Every bug and payoff task in a software development project carries an opportunity cost. Know how you can tackle tech debt and mitigate associated risks.
Author – Abhi Bisen
Abhi works as Vice President for Digital Testing service in GlobalStep UK office and manages testing projects on different business domains.
What is Technical Debt?
Technical debt is the opportunity cost for typically choosing speed of delivery over the quality of code. While Tech Debt is much wider in its scope and there are many categories of debt that add up to the total “Tech debt” – this article only focusses on defect debt. Defect debt is essentially a manifestation of upstream debts, but if we don’t resolve it, then defect debt increases. Usually, we fix high-priority defects because of visible impacts, and then the low-priority defects accumulate, resulting in a backlog.
Every business must choose one variable out of quality, price, and timeline through its development journey. When the decision to cut development time short is taken to get to the market sooner, low-priority bugs take a backseat. Most companies struggle to manage low-priority bug backlog in every project, whether running on a waterfall, agile, or DevOps way of working. As and when you postpone such low-priority bug backlogs during digital product development you incur technical debt.
The success of a digital product is followed by rapid changes to support user expectations and demands, stay relevant and ahead of the competition, and remain a fit for the market with innovations and several other aspects. Innovation and development are further followed by technical debt, and thus software teams enter this vicious circle impacting the success of digital product lifecycle.
To Pay or Not to Pay?
To keep up with the product’s success and perform better and faster, the tech debt associated with the digital product development lifecycle ends up spiralling out of control. It implies that technical debt is inevitable, but keeping it optimized for the digital product’s success is the payoff balance you need to strike.
First, bug prioritization can be gruelling, and it’s easier said than done. It is also true that not one size fits all. Hence, we suggest you assess, evaluate, and adopt the customized way.
During a typical “day in our life,” we have many conversations about low-priority defects, but one question or discussion that frequently arises is – “If we are not going to work on low-priority bugs and presumably not going to fix them in the future, should we close them and remove them from the backlog?”
Our recommendation is – “NO” – never close low-priority bugs and remove them from the backlog:
- Always keep them in backlog as a low priority
- Change your reporting so they don’t reflect in all reports if necessary
- Put them all together in one epic
The reasons why they shouldn’t be removed from the backlog are:
- The current low-priority case can be a high-priority in a few months.
- Prioritization decisions can be wrong. Not every person defining the priority will be an expert in the whole functionality of the application.
Dealing with vast backlogs of low-priority bugs hinders your development lifecycle. Optimize your digital product development by identifying tech debt across the due course of the project portfolio to keep schedules from getting derailed.
How to manage Technical Debt?
A large backlog isn’t a good sign for a product, and the team should always find creative ways to stop the growing backlog, which significantly increases the program’s Technical Debt.
To keep the backlog in check, we suggest doing the following:
- Have a Technical Debt Day every two weeks – Observe, Identify, and Organize
- Dedicate a sprint every quarter to clean the backlog – Always keep backlogs small & manageable
- Do not schedule to fix many issues together – You will end up inviting more issues
Other things to do:
- Never dispirit your team from raising low-priority defects – The low-priority issue for the tester can be a high priority for other people and probably for the end-user
- Avoid large backlogs – Large backlogs sometimes take away focus from the principal areas and never allow us to have a quality product live.
- Group backlog in low-effort and high-effort categories – First, fix the low efforts ones. It will allow you to ship better quality products, reduce the backlog and give the necessary attention to even low-priority issues.
- Use low-priority bugs for onboarding and training new developers – It might help new developers to get a good knowledge of the system with lesser risk
Measuring and managing technical debt associated with digital product development must be your organization’s formal project plan for a detailed framework. It would help stakeholders, project managers, and developers understand and visualize the impact of their overall tech debt spanning the project portfolio and define the future state of software delivery.
Technical debt doesn’t necessarily have to be undesirable and paying it off is highly unusual. It is sometimes essential for business growth and may serve as a positive indicator. As technical debt gets more expensive with time, it doesn’t have to be an ongoing burden. Decision makers need to know about their organization’s tech debt details and reinvent their tech debt management to optimize it, thus minimizing the associated risks.
Persistently procrastinating on low-priority bugs is a precarious way of software development. Low-priority bugs should be managed and organized correctly, encouraging the test team to raise such defects, and helping digital product developers manage any potential issues in the future. That means identifying where and why the compromises may be necessary for establishing a detailed timeline for correcting those issues and paying down your technical debt.
The GlobalStep Advantage
GlobalStep’s proprietary delivery framework can help you effectively track technical debt and manage those diligently. At GlobalStep, we work with our customers to manage their digital strategy regarding tech debt across their digital development journey. It enables product owners to make the right decisions. Learn more about how GlobalStep can help you manage your testing needs better and clear your Technical Debt while increasing your product’s competitive advantage.