Repaying technical debt can be simple; go back and address the compromises you made in a system to achieve that particular goal or benefit, such as meeting a critical deadline. If you never address this, your technical debt could be harming the quality of your product, impacting customer experience and decreasing morale for developers who have to go back and fix code they thought was completed. What type of repayment plan will help you reduce your Technical Debt?
1. Tracking Deliberate Technical Debt
If you’re dealing with deliberate technical debt, hopefully, you have already implemented an agile system to help maintain a consistent level of quality release after release, especially if you have a delivery deadline. It is tracking this type of technical debt in the backlog when deliberately deferring work that needs to be completed stop’s deliberate technical debt from becoming accidental design debt over time. While it may seem like a smart business decision for product or feature launches, make sure you educate your stakeholders that this will inevitably slow down other feature launches later on. Product owners and stakeholders should be held accountable for the accrual of this kind of debt as business decisions incur it.
2. Set Repayment Terms for your Accidental Technical Debt
As much as you try, you can’t futureproof your product, and as systems evolve and requirements change, you might come to realize that your code has become outdated and irrelevant. It’s a tricky balance between simplicity, quick delivery and trying to add the relevant code you need for new features without over-engineering the system or incurring unnecessary slowdowns. Setting up a timeline or “repayment plan” to go back and refactor this code incrementally will help solve these issues. Team leaders and product owners should be accountable for ensuring time is set aside to resolve this type of tech debt as it’s incurred by design decisions and frequently changing requirements.
3. Listen to your Developers about Bit Rot Technical Debt
From an IT leadership perspective, you’ll need to keep in mind that you might be a degree or two removed from the day-to-day maintenance work that typically comes with technical debt in a codebase.
Bit rot tech debt happens over time and is perhaps the only type of tech debt that you should try to avoid consistently. A system can slowly devolve into unnecessary complexity through lots of incremental changes, often exacerbated when worked upon by several people who might not fully understand the original design. Symptoms are, among others, copy-paste and cargo-cult programming. Your developers would know and understand more than anyone which parts of code are suffering the ‘Bit Rot’ don’t chalk up the complaints of your development teams as disgruntled grumbling. While your team should be accountable for avoiding ‘Bit Rot’ as individuals’ developers usually incur it as IT leadership, it’s your job to listen to the feedback which is signalling to the poor code building
While categorizing tech debt won’t magically make it easy to handle, it can enable more productive conversations and strengthen your team. Tech debt will, and should, always exist in systems. You must try to understand how the debt is slowing your team down, and balance efforts of delivering features in the short term with increasing overall productivity in the mid to long-term.