Technical Debt: What It Is and Why You Should Care

Developers think of technical debt as poor coding or a lack of maintenance. But, to you, it’s the cost your organization incurs due to poor or outdated code quality. Time is lost, but so is the money needed to try to repair your technical issues. Old or inadequate coding is costly to update, but the longer you wait, the more outdated and expensive it will be to fix. Technical debt may be unavoidable for your organization, so how can you prepare for it?

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt is the financial debt that accumulates due to changes in your website. 

3 types of technical debt are: 

  1. Intentional. Also called “design debt,” this is when your organization deliberately chooses to take on tech debt to launch a product faster. While this form is risky, it’s easier to recover from because you will have made a plan to remedy intentional tech debt before taking it on. 
  2. Unintentional. You can’t plan for absolutely everything. Accidents happen, and things change. You may experience sloppy or inexperienced software engineering that causes you to rethink your whole system. Unintentional tech debt can also come from a lack of communication between designers. It may also result from not fully understanding the problem or desired outcomes when implementing a feature. Like any unexpected turn of events, unintentional tech debt is impossible to totally prepare for financially.
  3. Maintenance. We know how fast technology changes. Thirty years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to share this post so readily. We also didn’t have to think as much about the tech side of our businesses. You’ll likely face code debt if you let your website ages without updates. It can also occur with improper maintenance when incremental changes don’t link up. A regular site maintenance schedule is a great way to prevent this type of tech debt. 

The Difference Between Good and Bad Debt

Tech debt, like any form of debt, isn’t inherently bad. If you can plan and pay the debt off quickly or in a reasonable amount of time so as not to accrue too much interest, then it may be worth taking on to be able to launch a product or website fast. Things go wrong when the debt spirals out of your organization’s control. 

Causes of Technical Debt

When speed is the priority, you’re likely to launch code before it’s ready. Tech debt happens as a result of:

  • Inadequate Design. Code may be old or incompatible with systems already in place. You face design debt when systems don’t line up quite like they should.
  • Lack of Sufficient Testing. If you test your website, you can find issues before it reaches the public that your development team can remedy. If you don’t catch these errors, you’ll likely incur debt on them before you realize it.  
  • Unnecessary Features. Just like having too many browser windows open slows your computer down, you want to get rid of outdated features to prevent them from clogging up the efficiency of your system. Adding extra features your organization doesn’t quite need yet will also take extra time and money. 

Consequences of Technical Debt

Any unmanageable debt is dangerous for the life of your organization and the community you serve. The effects of tech debt often go unnoticed until it’s too late. 

Technical debt can:

  • Cause Code Issues. Advances in coding happen constantly. If your code is outdated or sloppy, the next person trying to work with it may be confused by what they’re working with. 
  • Lead to Maintenance Issues. Coding has to be compatible throughout your technology. Without regular maintenance, tech issues build upon one another until they are irreparable and require complete and costly redesign. 
  • Cause Project Failures. You want anything you share with your community to serve them and keep them returning. It’s frustrating when any project fails and can be even more frustrating because of a preventable coding flaw. 
  • Cause Financial Problems. Budgeting is critical for any organization. You only set aside so much money for technical changes. Technical debt, like any debt, can cause your organization to have financial problems. Bad coding also leaves your site more susceptible to viruses and hackers.

Avoiding or Reducing Technical Debt

Technical debt sounds like it can lead to some frightening consequences — because it can. Having a care plan for your site is a good idea for avoiding technical debt, but it’s not the only way to do so.

To reduce technical debt or avoid it entirely: 

  • Improve Design Processes. Communication is key. Bring developers on board who can implement a remediation strategy but spread the work across the team and ensure they are continually sharing ideas with one another. Everyone needs to be on the same page.
  • Implement Testing. Test early and test often. It’s better to catch bugs and coding flaws as soon as possible before they affect other aspects of your software.
  • Simplify Code and Features. Simpler code will be easier for future teams to work with. If you aren’t using a feature or realize you don’t need it, get rid of it. Simplicity is less expensive to maintain.
  • Utilize Tools and Processes. Create a maintenance schedule for your website. Use continuous integration strategies and software testing practices to stay on top of changes while they’re still easy fixes.
  • Budget for Risk Mitigation. Similar to purchasing insurance or security, having a budget line item for technical risk mitigation and working with your technical teams to understand your risks and action plans can help reduce costly unforeseen incidents.

Let CauseLabs Help

Debt is a tricky situation to navigate. Technical debt can be even more confusing. You need to know where your coding and software problems are and work continuously to improve them. Planning can cut way down on tech debt and prevent it from causing major financial burdens in the future. Contact CauseLabs today to find your technical debt and learn how to reduce it.

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