Technical debt isn't just a byproduct in the software development journey but a constant companion. This complexity is often invisible to those who aren't directly involved in the coding process, yet its implications can ripple through a project, affecting timelines, budgets, and even the final product's quality.
We believe that this is a concept that is vital for any application owner or operator from non-technical founders, developers, project managers, designers and really anyone that touches the digital product development process.
For this reason we have created a three part series to dive deeper into Technical Debt. This is the second part.
The first crucial step to effectively manage technical debt is to understand where it comes from. Without a deep understanding of this you can not create effective strategies that ensure the long term success of a project.
Technical debt isn't a monolithic entity; it comes in various forms, each with its own set of challenges and solutions. Let's delve deeper into the three primary types of technical debt to provide a more nuanced understanding.
Unavoidable Technical Debt
Unavoidable technical debt is akin to the wear and tear that a car experiences over time. No matter how well you maintain it, certain parts will need replacement or repair. Similarly, in the software world, technologies evolve, security vulnerabilities emerge, and user expectations change. These are factors often beyond the control of a development team.
- Outdated libraries or frameworks
- Deprecated features
- Changes in third-party APIs
- New security standards
- Regularly update all components.
- Keep an eye on technology trends and upcoming deprecations.
- Allocate time for routine maintenance and updates.
Accidental Technical Debt
Accidental technical debt occurs when the software outgrows its original design. What was once a perfect solution may become a bottleneck as the application scales or as new features are added. This type of debt is often a byproduct of the natural evolution of a software project.
- Inefficient algorithms
- Over-engineered or under-engineered solutions
- Lack of modular design
- Code smells and anti-patterns
- Conduct regular code reviews to identify potential issues.
- Refactor code when implementing new features.
- Use design patterns and principles that allow for scalability.
Deliberate Technical Debt: The Calculated Risk
Deliberate technical debt is incurred intentionally, call it a calculated risk. Sometimes, due to tight deadlines or other business pressures, development teams take shortcuts. While this can speed up the delivery process, it's like taking out a high-interest loan: it solves immediate cash flow issues but can be costly in the long run.
- Hard-coded values
- Lack of unit tests
- Skipping documentation
- Quick and poorly thought out solutions
- Document the reasons for incurring the debt and plan for its resolution.
- Prioritise repayment of this debt as soon as possible to minimise interest.
- Involve business stakeholders in the decision to incur deliberate debt, ensuring everyone understands the trade-offs.
The Interplay Between Types
It's important to note that these types of technical debt are not mutually exclusive. A project can have a mix of all three, and they can often interact in complex ways. For example, deliberate technical debt can lead to accidental technical debt if not properly managed. Similarly, failing to address unavoidable technical debt can make the codebase more susceptible to other forms of debt.
By understanding the origins and types of technical debt, you're better equipped to manage it effectively.
Stay tuned for our next article, where we will explore battle-tested strategies for managing each type of technical debt effectively.