A QUICK SUMMARY – FOR THE BUSY ONES
This method involves categorizing technical debt into four quadrants based on cost-to-fix and impact, prioritizing high-impact, low-cost issues to enhance performance efficiently.
Focus on tech debt with the most significant long-term maintenance costs, such as security vulnerabilities, to prevent future issues and streamline development.
Address technical debts that obstruct new feature development or necessary updates, ensuring project progress and maintaining operational fluidity.
To get familiar with other strategies for prioritizung technical debt repayment, scroll down to access the whole article.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Since you're reading this article, you've probably found yourself in a situation of ascending technical debt and are wondering how to avoid technical bankruptcy. Good news – we can help you get back on track.
By reading this guide you will learn:
Prioritizing tech debt repayment is an ongoing process that should align with your project's goals, resources, and constraints. It's important to strike a balance between addressing existing debt and continuing to deliver new features to maintain a competitive edge while ensuring long-term system stability. Let's look at some strategies for prioritizing tech debt repayment.
In this method, you categorize technical debt into quadrants based on two criteria: the cost to fix the debt and the impact it has on the project. Prioritize addressing the issues that fall into the high-impact, low-cost quadrant first. In this way, you'll quickly improve performance while better budgeting for future improvements.
Another strategy of tech debt repayment is to focus on the long-term perspective. In dealing with tech debt, there is often a temptation to address the most vexing and glaring issues first. However, you should consider which areas of the system will have the most serious consequences and address them first. Implementing this strategy, prioritize tackling tech debt that accrues the highest interest in terms of future maintenance costs, such as security vulnerabilities or code that slows down development.
Focus on addressing technical debt that hinders the development of new features or the implementation of necessary updates or bug fixes. This approach ensures that the debt is not impeding project progress and will enable you to maintain operational and financial liquidity while paying off technology debt.
Prioritize the issues based on their importance and potential impact on the project's success. To do that, you need to align identified problems with the business goals. This strategy will be especially helpful if you need to meet the project deadlines.
Legacy systems are those that have been around forever. They are subject to modification and ad hoc expansion, making them complex, outdated, and non-functional over time. As a result, they often accumulate significant technical debt over time. Prioritize the modernization of such systems to bring them in line with current technology standards and improve their maintainability. Wondering how to do this? Take a look at our guide.
Perform a comprehensive audit of your technology stack and codebase to identify areas with the most significant technical debt. This can help you pinpoint specific issues that require immediate attention.
<span class="colorbox1" fs-test-element="box1"><p>Learn how to cope with technical debt by identifying areas for improvement that support business, not just clean the code. Plus, this was possible thanks to conducting a technology audit first. Read this use case.</p></span>
Having worked in a technologically indebted organization for a long time, it can be difficult to objectively assess which areas need the most urgent change. Getting used to certain procedures and priorities can be difficult to change without additional support. Engage external experts, such as Fractional CTO, Software Agency, or Facilitator, to provide fresh insights and expertise in identifying and addressing technical debt. They can offer a different perspective, recommend best development practices, and help you to plan a repayment strategy.
Most companies do not carry out all processes in-house and use the support of third-party companies, delegating various tasks to them or using their tools. With such a dependency, technology debt is influenced not only by your company's actions but also by your vendors. Planning technical debt repayment strategy, review your vendor relationships, and identify any dependencies that may lead to accumulating tech debt and vendor lock-in. Restructure your vendor management to reduce long-term debt by ensuring flexibility and scalability
Even as a true expert on tech debt, you need a team that takes the issue seriously and enforces best practices. Promote a culture of awareness and responsibility regarding technical debt within your development team. Educate employees about the importance of addressing debt, and empower them to make informed decisions about prioritization.
An organization's culture and values have a huge impact on employees' approach to work. To repay your tech debt and avoid technical bankruptcy, reinforce good software development habits. Show your team that procedures are important and compliance is required. Reward accuracy and remember that quality takes time.
The above strategies will be most effective if they are part of a larger, long-term plan of tech debt repayment. Here are the most important steps to make it happen.
To prioritize technical debt effectively, it's crucial to start with a comprehensive tech audit. This audit serves not only to identify technical problems but also to make stakeholders aware of the broader implications of tech debt.
Begin by conducting a thorough assessment of your codebase, architecture, and development processes to identify areas with the most significant technical debt. Categorize them based on severity, maintenance cost, and impact.
Present the findings to key stakeholders, including executives, product managers, and development teams, to secure their support and approval for the tech debt repayment plan.
Determine the necessary resources, including development teams, time, tools, and budget, required to address the identified technical debt effectively. Remember to keep the company's operations running smoothly while maintaining the quality of ongoing projects.
