How to Minimize Technical Debt in Software Development
Understand the implications of technical debt so you can take steps to minimize it
Technical debt is the accumulation of shortcuts taken during software development in order to speed up the development process. While these shortcuts may be helpful in the short term, they often create more problems down the road. This is because they add complexity and make future modifications or updates more difficult and time-consuming.
Technical debt can have a serious impact on a company's bottom line. It can slow development, lead to lower-quality products, and even cause projects to fail.
CEOs and founders should be aware of technical debt and take steps to reduce it wherever possible. This post will provide handy tips for technical debt reduction.
Reasons for technical debt
There are many reasons why a company might take on tech debt, like rushing to get a product out the door, or not having the resources to complete the work properly. But whatever the reason, technical debt can quickly become a challenge. Therefore, it is important to identify the source of the problem and fix it in time.
Here are some of the main reasons why companies take on technical debt:
1. Pressure from management to release a product before it's ready
2. Lack of knowledge or experience on the part of developers
3. Trying to do too much with too few resources
4. Poor planning and organization
5. Inefficiency or lack of communication among team members
6. Lack of clear documentation
7. Not enough time to do things properly
According to Martin Fowler, one of the authors of the Manifesto for Agile Software Development, the above reasons lead to reckless, prudent, inadvertent, or deliberate actions of the team. Various combinations of these actions break down technical debt into four quadrants and explain why developers actually create tech debt.
Prudent and deliberate debt, also known as effective technical debt, occurs when small risks are at stake. The team makes a conscious decision to launch the product at a certain time and fix minor issues later.
Reckless and deliberate debt occurs when programmers know how to implement a product according to best practices, but choose a less efficient path for the sake of development time reduction.
Prudent and inadvertent debt happens when developers know that their current solution is not the best one but they cannot find a way to make it better. A more effective way of implementation is found after the product is already implemented.
Reckless and inadvertent debt is the most dangerous type of technical debt. It occurs as a result of work provided by a low-qualified team, which often does not understand their mistakes.
Why you should reduce technical debt
The cost of technical debt is high. It hinders development, makes future changes more difficult and expensive, and can even slow down your business as a whole.
But it's not just the financial cost that you need to worry about. Technical debt can also impact your team's morale and productivity. When developers are constantly working on clean-up rather than new features, it can be demoralizing. And when everyone is dealing with the consequences of technical debt, it can interfere with team collaboration and unity.
All of this adds up to one thing: you should do everything possible to reduce technical debt. That means investing in code reviews, using automated testing tools, and being careful not to add too much complexity to your code base. By taking these steps, you'll keep your development process running smoothly and avoid unnecessarily growing technical debt.
How to measure the impact of technical debt
There's no question that technical debt can have a harmful impact on your business. It can slow development, increase costs, and lead to lower-quality products. But how do you measure the impact of technical debt? And what tools can you use to help you get started?
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Every business is different, and the impact of technical debt will vary from company to company. However, there are several metrics and tools that can help you get started.
Bug counts. You can use bug counts to track the trend over time to see if your team is making progress in reducing the amount of debt they're taking on. Additionally, you can track the ratio of new bugs to closed bugs and take action if new bugs are outnumbering closed bugs.
Code churn. This measures the number of lines of code that are added, deleted, or changed in a software project. While code churn is a normal part of the development process, it becomes a cause for concern when it moves above the team’s 'normal’.
Number of defects per line of code (D/LoC). The industry average experience is 1-25 errors per 1000 lines of code. If your D/LoC is higher, you should consider changing your software development routine.
Cyclomatic complexity (CC). This measures the complexity of your code and is calculated by counting the number of linearly independent paths through a code module. High CC can indicate problems with a codebase, such as a lack of cohesion and low modularity. It can also lead to difficulties in maintaining and testing the code. To reduce cyclomatic complexity, you can break up complex code into smaller, more manageable modules and apply the refactoring to simplify the code structure.
Project participants. Have you heard the expression "Too many cooks spoil the broth?" It's a common occurrence in software development too. When too many people work on the same task, it leads to chaos. So, the best practice is to have a clear distribution of responsibilities within a team and make sure that one team works on a single project.
Strategies for reducing and managing technical debt
There are a few key strategies for reducing and managing technical debt:
Plan for technical debt from the beginning. That means setting aside time and resources for refactoring, bug fixes, and system updates. It also means establishing clear priorities and making smart decisions about your technology choices.
Document everything. This is essential for maintaining transparency and keeping everyone on the same page. Additionally, well-structured documentation can provide a record of past work, which can be useful for troubleshooting and future reference.
Automate your tests. Automated tests are a great way to catch bugs and avoid manual errors. They also help ensure that new code is compatible with the existing codebase and that changes don't break existing functionality.
Use version control. By recording each change made to a program and who made it, developers can more easily revert to an earlier version of the code if something goes wrong. This can be a life-saving measure in complex software projects with many contributors.
Run regular code reviews. This will help you identify potential issues earlier and fix them before they become bigger problems. Code reviews also help developers learn from each other, share knowledge, and improve overall team productivity.
Keep your code clean. This might seem like an obvious point, but it's worth repeating. Avoiding spaghetti code and other pasta-theory antipatterns will save you a lot of time and effort. When your code is clean and well-organized, you can easily spot areas where you have technical debt and fix those issues faster when they arise.
Be proactive about fixing the technical debt. Don’t wait until it becomes a problem to start addressing it. The sooner you fix the tech debt, the less of a burden it will be.
Which tools can help measure technical debt?
There's no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to measuring technical debt. The best approach is to experiment with different tools until you find the ones that work best for you. Here are software solutions to pay attention to:
Bug tracking software. This can help you keep track of features that are currently in development, as well as identify and track potential bugs. This is a great way to get an overall view of your technical debt, and it can help you prioritize which tasks need to be completed first.
Best bug tracking tools: Monday.com, SpiraTeam, BugHerd, Smartsheet, Jira
Code analysis tools. These tools scan your codebase for potential problems, such as duplication or poor design. They can help you quickly assess the health of your codebase and identify areas that need improvement.
Best code analysis tools: SonarQube, Checkmarx SAST, Synopsis Coverity, Snyk Code.
Application performance monitoring tools. These tools track how well your applications are performing, and they can help you spot issues before they become a problem. This is a great way to keep tabs on your technical debt over time.
Best application performance monitoring tools: Traceview, Dotcom-Monitor, eG Innovations, Datadog.
What to do after you’ve measured technical debt
Now that you’ve measured your technical debt, what should you do? First and foremost: determine who’s responsible. Identify the person or team who is most capable of addressing the technical debt and make sure they are aware of it.
Once you’ve identified the responsible team, have them create an actionable plan for managing the technical debt. The plan should include timelines, resources required (including budget), and ways to measure progress. This plan should be reviewed regularly to ensure that all milestones are being met and that progress is being made.
Finally, keep track of your progress in managing technical debt. Tracking progress helps provide accountability to those responsible for staying on track, as well as help inform future strategic decisions related to technical debt management.
Need help with managing technical debt?
Technical debt occurs when you take shortcuts in your development process in order to speed things up. While this can be tempting, it often leads to later problems.
The best way to avoid technical debt is to carefully plan your development process and hire a qualified development team.
At Erbis, we have 10+ years of software development experience. We work with different industries and platforms, so we're able to create software that is tailored to each client's specific needs and goals.
Our team also has strong expertise in handling and upgrading legacy projects. So, whether you need to develop a software product from scratch or modernize an existing codebase, don't hesitate to get in touch.