Reducing Technical Debt

Sharon Muniz
January 18, 2023
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Reducing Technical Debt

Strategies for Minimizing and Preventing Technical Debt

As a developer or IT professional, you know the feeling that comes with pushing projects through to completion. Whether software, hardware, or a web platform, projects can cause a lot of stress and require last-minute bug fixing. But did you also know that these rushed projects may result in technical debt?

Technical debt – or the cost of fixing or updating the software after its initial release – is a major issue in the IT world. It’s a problem that can be difficult to identify and even harder to address, but it doesn’t have to be. When technical debt is allowed to accumulate across multiple projects, it can cause delays, added costs, and frustrated customers.

Fortunately, there are strategies that all IT professionals can use to keep technical debt at bay while ensuring that projects are delivered on time and within budget. The key is to take a proactive approach and use best practices, clear communication, and automated testing while developing software solutions that won’t accrue a large amount of technical debt.

What is Technical Debt?

Before we look at strategies to help manage technical debt, it’s important to understand what it is. In short, technical debt is any code that exists in an application but has not been fully debugged or tested by the development team. 

technical debt

This can include quick and dirty coding solutions, copy-pasted code snippets, ‘hacks’ that work as a temporary fix but leave the application open to future problems, and other shortcuts made in development.

These quick-fix solutions seem like a good idea initially, as they can help speed up development times and get projects out the door faster. But when technical debt piles up across multiple applications, it can create long-term issues that slow development and require costly refactoring.

As technical debt accumulates, it creates a burden on developers and their teams. They must now find time within their already tight schedule to fix the underlying issues, which can lead to missed deadlines and budget overruns.

What Types of Technical Debt Exist?

Technical debt can be categorized into different types based on their source, time of occurrence, and other factors:

1. Knowledge Debt

This type of debt occurs when developers do not possess enough knowledge to correctly implement a programming task, resulting in code that is prone to errors and reduces system performance.

For instance, if a developer is tasked to create a complex application but lacks the knowledge of how to code efficiently, they may end up creating more lines of code than necessary or writing inefficient queries.

2. Design Debt

This type of debt occurs when developers use an outdated technology stack that cannot handle modern requirements.

For example, if you build a web application using legacy technology, you may encounter design issues when trying to implement modern features.

Design Debt

3. Implementation Debt

This type of debt often results from taking too much time to deliver features within an application, resulting in features that are difficult to maintain over time. An example of this would be a feature built in such a way that requires constant maintenance and bug fixes to keep it working.

4. Test Debt

Test debt takes place when tests are not written or appropriately executed, resulting in software bugs and reduced application efficacy as it evolves over time. For instance, if tests are not written in a way that covers all possible scenarios, the software may suffer from bugs and other issues.

5. Documentation Debt

Documentation debt occurs when code is poorly documented or not documented at all, making it difficult for developers to understand what the code does and how it should be modified down the line. This, along with secured debt, can be particularly damaging for an application, as it can lead to costly mistakes and delays.

Documentation Debt

How To Identify Technical Debt in Your Projects

Identifying and assessing technical debt can help you create effective strategies to reduce it. Here are some tips to consider when looking for signs of technical debt in your projects:

1. Assess

The best way to identify technical debt is to review the existing codebase and look for poorly written or legacy code. Ask yourself questions like:

  • What type of coding practices is being used?
  • Are there any copy-pasted code snippets or hacks in the application?
  • Is the codebase up to date with modern technologies and standards?

If you can answer ‘no’ to any of these questions, you may have technical debt in your project.

If assessment is the key to solving technical debt, communication is equally important. Talk to the developers and stakeholders involved in the project to get their input on what can be done to reduce or eliminate technical debt. 

2. Communicate

Silos can often exist between departments, so it’s essential to break down these barriers and get everyone working together toward a common goal.


3. Implement

Knowing and communicating issues is only part of the equation. As a project manager, it’s your job to implement strategies that can help reduce technical debt and optimize code for better performance.

This could involve introducing coding standards, hiring developers with more experience, or implementing automated testing tools. Whatever strategy you choose, make sure it fits within the existing timeline and budget so that you don’t add to the debt.

Tips for Keeping Technical Debt in Check

Now that you have a better understanding of what technical debt is, let’s look at some strategies for keeping it in check:

1. Develop with an Agile Mindset

Agile development takes into account feedback from stakeholders and customers throughout the development process, which allows developers to make adjustments as needed.

For example, if the development team receives feedback that an application isn’t meeting the needs of its users, they can quickly make changes to address any issues. This helps ensure that applications are built with both customer satisfaction and technical debt in mind.

When your team can easily adapt to changes, it minimizes the amount of technical debt that accumulates.

Agile Mindset

2. Refactor Code Regularly

Refactoring code regularly is an integral part of keeping technical debt in check. This involves reorganizing existing code and making improvements to optimize performance and reduce complexity.

Doing so ensures that your codebase remains clean and organized, making it easier to maintain over time. You may find that refactoring code can save you time and money in the long run, as it reduces the risk of costly errors and delays.

3. Automate Testing

Automated testing is essential for keeping technical debt in check. This involves running tests on a regular basis to ensure that everything works correctly and any issues are quickly identified.

Automation is an increasingly popular way to keep on top of technical debt, as it can save time and money by ensuring that applications are functioning properly.

4. Write Good Documentation

Good documentation is key for any software development project. Documenting code ensures that developers have an easier time understanding how a system works and what changes need to be made in the future.

It can also help reduce the amount of technical debt accumulated over time, as it allows developers to quickly identify issues and implement changes.

5. Implement DevOps Practices

DevOps is a set of practices that focuses on collaboration between developers and IT operations teams to deliver software quickly, while also ensuring it meets quality standards.

These practices can help keep technical debt in check by making sure that applications are developed with an eye toward optimization, scalability, and maintainability. Not only can this help speed up the development process, but it can also reduce costly errors and delays.

Implement DevOps Practices

Is Technical Debt Unavoidable?

No matter how hard you try, technical debt is inevitable in software development. From coding mistakes to poor documentation, there are just some things that can be hard to avoid.

That said, by implementing the strategies outlined above — from agile development to refactoring and automated testing — you can minimize the amount of technical debt that accumulates during a project. This helps ensure that applications are built with both customer satisfaction and technical debt in mind.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep technical debt under control so that you can get your projects up and running quickly and efficiently — all while ensuring they remain maintainable over time. By following the strategies outlined above, you’ll be well on your way to reducing technical debt and creating successful software solutions.

Best of all, when you can keep technical debt under control, you’ll be able to focus more on innovation and customer satisfaction, ultimately leading to better software solutions for your customers. So, don’t forget the importance of minimizing technical debt when developing successful software solutions — it can make all the difference!

Reduce technical debt

Call NCN to learn more about how you can reduce technical debt.


About the Author

Sharon Muniz

Sharon Muniz established her software development consulting firm in Reston, VA after 15 years of working in the software industry. NCN Technology helps clients implement best practices and software to drive their business to success. Ms. Muniz is skilled at strategic planning, business process management, technology evaluation, project and agile software development methodologies.