Contact us!

What is technical debt and how does it arise?

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is a somewhat abstract term that refers to the work that must be done to "clean up" after previous inadequate development work. It’s essentially paying back for past misprioritizations or less-than-ideal choices.  

Technical debt often arises due to ill-considered or hasty decisions, or because, at one point, a choice was made to take the easy way – even if it wasn't the best. The solution often works initially but becomes challenging to maintain and scale in the future. Extra work is then required to be put into the software to address the technical debt – incurring a cost. Essentially, you have to clean up and deal with the consequences of shortcuts that were taken.

In a sentence, technical debt is the future additional work that arises when a quick and easy solution is chosen over sustainability and quality.

How does technical debt arise?

Technical debt arises when decisions are made too quickly at the expense of long-term quality. It can result from inadequate development work, but more often, it stems from challenging circumstances, inadequate planning, and forced compromises.

Lack of clearly defined scope

When developing a software solution, it's important to establish clear boundaries for what is included in the project. Otherwise, it's easy to start adding more and more during the project, making the development process more difficult.  

Time pressure and tight deadlines

When a solution needs to be developed under time pressure, it's easy to take shortcuts that work well for the moment but can have negative consequences in the future.  

Scope creep and changing priorities

Repeated changes and reprioritizations in the project often lead to challenges in development and can result in things being done in a suboptimal way.  

Neglecting the importance of maintenance and support

Once a solution is implemented, it's important to understand the importance of regular maintenance. Eventually, you'll reach a point where you need to review the software, and when you’re there, if you’ve let too much time pass, a routine check can turn into a massive job.  

Insufficient communication between departments

A technical solution rarely affects just one department in your organization, meaning it's important to involve all relevant parties in the project from the beginning. You need clear communication and a common language to create the best conditions for yourselves. Otherwise, it almost always results in scope creep as people want to add features as they get involved in the project.  

Technical debt often accumulates over time

Technical debt rarely arises in isolated instances during the development process but accumulates over a series of, sometimes almost invisible, occasions. The debt doesn’t just emerge, it also gets the opportunity to grow and fester before anyone addresses it. To prevent it from increasing too much, it's crucial to keep an eye on the software, regularly perform maintenance, and actively work on improvements. Otherwise, the codebase risks becoming messy, making it difficult to add new features when needed.

Technical debt is difficult to avoid

Completely avoiding technical debt can be difficult, especially when dealing with large, complex projects that span over a long period. However, the most important thing is for all parties involved to work together to minimize it. The first step is to be aware of how the debt arises, and that its roots are often laid in the planning stage. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you plan your software project carefully and prioritize correctly from the start. Maintain a close dialogue with your development team and try not to rush with this type of project – the solution you develop will be worth the time you've invested in it.

Block Quote