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A Guide to Tackling Your Technical Debt

It’s time to tackle that outstanding balance of technical debt. Here are four tips to get you started.

Now that we’ve defined technical debt and broken down how much it can truly cost enterprises, it’s time to talk about reducing your balance. 

It can be helpful to think about technical debt accruing in the same way that financial debt does, but addressing technical debt in giant chunks or one huge “payment” as soon as you have the means to do so isn’t necessarily the best approach. The four steps below will help your organization create a plan for, and then start tackling, its technical debt today. 

Keep Track of Your Technical Debt

The first step to addressing technical debt is taking stock of your current balance and ensuring that it doesn’t spiral out of control in the future. Instead of thinking about your technical debt as a giant mountain that you’ll have to chip away at until the end of time, break your debt down so you can see it. 

Whenever the development team at Quartet Health discovers technical debt, they create a product backlog item to note that this needs to be resolved. From there, the debt tickets are prioritized against each other so that the team can more discretely understand if, when, and how each issue should be addressed.  

Quantify Your Debt to Assess Urgency

With instances of your organization’s technical debt captured and prioritized, it’s time to quantify it. This step can take a variety of forms. For example, it might be helpful to assign your organization a technical debt “credit score,” so you’ll have a succinct way to characterize your debt and track how well you’re paying it down. A technical debt credit score can be determined by factors like the total number of backlog of items, or the ratio of technical debt that has been addressed vs. technical debt being created. 

Patient relationship management company Navigating Cancer takes a more personalized approach to quantifying technical debt. Their development team members survey one another to find out which projects are taking too long. Instances of technical debt are broken down into stories, then tracked and rated as “accrued” or “paid off,” which indicates to the team how much progress they’re making. However you choose to quantify your debt, it’s critically important to assign some sort of concrete measure to assess progress.  

Triage Your Technical Debt

Not all instances of technical debt come with the same amount of risk or cost. Much like the way you'd prioritize and address different financial debts according to interest rates or due dates, organizations should prioritize their technical debt in ways that are most relevant to their specific situation.

At Squarespace, technical debts are prioritized during group retrospective meetings and whiteboarding sessions. Team members bring up pain points and collaboratively decide which issues need to be addressed immediately, but decisions made in these sessions aren’t set in stone. The Squarespace development team continuously re-evaluates their earlier prioritization decisions to make sure they’re using their time effectively and paying off debt as efficiently as possible.  

Define “Done”

Sometimes enterprises accumulate technical debt not because they’re making the conscious decision to settle for “good enough” code, but because projects simply get lost in the shuffle and go unfinished. Businesses often require development teams to ship MVPs to ensure that something is ready for release, so it can be hard to understand when projects are truly finished. We recommend creating a clear definition of “done”, which can be a systematic list of activities or processes that must be completed in order to qualify a piece of software as fully complete. 

Defining "done" with a certain number of tests, documentation, and code reviews—rather than the end of a sprint cycle—can ensure that work is less likely to become technical debt down the line. Cosmetic surgery advice site RealSelf has a sophisticated definition of done, which includes a framework that sets expectations for the product across all teams, eliminating internal confusion and facilitating greater transparency regarding which trade-offs are being made.  

Tackle Technical Debt with No-Code

Tactics like this can only go so far. If your enterprise has accrued a significant amount of technical debt or you’re feeling overwhelmed by how you might go about implementing these steps in your business, it might be time to consider something completely new.

No-code helps unburden enterprises from the crippling costs of technical debt by eliminating its primary cause—code. No-code platforms also facilitate more collaborative development between teams, so you’ll have an easier time working together to whittle down the debt you do have. Most importantly, you’ll be free to innovate without adding to your technical debt balance.

This guide can be a great start to tackle your technical debt in the interim, but it’s important to remember that the very presence of a codebase ensures that technical debt will continue to accrue in a vicious cycle. No-code allows enterprises to embrace a future in which the concern of legacy code is eliminated entirely—so they can focus on truly moving their businesses forward.