The cost of shortcuts: technical debt and organizations

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In the business world, taking technological shortcuts may seem like a quick fix, but what is the real cost in the long run? Imagine you are building your company and decide to use cheaper materials to save money. At the beginning, everything works, but over time, repairs and maintenance due to not having chosen the best from the beginning can triple your expenses. This is what we call technical debt in the technological field.

As in construction, in technology, paying a little more up front for good practices and sustainable solutions greatly reduces future costs and frees up resources to innovate and grow.

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.

Proactive management of technical debt

Beyond recognizing and paying the existing technical debt, it is essential to adopt a proactive management approach. This implies integrating practices that prevent the accumulation of debt from the beginning of a project. Some strategies include:

  • Ongoing code review: Implement periodic code reviews to identify and address problems early.
  • Continuous training: Keep the team updated with best practices and emerging technologies to avoid obsolete solutions.
  • Strategic planning: Include technical debt management in project planning, allocating specific resources for mitigation.

Innovation as a payment tool

Technological innovation not only drives business, but can also be an effective solution to pay down technical debt. The adoption of new technologies or methods can simplify processes and reduce the maintenance burden, thus indirectly addressing technical debt. For example:

  • Process automation: Implement automation tools to reduce manual workload and errors.
  • Modern systems integration: Migrate to more efficient and flexible systems that require fewer patches and workarounds.

Culture of quality and excellence

Finally, fostering a culture of quality and excellence in the development team is essential. This implies a mindset where quality is prioritized over speed of delivery, with the understanding that a well-crafted code from the beginning will reduce technical debt in the long run.

Boost your innovation with Enacment

At Enacment, our software and innovation lab, we help you navigate the challenges of technical debt. We offer you tailor-made solutions to face and transform this debt into an advantage for your business. With our team of experts, we support you every step of the way, from analysis to the implementation of innovative strategies. With Enacment, your technology becomes a growth engine. Contact us and let’s start building a stronger technological future together.

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