The cost of shortcuts: technical debt and organizations

As organizations expand their technology stacks and these evolve into increasingly complex solutions, they often accumulate technical debt in favor of faster implementation or to accommodate other business factors such as cost or process maturity.

Ward Cunningham, one of the authors of the Agile Manifesto, once said that some problems with code are like financial debt. It’s okay to borrow and bet on the future, as long as you pay it back.

Submitting code to production for the first time is like going into debt. A little debt accelerates development as long as it is paid on time through refactoring. The danger occurs when the debt is not paid. Every minute spent on code that is not quite right for the programming task at hand counts as interest on that debt. Entire teams can be “technically bankrupted” if these debts are not paid on time.

Ward Cunningham, member of the Agile Manifesto

Most technology leaders agree that technical debt is the number one scourge of IT management. Seven in 10 IT leaders say technical debt fundamentally limits their ability to innovate, according to an OutSystems report that surveyed 521 IT decision makers. Another 61% say technology debt is a drag on company performance and 64% say it will continue to affect operations in the future.

Surprisingly, there are a wide variety of ways to repay technical debt. This is particularly important as it allows us to better plan a strategy that allows us to pay down this debt without having to divert attention from other business challenges.

From the creation of special teams to more aggressive strategies such as slash migrations, there is no single recipe for dealing with a team’s technical debt. Each company or case is different and probably the same is true within the organization. For this reason, it is necessary to conduct a thorough analysis of the existing debt and begin to design strategies to mitigate and close the gaps while continuing to address the other challenges of the business.

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