Technical debt: tips for effective management
By Raúl López – IT Manager
Imagine that you are cooking a meal, and you decide not to clean any of the dishes while you are doing it. This decision gets the job done much faster, but it piles up work for later. Also, the more time you spend not doing the washing up, the harder it will be to do it later.
In development, technical debt follows a similar principle: it’s the accumulated cost of quick fixes and inconsistent design decisions that are convenient in the short term, but complicate things in the long run.
In short, technical debt is the extra cost of choosing a quick fix over a more effective one.
A well-known case is Southwest Airlines. The company caused a major problem in its operations by making the mistake of not updating the code in its crew assignment systems. As a result, it was forced to cancel more than fifteen thousand flights, leaving thousands of passengers without a journey, and causing significant losses to the company. This case illustrates the importance of being proactive in dealing with technical debt at an early stage to prevent problems from escalating and becoming more serious.
Some organizations take an active approach to technical debt. For example, they use dedicated retrospectives to identify areas for improvement. They also flag specific tasks in their backlogs to monitor them. This is like a periodic inspection to make sure that everything is in order and that no problems are building up.
In the area of legacy software projects, for example, we are often faced with old systems that need to be revamped. These situations can employ the strangler pattern, a strategy that guides the team to incrementally upgrade specific parts of the system without disrupting overall functionality.
This methodology allows for a step-by-step migration of a legacy system that will eventually replace all the functionality of the previous system and allow for its removal and decommissioning. It is a delicate process and requires careful planning, but in the end the system becomes more agile and easier to maintain.
Managing Technical Debt is essential and getting it under control is a team effort.
Some basic recommendations:
- Conduct regular code reviews.
- Build refactoring into the development cycle.
- Promote a culture of continuous improvement and learning.
In conclusion, technical debt is not just a challenge for developers. It affects the whole team and involves all stakeholders. Dealing with it proactively will not only improve the quality of the software, but it will also optimize resources and prevent long-term complications.
In the same way that a clean and well-organized kitchen is essential for a well-prepared meal, properly maintained code is essential for successful development.