Monday, 11 July 2022

What is technical debt? and how to handle it

Overview: Technical Debt generally refers to a buildup of deficiencies that makes changing code or optimizing systems difficult.  The key is to identify what in you organisation/program/project makes up technical debt.  

Technical Debt generally refers to poor or missing NFRs such as Performance, Security, Maintainability, Reliability, Scalability,  Testability, or Resiliency.  But it also can go further into future architecture, so if this part of our system is popular can we easily adjust and keep releasing features.  So as you can see, technical debt can be very wide and it's far better to focus a subset otherwise PO and PM's tend to scope everything under technical debt and wit gets nasty telling them about "additional technical debt".

I find the easier way to go about defining what is technical debt to avoid long discussions to to list out what cannot be considered technical debt.  This would be my minimum starting point:

  1. Bugs (Functional defects);
  2. Technical Skill Debt;
  3. Process Defects (Lack of process or poor process, such as Configuration Management);
  4. Feature Debt (Wrong or delayed features or missing functionality (recent favorite example is "how can a system not have customer off boarding it's obviously technical debt", this is feature debt, make sure stakeholders know or it falls into the old IT/Dev are weak and missed things description.); and
  5. UI/UX Defects (Inconsistent or poor or changing user experience).

Another items is spaghetti code that falls under the NFR of code maintainability, with old systems you have to be pragmatic, if the product brings in $100k per year it's not a good idea to spend $120k a year making the code more readable but not improving the technology as a general rule.  On old systems, I try to keep code maintainability out of the technical debt,.  You should put it to another more detailed section, just don't lump everything especially when it is huge changes all under technical debt.  Dev teams loose focus and it causes problems don the line.  All too often, over exercised bundling debt pushed into technical debt results in "even more interest to pay later".


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