*** Disclaimer: This is not about my current project, it is about every project everywhere ***
Technical-debt is a natural byproduct of software development. If you don’t recall seeing technical debt in every sw-dev project, it is because most developers prefer to resolve technical debt immediately as it appears. However, if you have a project with an aggressive timeline, you will see technical debt and you will probably accumulate some of it. This is a natural byproduct of aggressive timelines. The more aggressive the timeline, the worse the byproduct.
The reason technical debt accumulates is fairly obvious. It takes time to resolve/remove technical debt. When developers are pressed-for-time, they have less time to review and refactor their own code. They have to decide between “clean it now” or “put-it-off till later”. When the program works and it passes testing, only the developer will know the difference.
Too Much Debt
If you’ve never heard of “Technical bankruptcy”, write-it-down. It is a thing. You know you have reached the point of Technical Bankruptcy when you realize that you are overcome by an insurmountable amount of technical debt. You no-longer have the time and resources to resolve the tech debt because you are slowly suffocating under a creeping blanket of support calls/tickets.
If you are not sure if you have reached technical bankruptcy or not, take this quick quiz: Is anyone on your team saying “We would be better-off if we just started over from scratch. Let’s throw it all away and start over”. When you believe it is better to “start over”, you have officially reached the point of technical bankruptcy.
We’ve all seen it before. It is pretty bleak. It is hard to imagine how you got to this place. “How did things get this bad?!” It is even harder to acknowledge the real cause of this, because everyone ignored the problem and in-some-way allowed, caused or contributed to it.
Turning things around
To avoid technical bankruptcy, you need to actually pay-down your tech debt. Unfortunately the very-nature of technical debt is that it slows you down and prevents you from developing software effectively. If you are spending all of your time, dealing with complaints, you have very few options. If you haven’t already done so, you absolutely must cut-back on other projects and assign a higher priority to the process of paying-down-debt. If I’m making it sound easy, let me correct that notion. This is going to require a significant effort.
On the other hand, if you think you will do better by starting over, think again. Before you try it, you really need to take a deep look at yourself and your processes, so you don’t arrive at the same point, over-and-0ver again.
It is a long road back and it begins with things like “living within your means”, being realistic about your ability to produce and maintain software. Committing to improving your processes and paying attention to quality. This last concept is the most significant one.
It is a lot of work and a lot of commitment, but you can do it. Keep your head above water. Live within your technical means. Don’t accumulate technical debt. Stick with these rules and some day, you won’t have to spend all of your resources, paying interest. Remember: Accumulating debt and never paying it down, will lead to one place: bankruptcy. Don’t go there.
In my next series of posts, I will be discussing technical debt, why your manager loves it, and some things you can do to monitor and manage it. So check back next week.