Minimizing Technical Debt with Agile Practices

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By Navdeep Gill, Founder, XenonStack

Developers must always balance the problem of producing a well-designed program, software, system, and so on versus providing decent enough code. Clean, well-designed code enables easier implementation of future revisions and improvements. In a corporate environment, however, delays and limited resources frequently prevent developers from writing clean, errorless code before delivering a product.

Technical Debt is a popular term used in Software Development to reflect the short-term decisions taken while writing code, usually when there are stringent schedules. Ward Cunningham, one of the inventors of Agile programming, discussed the concept at the beginning of the 1990s. Watts and Hertvik in 2020 defined it, “Technical debt is the coding you must do tomorrow because you took a shortcut in order to deliver the software today.” The technical Debt treats Cruft as Debt, whose interest payments require extra efforts while doing those changes.

Reasons that lead to Technical Debt:

● Low clarity on requirements: Requirements are still being defined during development even before any design has been made.
● Business/Client Pressure: When there is pressure from business/client, developers often take a shorter and easier but not long-term reliable path to get the task done. This leads to poor code and hence leads to technical Debt.
● Tightly coupled functions that are not modular enough create high resistance to any new changes, thus require extra time and effort.
● No Documentation: When code is created without any documentation support, creating that documentation is also a debt.
● Lack of collaboration or when junior developers are not properly mentored.
● Lack of knowledge: when the developer is not trained enough to write clean code

Types of Technical Debt
● Intentional: When the developer knows about the consequences of that Cruft
● Unintentional: When the developer does not know about the Cruft

Identifying Technical Debts

Just like financial Debt, Tech debt can either hurt your organization or benefit it. To make intelligent use of this, engineers and Team leaders need to monitor and learn to manage technical Debt properly. This is a difficult undertaking for organizations, particularly if the advantages and disadvantages of technology debt are not evident.

Thus identifying the technical debts and managing them becomes pivotal. Customer Feedback plays an important role, and below are some other ways to identify technical debt.

● High complexity when technologies are mutually overlapping.
● Non-functional requirement problems if the code breaches NFR restrictions.
● Coding style issues can be solved and adhered to by providing a guide to the coding style.
● Product bugs that crash the whole system.

Technical Debt can be measured and thus can be managed metrics like Technical Debt Ratio, Bugs counts, Cyclomatic Complexity, Maintainability Index, Code Coverage, MTTR, No Vulnerabilities found per iteration.

Cost of Technical Debt
Technical debt costs us money in various ways: loss of business, customer churn, staff churn, lawsuits, and more. There are, however, some factors more critical than others: engineering time, ethics, and lost revenue, software delays.

Did you know, according to a study, “ On average, developers spend 41.1 hours at work each week, 13.4 hours of which they spend on technical debt. Maintenance of legacy systems and technical debt is the number one cause for productivity loss.” Just imagine the impact on a 100 member team. Thus, Technical Debt needs to be dealt with care and attention.

Agile Iterative Approach is the Answer
With Agile Iterative Approach, Projects and Businesses can adopt continuous experimentation and innovation with ever-evolving scope to improve products and services.

In Agile, practitioners know that “done” is a relative term. Basically, in traditional teams, done means the software/code can be given for QA. The problem with this approach is by the time the QA Team begins their work, multiple layers of defects have crept in. Whereas, in Agile environments, there are iterations of work, which are frequently delivered to the user, improving bugs and issues that develop in each release. There is no “done.” Agile relies on minimizing the scope of a release to guarantee high-quality work rather than promoting many release functions. This way, Debt is not forgotten for bigger and better projects and phases, thus avoiding long-term interest.

To alleviate technical Debt, you may ensure your IT Team always works on technical Debt utilizing agile methodologies such as test automation and continuous integration (CI). Every week in a sprint, Agile teams can also clean up data or obsolete assumptions. Many feel that technical Debt can be completely avoided by implementing these theories in the long term.

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