When you’re writing new software, time and budget constraints are inevitable. This can lead to cutting corners with your code, building software with old technology or not designing something as you would if you had more time.
In turn, you take on technical debt with the intention of going back and fixing your code later. But new tasks arise, and instead of cleaning up your code, you move forward with the project and add new features until the software is no longer usable.
Cleaning up old code is an expense many businesses don’t want to take on, but the consequences of not doing so are overwhelming. The longer you wait, the harder it is to fix.
Learn more about technical debt and how it affects software development.
What Is Technical Debt?
When adding a new functionality to your code, you have two options. The first is quick but messy and requires you to make additional changes in the future. The other option results in cleaner code but will take longer to implement.
Technical debt is a term coined by Ward Cunningham to describe the cumulative consequences of cutting corners throughout a software development project.
It’s important to note that technical debt is not messy or unreadable code. Instead, technical debt decisions are made based on real project constraints such as time or budget.
Some technical debt is unavoidable, and when incurred strategically, it may benefit software development. Most of the time, however, technical debt is the result of trying to finish a piece of code quickly to meet a deadline.
What To Do About Technical Debt
Too much Technical debt has the potential to ruin your code and software applications.
If you already know you your code has technical debt, here are five steps you can take to fix it moving forward:
1. Plan The Technical Strategy Before Implementing The Solution
Before you begin development, think through all of the technical details involved in the project. When doing this, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- What key decisions need to be made?
- What functionalities will we have to add in the future?
- Do we have clear acceptance criteria for all features?
Figuring out these details in advance gives you a clearer roadmap for future software development efforts.
2. Appoint An Architecture Lead
In an Agile team, the architecture lead is the last authority over all technical decisions. This individual also keeps an eye out for technical debt and takes immediate steps to address issues when needed.
3. Refactor (Rather Than Rebuild) Technical Debt
Instead of completely rewriting your code, consider refactoring it. In other words, restructure your code without changing the functionality of the product. Refactoring your code makes the names more meaningful, reduces complexity by adding methods and removes duplicate code.
4. Decouple Applications And Create Independent Components
To prevent the debt cycle from occurring again, you must decouple dependent software applications. By creating these independent components, you save overall project time by providing usable software applications while others are still under construction. A more current development approach accomplishes this with a microservices architecture.
5. Run Comprehensive Regression Testing
By regularly running comprehensive regression testing, you can identify any defects in the code, which helps you make changes early on. Also, it’s beneficial to implement test automation which relieves the demands of manual regression testing and also reduces human error and potentially eliminates additional sources of technical debt.
Although some technical debt in your code is inevitable, it’s important deal with it as soon as possible and as much as possible as time only compounds the problems. As a software development team, make a conscious effort to not cut corners and to refactor old code when necessary. Doing so will benefit your software applications in the long run.
Published first on the Small Footprint website.