Engineering

What Is Technical Debt, Why Should You Care, and How Can You Manage It?

Technical debt's the quality sacrifice you make for faster software development speed. Here's how Synapse helps you manage it prudently.

Business leaders tend to want to get to the finish line as quickly as possible with software development projects. This isn’t always a bad thing. The sooner end users can benefit from products, the better. But this is true only if the cost of moving quickly is carefully considered.

When you're talking about IT, that cost is known as technical debt: the sacrifices you make in quality for the sake of speed. Author and software developer Martin Fowler described the concept well when he broke it down into quadrants: technical debt can be prudent, reckless, inadvertent, or deliberate.

Just like financial debt, not all technical debt is bad. The technical debt you do take on should be prudent and deliberate. In other words, business leaders should recognize that they will be moving forward with a design that might not be sustainable in the long term but will yield short-term benefits that are worth the concession. Then, business leaders must plan for how to pay off that technical debt as soon as possible.

The problem is that most business leaders aren’t well-versed in the topic of technical debt—and are much less able to make deliberate, calculated decisions about how much they take on and why. At Synapse Studios, we aim to change this by making technical debt consideration a central aspect of every software development plan from the start.

Technical Debt in Practice

To understand what technical debt looks like in the real world, let’s walk through a common example. Consider the scenario of a company with an existing web platform. The company wants to release a companion mobile app by the end of Q2. Armed with their preferred set of features, leadership brings the mobile app request to the development team. After looking over the features, the team feels confident that a Q2 launch is achievable.

Then, leadership decides to slip in something new: “Well, we added this feature to our web platform,” someone will say. “That means our users will expect it in the mobile platform, too. So just put it into the mix, but don’t delay the project, OK?”

This isn’t okay without careful consideration of the costs and benefits of this decision. Unless the timeline is shifted or other features are removed, the development team will be forced to cut corners in order to meet the Q2 schedule. That’s where the technical debt comes into play. Cutting corners to add more features creates future issues. This means that instead of being able to respond to opportunities down the road, the company will end up solving problems caused by accrued, compounded, and expensive technical debt.

Managing Technical Debt With the Bigger Picture in Mind

Synapse takes a closer look at technical debt with every software decision. We help our clients prevent or mitigate problems that come along with imprudent debt by making sure that every decision is worth the cost and that the cost will be paid off quickly and efficiently before it accrues more expenses over time.

1. We design with technical debt in mind.

The concept of technical debt is always on our minds. When clients partner with us, they get an engineering management team, engineers, and a product team who can analyze the technical debt of any software development decision you bring to the table.

We also work with a high-quality development and deployment pipeline fueled by automation to help you pay down technical debt and launch new features faster and cheaper. Our consistent, high-quality system tackles bugs right away instead of kicking the can down the road.

2. We teach your team to make better decisions.

Taking on technical debt is a tradeoff, one that takes careful consideration to get right. Our team believes that educating our clients is the best way to help them, and we want them to be able to make sound decisions on their own whenever they’re faced with the question of speed vs. quality.

When you work with Synapse as your IT advisors, you will hear from us regularly regarding weighing your options. We won’t always try to talk you out of taking on debt: Under some circumstances, adding a new feature and launching it quickly will be worth addressing problems down the line. We just teach you to make prudent decisions based on pragmatic planning to ensure the debt doesn’t grow out of control.

3. We offer continuous delivery.

In a nutshell, continuous delivery is the method we use to deploy software releases at regular, brief intervals. This agile process helps us keep projects moving and growing while allowing us to make changes when issues arise.

The sooner we can identify gaps, the faster we can close them. As a result, you wind up accruing far less technical debt than you would if you waited until a final release to collect and investigate user feedback. Plus, you can track, measure, and document your progress from beginning to end with ease.

Small decisions, like shortening deadlines or adding small features, can add up fast when it comes to technical debt. And the more you add, the more complex and challenging the code becomes to manage over time. At Synapse, we approach software development and maintenance with a focus on reducing technical debt, creating more elegant, streamlined solutions, and helping our clients learn technical debt best practices along the way.

Aaron Bruce
Aaron Bruce
Director of Engineering
Aaron is the Director of Engineering at Synapse Studios. With over a decade of industry experience is industries including healthcare, finance, tourism and more. He uses that experience to empower the engineering team at Synapse to drive successes.

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