can be caused due to a reason as simple as time-to-market pressure to as complex as incorrect software architectures. That is why it is important to audit a solution in every aspect before, during, and after its launch.