Tech debt is the cost of maintaining and supporting the technology that powers a product or service. It is the trade-off between taking shortcuts to meet a deadline or implementing a solution that is easier to maintain in the long-term. It tends to be a sore subject of conversation and is often the big ugly elephant in the room. In this post, we'll explore the impact of tech debt on products and teams, ways to pay down tech debt, and how to make decisions to incur tech debt.
Tech debt's impact on teams:
Tech debt can also have a significant impact on the development team. It can cause frustration and burnout, as developers are constantly dealing with bugs and technical issues that could have been avoided. It can also slow down development and make it difficult to estimate project timelines. Some teammates might have a specific interest in resolving some piece of tech debt. I'd expect that to come up during a retrospective or during sprint planning.
Ways to pay down tech debt:
To pay down tech debt, it's important to prioritize the most critical issues and tackle them first. This can be done by conducting a technical debt assessment, which involves identifying and prioritizing the areas of the codebase that have the highest technical debt. I like to try and rank things by importance and urgency. Once these areas have been identified, the development team can work on refactoring the code, implementing automated tests, and improving documentation.
Making decisions to incur tech debt:
When making decisions to incur tech debt, it's important to consider the trade-offs and the long-term impact on the product and the team. Sometimes we simply must get something out the door. It's also important to have a plan in place to pay down the debt in the future. It can be helpful to involve both the development team and the product team in these decisions, to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account. Planning one or two tech debt/innovation sprints per year has worked great for me and the teams that I've worked with.
Tech debt is a natural part of the software development process, but it's important to be aware of its impact and to have a plan in place to manage it. By prioritizing the most critical issues and involving both the development and product teams in decision-making, you can ensure that your tech debt doesn't negatively impact your product or your team.