IT Development

Technical debt: Top three culprits

IT Development | Georgina | 20 August 2021

Technical debt is a consequence of any digital transformation project. When technical debt accrues, businesses can face unprecedented financial and resource costs attempting to eliminate it. As they say, prevention is better than cure; and what better way to prevent technical debt than to be aware of what causes it!

Some debt is inevitable; however, there are aspects of technical debt (similar to regular, financial debt) that can be avoided with careful planning and attention to detail. It is to be noted though that technical debt is rarely accrued through malicious intent or obvious incompetence. Usually, it’s amassed inadvertently when people haven’t been keeping their eyes on the ball.

Poor planning causes technical debt

The common adage is: “Technical debt is the coding you must do tomorrow because you took a shortcut in order to deliver the software today.”

If your project is crammed with unrealistic deadlines that your team cannot make, you’re at risk of technical debt. Sub-optimal code may be bodged together in order to get something across the line. The deadline may be met, but the messy way in which it was achieved means the debt will follow. Not only does this cause debt, it means the code will inevitably need to be rewritten at some stage; draining valuable resources from other tasks.

When updates need to be rolled out, they won’t always work because the existing technical debt causes compatibility issues. Additionally, the tight deadline most likely meant that testing wasn’t conducted properly; potentially hindering the sprint and the project as a whole.

Lack of appropriate talent

Poor planning can also attribute to this point. In rushing to meet a deadline, inexperienced talent may be used to just get the work done. This mindset can put the whole transformation in jeopardy with mountains of debt accrued. The code will have to be double-checked or even rewritten by more experienced developers; causing blockages on the project. If these checks aren’t done, then the rushed code is left to be resolved by someone else later on. Alternatively, your team may be focusing on the wrong things. They may be more excited by the innovative and creative side of the project rather than what’s the most important. These oversights can massively contribute to technical debt.

Lack of shared values

If nobody is on the same page, multiple problems will arise on the project; (and not just relating to technical debt). The way the sprints are managed and carried out must be communicated effectively across the team. Daily scrum meetings can help the team keep an eye on code development and assist in keeping everyone on track and on the same page. Frequent and open communication and transparency can ensure a project is seen through to the end with minimal debt accumulated.

There are more to the above three points that cause technical debt. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to identify the causes until the damage is done. However, by adopting best practices wherever possible, you’ll ensure that the technical debt you gain is minimal and easily resolved. Technical debt, like financial debt, can gain ‘interest’, so to speak. The longer it goes unnoticed and not fixed, the harder it is to ‘pay it back’ and remove it. You want your digital transformation project to be as futureproof as possible; so sticking to good, core principles is one way (of many) of protecting your project, your wallet, and your reputation.