Appoint project managers and team leaders who will be responsible for overseeing the repayment efforts, coordinating teams, and ensuring progress. Ensure that they are aware of the nature and consequences of tech debt and oblige them to follow company procedures and uphold the organization's culture.
Integrate tech debt repayment tasks and schedules into your product roadmap, aligning them with other development activities and milestones. This ensures that technical debt is treated as a priority alongside project development.
Regularly track and monitor the progress of tech debt repayment initiatives. Use KPIs to gauge the impact of the work being done and adjust priorities as needed.
Quick-and-dirty coding got you into a state of serious technology debt, so don't make the same mistake coming out of it. Ensure automated testing, code reviews, and quality assurance procedures to verify that changes are made without introducing new issues. This step helps maintain code quality and long-term viability.
Revise and improve documentation as you address technical debt. Ensure that it reflects the changes made, making it easier for future development and maintenance efforts.
Implement practices and processes to prevent the accumulation of new technical debt. This can include enforcing coding standards, conducting regular code reviews, and keeping software components up-to-date.
Tech debt repayment is an ongoing process. Continue to iterate on your plan, adapting it to changing circumstances, evolving codebase, and emerging best practices.
To avoid rushing technology debt in the future, you need to understand the reasons for finding yourself in this situation. These are usually: neglect of good practices, poor organizational culture, and prioritizing rapid implementation with a quality basket.
The mechanics of creating technological debt are a bit like a dangerous urban neighborhood. Broken windows theory is a concept in criminology stating that visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior, and civil disorder create an urban environment that encourages further crime and disorder, leading to more serious crimes. The theory was introduced by social scientists – James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling – who noted that crime and vandalism are more likely to occur in neglected neighborhoods. When no one takes care of common property, social responsibility diminishes. Technological debt sneaks in through such “broken windows”.
Every firm has some kind of rules and good practices for development. But, as you know, business is dynamic and sometimes there is a temptation to take shortcuts. A broken rule is like the first broken window in your company neighborhood. And a rule broken without consequences ceases to be a rule. Soon, no one takes good practices seriously. Keeping careful documentation and automated testing is time-consuming, and since no one requires it – why bother? More windows are breaking in the organization, provoking further negligence. And the tech debt builds up.
The deepening of technological debt is also fostered by the attitude of management itself. Developers and engineers are appreciated primarily for their speed of work, which is equated with efficiency. And implementing good practices takes time. Project managers and board members, who are often non-technical people, are not in a position to verify the quality of code, while seeing that work has been completed faster than expected they are impressed. Consequently, employees learn to work fast and dirty, because following procedures and accuracy is not appreciated. On the contrary, an employee who works slower is often judged worse, even if in the future it is his code that will require less time and resources to maintain.
Tech debt refers to the extra cost and effort required to maintain and develop software. It is usually a consequence of a short-term approach to development, taking shortcuts and putting quantity over quality. But is technical debt always bad?
Tech debt can be taken consciously and serve specific goals of the organization, such as acquiring a customer or meeting a deadline. It's like with finances – you don't take a loan to ruin the family budget but to build a house, start a business, or buy a piece of art. In this situation, we are talking about intentional debt, which serves to invest and accelerate the development of the company.
Unfortunately, the situation doesn't always look that way. Technology debt has gained such a grim reputation primarily by companies where it has deepened as a result of accumulating neglect, leading to declining productivity and rising costs. We speak of non-intentional debt when it is the result of ignoring good development practices, sacrificing long-term code quality, and over-engineering unconsidered system expansion. This type of tech debt quickly spirals out of control and can lead to tech bankruptcy.
What distinguishes the two types of debts? First of all, awareness, both of the consequences and the terms of repayment. With intentional debt, companies know that incurring debt is a tool to achieve a short-term goal, but such a working model cannot become the standard. With unintentional debt, a company choosing immediate gratification and quick profit exposes itself to additional costs and complications in the future, gradually losing productivity.
If you're facing technology debt, you probably feel like you've failed. But the problem is not making mistakes. The problem is not learning lessons. By reading this article, you've gained the knowledge you need about tech debt repayment strategies, and you can not only return to the status quo but bring a new, better, more functional approach to your business.
By prioritizing clean, high-quality code, appreciating developers for following procedures, and educating your team about tech debt, you will go from being an organization heading toward tech bankruptcy to becoming an example of a well-managed conscious company that knows how to combine the business and technology aspects. And then nothing will stop you.
Every year, Brainhub helps 750,000+ founders, leaders and software engineers make smart tech decisions. We earn that trust by openly sharing our insights based on practical software engineering experience.
Software development enthusiast with 6 years of professional experience in the tech industry.
Top reads this month
Get smarter in engineering and leadership in less than 60 seconds.
Join 300+ founders and engineering leaders, and get a weekly newsletter that takes our CEO 5-6 hours to prepare.
No previous chapters
No next chapters