Evolution is a necessary part of running a company in today’s fast-moving landscape. If your business isn’t changing its practices and workflows on a regular basis, you may be falling behind ambitious competitors.
With that said, evolving isn’t always smooth or easy. One of the most common issues that can hold companies back is the concept of tech debt. What is tech debt? This is the term given to making technological decisions in the present that will make operations more difficult or complex in the future.
From the beginning, it’s worth clarifying one main concept: not all tech debt is bad. Tech debt is a trade-off between present needs and future practices, and incurring some of it is simply the cost of doing business.
There is a right way to manage tech debt, and there is also a wrong way. Organizations that pursue the right way are well-positioned to stay agile, while companies that incur bad tech debt are setting themselves up for hard times. It’s important to recognize the right approach to tech debt and embrace it. This starts with understanding what tech debt does, why it occurs and how to get through it.
What is the mark of bad tech debt? There are a few telltale signs, all of which point back to systems and workflows that have become too unwieldy to manage effectively. Bad tech debt occurs when a tech deployment is managed or modified in a short-sighted way. Over time, the longtail impact of the company’s choices becomes clear.
Businesses dealing with bad tech debt may find:
While the impact of bad tech debt is real—and seriously harmful to a company’s prospects—it’s important to restate that tech debt is not always bad. Companies seeking to make an impact with a useful new software feature in the here and now may end up sacrificing future extensibility or flexibility to make the addition. This kind of change can be productive and worth the trade-off.
Taking on tech debt is like taking out a loan. If the developers entering into the process do so with their eyes open and understand how their choices are affecting their future prospects, they can get the results they’re looking for. It’s only when tech debt has unexpected consequences or spirals out of control that true problems happen.
If bad tech debt is so harmful to an organization’s future prospects, it’s important to ask why it occurs. Companies are not hampering their own chances on purpose, so what decisions are leading to these scenarios?
Businesses hoping to avoid these factors can focus on the future of their industries. This means considering carefully whether their software will need to be extensible or flexible in the near future, based on their projections for the next few years. With that vision in mind, it’s then time to implement practices that will keep development on the right track.
Fortunately for IT departments and development teams today, many of the priorities that can help them avoid bad tech debt are the kinds of solid, all-purpose best practices that they should be following anyway. In some ways, the key to preventing tech debt is simply to run the kind of modern, agile software development group that will help the business thrive.
When implementing new processes to keep technology development in line and avoid tech debt, it’s important for leaders to keep a few ideas in mind. For instance, they should be focusing on their ideal outcomes, rather than the nitty-gritty technology issues that will get them there. Aiming to create perfect code is an impossible goal, one that can get companies side-tracked from the priorities that really matter.
Some useful practices for IT leaders and their developers to keep in mind include:
Businesses that follow these steps are ideally placed to avoid the consequences of bad tech debt, as their everyday development workflows will naturally protect them in the near future. Their use of metrics will be a key point, as it will help them know if they are at risk of sliding into damaging tech debt.