Understanding Tech Debt: What Is It & How Is It Managed?

In today's "new normal," companies are trying to adapt their technology and services to provide new digital channels of interaction to their customers. These channels or applications are typically built with a short-term mindset and end up consuming a big chunk of your resources, time, and energy. This concept is known as technical debt or tech debt for short. Debt, in general, is a complicated subject and tech debt is no different.

Tech Debt Deep Dive.

Technical debt uses technology to complete a function that another tool should be doing. It’s easy to accumulate and consumes resources by duplicating efforts and costs. When left unchecked, tech debt becomes problematic, preventing critical security and feature updates.

There are 3 main types of tech debt:

  1. Deliberate technical debt - at times the team will intentionally do something the “wrong” way because they need to quickly deliver product to the market.

  2. Accidental/outdated design tech debt - as systems evolve and requirements change, you might come to the realize that your design is flawed, or that new functionality has become difficult and slow to implement.

  3. Bit rot technical debt - a component or system slowly devolves into unnecessary complexity through lots of incremental changes, often exacerbated when worked upon by several people who might not fully understand the original design.

Why Does Debt Go Unchecked?

Tech debt goes unchecked when centralized leadership gets watered down, leaving individual departments to choose tools that fit their immediate needs, without thinking about how those decisions impact future “tomorrow.” The result is a collection of siloed tools that create duplicate data that does not integrate, costs more, and results in a poor user experience for both employees and customers.

In addition, poor undocumented processes cause process debt that people end up paying. Whether it’s how work is done or organized, or how people communicate, process debt is caused by systems and tools, and impacts people. You may be letting an old process or an old way of thinking control the way that your business is growing, which is likely stunting your growth, while increasing process debt.

How to Manage Debt.

Every business has tech debt; it’s normal because of how fast technology changes. The goal is not to eliminate tech debt, but to measure and manage it. Here are some tips to help:

  • Make managing technical debt part of every conversation with your developers. Asking these types of questions will help you make decisions about when to take on additional debt or when to devote more resources to trimming down existing debt:

    • What will this shortcut save us now?

    • What kinds of challenges or limitations does this set us up for later?

    • Do we fully understand the dependencies involved in this solution? Is it going to impact more than just the feature currently on the table?

    • If we do take on this debt, what are the future implications?

    • Does that timeline conflict with other release plans, feature updates, etc?

    • Are we putting this off for a strategic reason, i.e. do we suspect there will be a better way to fix this later if we wait?

  • Be an organizational advocate for maintenance.

  • Develop a KPI tied to basic product expectations.

  • Encourage your development team to track technical debt in the same place they track other development items.

  • Empower developers to do some situation planning around technical debt.

  • Plan reasonable workloads for sprints.

Process debt can be disguised as tech debt, which is why it’s important to first understand how processes work within your organization, before automating them. This helps you avoid automating a process that you should, instead, eliminate.

Tech Debt and Industry Impact.

Healthcare IT departments require problem solvers more than ever. The skills once needed to build and maintain systems that organize healthcare data and run operations have quickly evolved, but resource allocation is stagnant. Tension between operational support and modernization is putting the heat on IT departments. At some point, IT will need to support the systems they’ve rushed out, further straining resources.

Manufacturing is an industry built on momentum, thin margins, and shifting priorities. Just like any asset you own, if left unmaintained, design and manufacturing assets eventually become debt as the world around them evolves. An area that often gets pushed down on the priority list is updating technology, mostly because systems are functioning properly with no obvious reason to update them. The result of this decision is an alarming number of manufacturing companies using old technology on their floors. This makes them a prime target for hackers and a huge cyber risk.

The Connected Vendor.

Consider hiring someone to architect your technology. The right technology solutions already exist. You just need to find the right partner to help you architect a scalable solution that you know how to maintain. The connected vendor works with your organization at all levels. At INFRASI, we understand the complexity of the tools and we combine our technical expertise with our industry knowledge to architect the right solution for you. Schedule a consultation with us, today!

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