Tackling Technical Debt: The Two Major Sources and Five Proactive Steps to Manage It

As someone who has seen the negative impact of technical debt on companies firsthand, I can say with confidence that it can be one of the biggest obstacles to a company's growth. If not managed effectively, it can lead to significant slowdowns and increased costs.

Based on The Developer Coefficient study by Stripe, engineers spend 13.5 hours a week working on “technical debt,” more than 50% of engineers believe that technical debt hinders their productivity. And almost 60% of companies don’t have any technical debt management strategies in place. These are not numbers we can ignore.

To effectively manage technical debt, you need to understand the two most common sources of technical debt.

The first source of technical debt is deliberate technical debt, which you accumulate to move quickly before achieving PMF (product market fit). While this is usually acceptable, the issue arises when you don't address or manage this debt effectively. You need to have a plan in place to pay off this debt regularly and with the same deliberation as it was used to create it in the first place. By doing so, you can ensure that this debt doesn't become a hindrance to your company's growth in the long term.

The second source of technical debt is misalignment between the business, product, and engineering teams. If the engineers don't fully understand the domain, problem space, and company objectives, they may build a solution unsuitable for the current context and stage of growth. Bridging the gap between these teams and ensuring everyone works towards the same goals is essential. By doing so, we can reduce the risk of technical debt and ensure that our technical decisions are aligned with the company's overall strategy and objectives.

However, it's essential to remember that a company moving towards PMF (product market fit) moves very quickly, which means that requirements, priorities, and even the full product can change rapidly. To effectively manage technical debt, the following steps need to be taken early when engineers write the first lines of code. By doing so, we can minimize technical debt and ensure that we're building a solid foundation for our product's long-term growth.

  1. Embrace change and accept that requirements and priorities will change rapidly. This means being willing to pivot quickly and adapt to changing circumstances.
  2. Write clean code that is easier to refactor. This makes it easier to change the codebase without introducing new bugs or issues. By writing clean code, you can ensure that your codebase speaks the same language as the business and reflects the business processes. This makes it easier to change the code without introducing new bugs or issues and reduces the risk of technical debt.
  3. Build constant refactoring practices into the process and mindset of the engineers. This means making refactoring a regular part of the development process rather than treating it as an afterthought. It will also help ensure the code remains maintainable over time, as necessary changes can be made more easily.
  4. Release often and create tools and processes that support experimentation. This allows the company to gather feedback quickly and make changes based on that feedback. This feedback loop can help ensure that the company is developing a product that meets the needs of its users. In addition to releasing often, companies can create tools and processes supporting experimentation. This can include things like A/B testing and Canary Releases, which allow the company to test different product versions with different groups of users to see which version performs better.
  5. Product Team Alignment. It's essential to ensure that the Product Trio, consisting of product, design, and engineering, works closely to solve customer pain points and align with the business objectives. This collaboration allows us to build a product that meets our customers' needs and aligns with the business's goals. By ensuring that the Product Trio is aligned with the customer's pain points and business objectives, we can reduce the risk of technical debt and ensure that our product is built on a solid foundation for long-term growth.

Managing technical debt is crucial for the long-term success of a company. So don't let technical debt hold you back – take action today to manage it effectively! By addressing technical debt early on and implementing the above steps, you can ensure that your growth is not hindered by technical debt.

Need help tackling your technical debt? Get in touch at sales@dlabs.io.