The cost of maintaining software that is not up-to-date or has been poorly designed is termed a technical debt. The cost of technical debt can manifest in different ways - the most significant being maintenance cost. The cost of shoddy software in the US exceeded $2.26 trillion in 2018, according to the Consortium for IT Software Quality's studies, "The Cost of Poor-Quality Software in the US". Future technical debt costs were not included in that number.
Maintenance of legacy systems and technical debt is the number one cause of productivity loss. (source) For instance, 33% of the $100K you pay your software developer goes towards paying technical debt. That 33% equates to $1.65M annually for a team of 50 engineers. Stripe estimates that technical debts have a $3 trillion impact on global GDP. (source)
Consequences Of Ignoring Tech Debt
Ignoring technical debt can bring consequences such as an increased number of bugs, higher development costs, security issues, and decreased usability. (source) In companies that fail to manage their tech debt, competitors lose ground, opportunities are missed, and survival is difficult. Technical debt can become so costly that it undermines a company's short-term goals as well as its long-term ability to innovate.
For example, Equifax, one of the three largest credit reporting agencies in the United States, disclosed in September 2017 that it suffered a data breach that exposed the personal information of 143 million people. The breach was caused by a vulnerability in an open-source software component that Equifax had failed to patch.
Similarly, in 2020, SolarWinds suffered a massive cyberattack that affected thousands of customers. The attack was caused by a vulnerability in SolarWinds’ software that the company had failed to patch. It was one of the largest and most sophisticated cyberattacks in history, highlighting the importance of cybersecurity and the need for increased vigilance and protection against such attacks.
How To Identify & Prioritize Tech Debt Before It Becomes a Nightmare Backlog?
To effectively manage technical debt, it's important to identify and prioritize areas of the codebase that need improvement. To help do this, we have listed 3 key steps below:
1: Review Your Codebase and Identify Areas That Need Improvement
Start by taking a comprehensive inventory of your codebase, including the front-end and back-end code. Look for areas of the code that are difficult to maintain, prone to bugs, or slow to develop. These might include large code files, redundant code, or code that hasn't been updated in a long time.
2: Prioritize Technical Debt Based On Its Impact On Your Software Development Process
Once you have a good understanding of the areas of the codebase that need improvement, it's important to prioritize technical debt based on its impact on your software development process. For example, if a particular area of the codebase is causing frequent bugs or crashes, it should be a high priority for improvement. Similarly, if a particular area of the codebase is slowing down development, it should also be a high-priority task for improvement.
3: Identify The Most Impactful Technical Debt
Finally, it's important to focus on the technical debt that has the greatest impact first. This might mean addressing critical bugs or making improvements to the parts of the codebase that are causing the most delays in development. By prioritizing technical debt based on its impact, you can ensure that you're making the most effective use of your development resources and that you're improving the areas of the codebase that will have the biggest impact on your software development process.
Tech Debt Management and Preventing Backlog:
Technical debt can be managed using a lot of tactics and techniques, such as determining and tracking debt, prioritizing debt tasks, using an agile development approach, keeping regular meetings with owners, managers, and engineers, setting up coding standards, implementing code/design/test reviews, and using automated tests. You can even use a sprint-by-sprint approach which will enable the team to reduce technical debt gradually with every consequent sprint.
Another approach is to use a dedicated sprint for managing a huge amount of technical debt immediately rather than over time. To keep the project technical debt backlog as small as possible, the team should act proactively and reactively. The goal of proactive action is to prevent technical debt from appearing in the project and the goal of reactive action is to get rid of new technical debt as soon as possible.
Leadership plays a critical role in managing tech debt and fostering a culture of continuous improvement. A strategy for tech debt needs to be created early in the life of a company or project. It should balance long-term and short-term goals and be applied consistently. It is necessary to invest resources in continuous improvement. Give tech leaders a specific time and budget to fix problems and stop new ones from developing. Trust them to use the resources appropriately. A culture of continuous improvement reduces tech debt and offers other advantages, whether it pertains to your code or the help you provide to developers.
At Vikasietum, we can help in managing tech debt by providing technical expertise and guidance on how to identify, prioritize, and manage tech debt. Our experts also help in developing strategies for managing tech debt and preventing a backlog from forming.