Technical Debt: How is it measured, and how can my Business get rid of it?
On occasion, as businesses improve the maturity of their IT operations, there is a need to implement technology faster or cheaper than originally envisaged. Compromises are made to deliver the solution, intending to address any shortfalls later. This compromise is known as technical debt, sometimes also referred to as tech debt or code debt.
Over time, organizations may realize that so many compromises have been made, or to put it another way, so much technical debt has accumulated that most of their time and energy is spent on maintaining technology, reducing the resources available for creating and deploying new tools and services.
For IT leaders, the pandemic has significantly contributed to technical debt. For instance, to expedite the deployment of new tools and technology to enable remote working, some best practices, steps, or processes would have been omitted in the interest of speed of delivery. However, these omissions may need to be retrospectively implemented sooner or later.
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What is Technical Debt?
Technical Debt refers to the additional expenditures of maintenance that arise later on due to early compromises between quality and speed during software development.
It’s a frequent metaphor in engineering groups because it illustrates the hidden costs of making technological choices. Like any other kind of debt, technical debt provides immediate benefits in exchange for obligatory future repayments plus interest.
Due to the ever-evolving nature of software development tools and standards, every software product will eventually need maintenance and re-building of components.
How does Technical Debt accumulate?
Many things might be anticipated while building a solution, and you can spend significant time planning your project or polishing your code. However, there are always a few circumstances outside your control that might lead to technical debt:
- Schedule Pressures: Because of the pressure to produce within a shorter timeframe, development teams often offer apps that aren’t entirely complete or lack essential functionalities. To get to market faster, development teams may sacrifice performance and quality.
- Constant Revisions: Even fully functional, timely developed programs risk becoming outdated once they hit the market. IT executives face continual difficulties as a result of rising consumer demands, new business possibilities, new cyber risks, and developer churn.
- Obsolete Technology: Most coding languages, frameworks, and libraries used to create contemporary apps are outdated or unsupported yearly. Python today may become Visual Basic tomorrow.
Technical debt is often associated with aging or discontinued goods, but it is there from the beginning. Have you ever been in the midst of a new project’s planning phase when you suddenly discovered you would be unable to complete the project within the allotted time frame?
Later on, you may always alter it. But now you’re placing your faith in your ability to make the time sometime in the future.
There is always something more to do and a new deadline to meet. If you put off fulfilling duties, there’s a good chance you won’t get around to it.
How To Measure Technical Debt
Measuring technical debt is challenging since there is no one statistic that can provide a comprehensive picture. Finding a way to quantify technical debt’s knock-on consequences is the next logical step.
Since it is hard to quantify technical debt directly, its effects on other business KPIs must be evaluated.
When calculating technical debt, the most critical second-order indicators are:
- Cycle time: The time it takes to complete a job. It is the period between a developer’s initial commitment to a piece of code and when it is deployed in programming. Shorter cycle times suggest an efficient process with less technical debt. More extended cycle periods have the opposite effect.
- Stability and quality: If it takes longer to make a modification and address an issue permanently rather than just developing a workaround, you most likely have a tech debt problem. When a change in one element of a system causes changes in other unrelated areas, this is a sign of instability.
- Developer happiness: If your developers are becoming more dissatisfied with a certain system in comparison to others, this is an indication that that system may have more tech debt.
A technical debt ratio is one metric that may be used to try to put a number on technical debt (TDR).
TDR measures how much it will cost to repair a software system compared to how much it initially costs to create (development cost). If time is selected as the metric, TDR calculates how long it will take to resolve the issue.
However, there is no universally recognized method for calculating the technical debt ratio in engineering groups.
How can my Business manage Technical Debt?
The costs associated with fixing technical debt may quickly mount. Here are a few strategies for preventing and efficiently managing such an occurrence.
Follow these steps to keep your debt under control and prevent it from overwhelming your organization’s resources and plans.
Identify, track, and document your Business’s Technical Debt
Every piece of hardware, every piece of software, every network connection, every cloud service, and every application integration should be monitored.
The IT department should understand technical debt and why it’s essential. Almost every action an IT group takes will eventually need some upkeep.
Users may be happy and proclaim success when projects are rushed, important support tasks are accomplished, and standard processes are bypassed.
IT executives realize that premature project completion frequently leads to extra work.
Then, there are the extras that go beyond the norm: That important person who, even if everyone else uses a Dell, must have a ThinkPad. The 32-bit database server is used for a niche project, while 64-bit is the standard. When all other departments in an organization use Microsoft 365 and OneDrive, that one department’s cloud subscription is a bit of a mystery.
Keeping track of the debt serves two purposes: first, it informs IT leaders as to where their money is going, and second, it explains why the time spent on maintenance is so much greater than expected.
Budget for Organizational Technical Debt
Your company’s IT expenditure model should include cash for technical debt and upkeep. This holds truer for unique products, such as customized computer parts.
Putting a price tag on these expenses facilitates talks among management and the end users. The IT department’s role is to assist the business, but that doesn’t imply it should bury its expenses in a mysterious pot. The IT department’s ability to provide detailed reports on its time and money allocations to the executive team is a key factor in successful budget negotiations.
Knowing how much something will set you back over the long term is also helpful. Information Technology is in a better position to provide reliable guidance on projects and requests if it is up-to-date on the expenses associated with maintaining hardware, software, and, most importantly, bespoke configurations.
Long-term business success depends on judiciously juggling limited resources and conflicting demands. Better resource allocation is possible when IT can foresee a given activity’s immediate and long-term expenses.
It is important to allocate some of the engineering team’s time and energy to assess the level of technical debt that has already been accumulated. Plan to do so on a regular basis, perhaps monthly or quarterly.
Technical debt may be the focus of 20% of engineering efforts. It’s also helpful to classify such initiatives as either modest or huge.
The minor ones can be dealt with quickly by engineering without making them a major roadmap priority and requiring buy-in from other parts of the company. The bigger ones will have a noticeable effect on your output for a longer length of time. Therefore, it’s important to plan for them and make that plan public.
Mitigating existing Technical Debt
There are circumstances in which debts need not be repaid. It may be more economical to discover another method of handling unfinished tasks.
IT teams may retire old systems with excessive continuing expenses by documenting and planning for ongoing and delayed maintenance costs. They can remove modifications that disproportionately influence IT resources by doing the same.
Some IT infrastructure may be retired or removed for reasons other than cost or budget. However, prioritizing adjustments requires understanding how much money is spent on each.
Prioritizing based on continuing expenditures is acceptable if there is a top 10 list of systems scheduled for replacement or retirement.
Negotiate your Organization’s Technical Debt
Information technology leaders sometimes must deal with technical debt that was once someone else’s responsibility.
Cyber security is a prime example of when the time to implement is the primary driver, particularly after an audit has been conducted. IT leaders should think twice (and maybe fight back) when other teams pile on technical debt before accepting it.
If a member of the security team reads a report from an auditor or views a vulnerability analysis console, they may not fully grasp all of the suggestions made.
Moreover, they can lack the background knowledge necessary to assess the full scope of the danger posed by tampering with long-standing, reliable infrastructure components like networks and storage devices.
Managers of information technology who are saddled with technical debt may be able to negotiate relief from part or all of the obligation, especially if the debt was incurred due to the actions of other teams.
Maintenance tasks are taking up a larger share of company time and resources, which may be put to greater use elsewhere. IT leaders may increase their IT maturity and contribute meaningfully to the whole planning process by keeping detailed records of routine and emergency maintenance and allocating sufficient funds for both.