Technical Debt

Technical debt is a concept in programming that reflects the extra development work that arises when code that is easy to implement in the short run is used instead of applying the best overall solution.

Technical debt can be compared to monetary debt. If technical debt is not repaid, it can accumulate ‘interest’, making it harder to implement changes later on. Unaddressed technical debt increases software entropy. Technical debt is not necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes (e.g., as a proof-of-concept) technical debt is required to move projects forward. On the other hand, some experts claim that the “technical debt” metaphor tends to minimize the impact, which results in insufficient prioritization of the necessary work to correct it.

Some people classify technical debt in two ways – intentional and unintentional tech debt. Intentional technical debt is when a team, in conjunction with the product owner, decide to incur technical debt as a result of a trade-off. A very common cause of this kind of debt is releasing software with known defects. These defects are often low priority defects that are deferred to a later release. Unintentional technical debt is usually as a result of incompetence or low experienced developers.

It is very common for organisations not to take technical debt seriously. Only when it comes back to haunt them 18 months down the line, and usually at great expense, do they address it. Usually with a large investment to re-platform. Technical debt should be taken extremely seriously and be serviced as part of the normal course of delivery. Tech debt should be made highly visible and considered an equal work item to other types of demand such as new features. Development teams need to work harder in order to express the value that each tech debt item would deliver should it be tackled. Just in the same way that other stakeholders have to state the expected value of their demand during prioritisation sessions.

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