We all know what debt is.
But what the heck is “technical debt?”
That’s alright! Today we’re going to fill you in.
What it is, how to avoid it, and what to do if you’re already up to your ears.
What Is Technical Debt?
Before we dive in, let’s make sure we’re on the same page.
Technical debt is the implied cost of rework that has to be done on a project because you chose an easy or limited solution . . . instead of using an approach that would take longer, but better serve you better in the future.
It’s kind of like when you get your first car. It breaks down but you don’t want to spend the money to fix it properly. So you pay for a quick fix just to get it running again.
You’re still driving around, but the original problem is still there.
That part that still needs to be fixed represents the “implied cost of additional rework.”
(You don’t have to pay for it now, but will in the future.)
That’s what technical debt is. It’s also known as “design debt” or “code debt.” And it can show its sneaky face in software development or other technical endeavors as well.
How Does It Happen?
Technical debt can incur for many reasons.
Often it’s due to inefficiencies at an earlier stage. Old processes or technologies can become outdated. Or possibly it can come from an overall lack of communication and organization on a team.
For example, sometimes technical debt incurs simply because a project is under development for so long that over time, old solutions become obsolete. The time needed to bring those obsolete solutions up-to-date is an example of technical debt.
Sometimes it’s because project requirements are being defined during development and the work starts before any designs are completed. This could be done to save time initially, but often has to be reworked later on.
Technical debt can also happen when external pressure causes a development team to rush to hit deadlines. This can lead to steps being skipped or band aid solutions being applied. Which again, will need to be reworked at a later stage.
It can also happen due to a unclear overall communication and organization between team members. Lack of collaboration and documentation, poor technological leadership and mentorship for junior developers can all lead to rework due to sloppy procedures and miscommunication.
What Is Technical Debt Really Costing You?
It’s important to remember that technical debt is NOT always a bad thing. And it is oftentimes necessary to take that next step in a project.
The reason it can quickly become a problem is that components of a project are so tightly coupled together. Going back to change one aspect can have a trickle-down effect that adds countless hours of work (technical debt) to a team.
When a team member is attending to the recently uprooted issues, it means they’re not actively maintaining their regular responsibilities.
So while they are helping to “pay off the debt” in one area, the absence from their regular post is accumulating a debt of its own.
This interconnectedness within projects makes it very difficult to know exactly how much work it will take to “pay off the debt.”
Once your technical debt is past the tipping point, it can quickly cause projects to miss deadlines or have to shut down completely due to an unforeseeable amount of accumulated debt.
Is There A Quick Fix?
Being in a fix is probably what got you into technical debt in the first place.
Many times when a company chooses the route of technical debt, it’s more out of necessity than desire (meeting deadlines, a limited budget, or other resources.)
The best way to avoid technical debt is to run a tight ship. Document everything, do it properly the first time, and learn how to balance the immediate needs of your project with your long-term goals.
If you’re already up to your ears in technical debt, sometimes starting from scratch is the best option. Trying to dig out of this hole usually just pulls you deeper in.
Starting over can also lend fresh eyes with a bounty of experience that may not have been there the first time.
Ready to quit collecting interest on your technical debt? Book a free strategy call with our team today.