Culture / Development / Contributed

How to Get Around Technical Debt and Modernize without Causing Harm

29 Aug 2019 11:36am, by

Despite the somewhat misleading title, technical debt is not a debt in monetary terms, although it can result in a financial impact. In fact, technical debt refers to the by-products of a swift or incomprehensive software development and updating.

Surprisingly, technical debt is almost a natural part of IT operations. Estimates show that today dealing with technical debt takes up around 25% of development times. It isn’t something to fear; however, it does need to be planned for.

Planning for Technical Debt

Darya Efimova
Darya Efimova is a Digital Transformation Observer at Iflexion. With an MA in Creative and Media Enterprises, Darya is an accomplished writer and industry insider helping IT leaders make sense of today’s tech disruptions and new market imperatives.

Although technical debt is likely to occur when taking a new tool to the market, it gets much more challenging during legacy system updates.

In this, issues become amplified due to the fact that with legacy software there come legacy problems. In addition, attempting to “gloss” over difficulties to create a workable solution often just adds to the technical debt on top of the original load.

For your organization, it means that software might not run as effectively as it should and bugs might happen more frequently. As time passes, this will become more apparent, especially if the load and usage increase.

To plan for this, it helps to distinguish between the types of technical debt. 

Knowingly-Incurred Debt

In this, engineers knowingly cause technical debt in order to resolve an issue more swiftly or get a product to market quicker. They are aware of the shortcuts they make but believe that these are necessary to meet goals and expectations. A possible result of the increasingly popular agile processes, this type of technical debt can be managed using the following steps:

  1. Create awareness: Ensure the entire team is aware that quicker-to-market times may bring unwanted consequences later on.
  2. Develop a tracking process: Make sure all-important changes are logged as they happen to make tracking down of bugs easier.
  3. Allow for time to fix the debt: This means returning to the issues that have occurred and engineering solutions to fix them.

Failure to Future-Proof

A failure to account for future advances or attempting to predict every eventuality can lead to bugs and sluggish software that falls short of its objective. The following steps might help to minimize issues in the first place: 

  1. Allow for updates within your system: Consider your software architecture not as a final version but as the one open to change and improvement.
  1. Don’t be tempted to engineer for every eventuality: Consider the cautionary tale of the Netflix Original show “Black Mirror: Bandersnatchwhere the central character attempts to program an almost unlimited number of choices into a video game. While options are possible, trying to account for every eventuality will leave you with unworkable and inefficient software.

Tips to Manage Technical Debt When Modernizing

For teams planning an update of their software, here are top tips to go by in order to avoid causing harm when updating. Born out of best practices in handling custom enterprise software, these recommendations are set to reduce technical debt in modernization projects.

  1. Effective planning from the outset: Before setting out on development, it is vital to sit down and plan the project roadmap first. Don’t be swayed by hype; going for the latest technology on the market might be a recipe for failure if you are only guided by buzz. While in some cases it might make economic sense to include emerging tech in your project stack, this isn’t always the case. Before deciding, evaluate the chosen tools and actions against your goals.
  1. Include stakeholders in planning: While your engineers may or may not have a good grasp on how to manage a business, there is one thing they know better than anyone––the time and energy needed to meet the set objectives. Involve key stakeholders from all interested departments in the planning process, work as a team to ensure more accurate estimates, and prevent the need to rush to get it to market by an unrealistic deadline.
  1. Keep your systems secure. As systems are getting updated, more weak links are likely to occur, and this poses a risk to your business.

Before starting modernization, take account of not only the desired end result, but also the cybersecurity measures to ensure you and your users remain as safe as possible. This is never more important than when dealing with cloud-based software and implementing new levels of security where none was previously needed.

Feature image via Pixabay.

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