Technical Debt: What Is It and How to Pay It Down

While not a term you hear every day, or frankly one you may have never heard of, technical debt can have a significant impact on your company's bottom line. In the world of tech and software, everyone experiences the phenomenon of technical debt – which itself is not inherently wrong. 

Technical debt is, figuratively speaking, the debt accumulated tomorrow by taking shortcuts to ship a product or piece of code today. If used properly, it allows you to deliver your product in a more expedited time frame. However, much like financial debt, if you keep borrowing and never repay the principal debt, you may run into problems.

Most software and tech-focused organizations amass considerable amounts of technical debt without even realizing it. If people in positions of power do not focus on this technical debt and implement robust processes to lower and manage the debt, it will continue to weigh on a company's bottom line. While seemingly confusing, technical debt can be broken down into simple analogies and metaphors, making it easier to digest and tackle as a business owner.

So, why should you have robust processes to manage your technical debt load? It's simple: to avoid the impact on the bottom line. Having too much unattended technical debt can reduce your team's agility in product development, produce poor quality code, strain your companies' resources, and reduce your overall productivity.

What Exactly is Technical Debt & How Can I Pay it Down?

What is Technical Debt & Why Does it Matter? 

So, what is technical debt? Technical debt is just a metaphor or an analogy for the debt or expense that occurs due to an expedited tech delivery. In simple terms, it's the accumulation of expense that results in the future from the shortcuts you took in the present to ensure your product was delivered sooner. The 'expense' in this analogy is a future expense in the form of software updates, required addition of features and improvements to incorrect base code, and decreased productivity resulting from reworking a faulty product.

Not all technical debt is horrible – if incurring some extra 'interest' helps you or your company meet a rigid deadline or a big goal, it may be worth the more difficult task of future improvement or development. But as was already mentioned, if this debt is left unchecked or unconsidered by you or your organization, it can result in poorly designed code, volatile product performance, and extreme barriers when it comes to productivity.

Why Should You Care?

As a tech-driven company, these risks should be on your radar and taken into consideration every step of the way. You may wonder why these potential inefficiencies are a problem you should care about, or you may even think it's worth the risk of introducing your product sooner. Let's take the time to explore the consequences in further detail. 

Poorly designed code may benefit you in the short term, but it may also present a laundry list of problems in the future. You will have to make iterations to complex code constantly, and your best developers will be tied up fixing past mistakes, which may even create an extensive backlog. In addition, volatility in product performance can impact the product and your company's image. Hitting the market early may create a buzz for your product, but months and months of fixing bugs will not only tie up your resources but will also detour your users or customers. 

Lastly, a significant technical debt load can greatly impact your team's productivity. This strain on your team will have a perpetually larger and larger negative impact. The flawed code will require most of your team's time, resources, and effort to manage. The result will be continual and perpetual time and expense extensions resulting from inefficiencies. If these factors were considered early on in the development process, you would not have to worry about "repaying" them in the future. 

How to Pay Down Your Technical Debt

Like mainstream financial debt – the best solution to technical debt is to have a plan to pay it down. The following suggestions are ways in which you can manage and pay down your technical debt. Following these steps will make it possible for you to regain control of your company's technical debt while protecting your bottom line. 

1. Listen to & Delegate to Your Staff

As with any significant business decision, you make the best choice when listening to and trusting your staff. As a business owner or operator, you may not be in control of the day-to-day maintenance work that comes with technical debt like coding or programming. This makes it impossible and impractical for you to know where your technical debt exists and what it is. To address your technical debt, you need to listen to your team and delegate tasks to the appropriate stakeholders with their fingers on your technical processes' pulse, like your developers and IT specialists. 

Taking the time to listen intently will make it possible for you to understand where your technical debt lies and what areas of your code and product needs to be addressed. Suppose your developers are perpetually voicing that they are working with poor code or constantly rewriting and issuing updates for a particular product. In that case, it may be a sign that you need to make iterations within your process to prevent future financial debt.

2. Make a Repayment Plan

When you borrow money and accumulate financial debt for things like a mortgage, it comes with a neatly structured repayment plan. Your technical debt, however, if unaddressed, will linger in a company's technical sphere endlessly, costing more and more as it continues to fester and grow over time. 

To make sure this doesn't happen, it may be beneficial to sit down with your technical experts and make a metaphorical 'repayment plan.' A great starting point would be to schedule a review with your developers (see step one) to identify areas where your technologies have inefficiencies. Doing so will make it possible to create a thorough repayment plan.

You may decide that you won't launch a new product until updates address the inefficiencies. Or maybe, you can structure a plan that designates weekly or monthly time spent by your development team on addressing one technical inefficiency each time. No matter how you structure the project, it would help if you managed technical debt to avoid the lingering effects within your organization.

3. Consider the Debt Globally

The steps that have been listed above are isolated steps to help you manage your technical debt and pay it down. One final suggestion to assist in technical debt repayment is to consider it part of your global or overall plan. Technical debt, as discussed, is not inherently bad, and it can be highly beneficial when you're looking to get a product to market quickly. Still, it can become a problem if unattended. 

Much like financial debt, it may be best to consider technical debt globally as a companywide approach. If considered globally, technical debt will become baked into your organization's roadmap from the beginning. Treating technical debt as a part of your overall strategy will mean that it's always top of mind when it comes to significant decisions that will impact the company as a whole. As such, technical staff, engineers, business experts and company leaders can plan for financial debt and create an action plan. 

Alongside steps one and two, this third step will make it possible for you and your organization to predict technical debt costs from the start, meaning you can be proactive with a repayment plan to eliminate the potential for any unwarranted expenses in the future. It will also benefit your organization by ensuring that investors and financial planners can estimate and plan for the cost of technical debt. If you plan and account for the debt and bake it into your organizational strategy, you can evaluate whether the technological shortcuts taken today are genuinely beneficial or whether the technical debt should be avoided. 

If your organization were going to borrow a large sum of money, you would want to make sure there was a concrete plan and repayment plan in place, so why should technical debt be any different? 

Accelerate Your Business with The Tech Solutions You Need to Grow, Plan, and Prosper 

Ridgebase makes the process of choosing and deploying technology and automation solutions straightforward so you can create a solid business plan that encompasses major factors like planning for technical debt. Solving business challenges through affordable digital transformation strategies and tools is what we do best. We want to help you take a proactive approach to prepare for technical debt by implementing the technology you need to keep a pulse on the problem. 

We take a completely unbiased approach to choosing tools and integrators for your business to ensure that each of your processes is optimized for success. To book your complimentary meeting with an experienced advisor at Ridgebase, click here.

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