3 Types of Technical Debt and How to Manage Them


Technical debt is an everyday concept in software development. But, how your team addresses and manages each type of tech debt determines how it will affect the outcome of your software product. While some technical debt is intentional, other types are entirely avoidable. Is your development team taking the necessary steps to identify, monitor, and manage your technical debt?

What is Technical Debt?

Technical Debt can be defined as deficiencies in the code, technical documentation, development environments, 3rd-party tools and development practices, which makes the code hard for the Team to change. 

Why Does Technical Debt Matter in Software Development?

The deficiencies listed can severely impact your product’s reliability, speed to market, security, and more. Not all technical debt is directly related to coding issues either. For example, issues can stem from your development environment or third-party software integrated into your product. 

In general, your development team will always incur some technical debt. Do not continuously deprioritize it as you move along the product roadmap or you will be left with a broken, completely avoidable, bad product. Do monitor and proactively address any technical debt your team may incur during the development process.

Let’s take a look at how you can manage these common types of technical debt. 

1 | Intentional Technical Debt

Deficiencies doesn’t always mean mistakes. Sometimes development teams intentionally incur technical debt to get their product to market faster. This is perfectly acceptable as long as the product owner and development team monitor their intentional technical debt closely. 

When you are faced with the choice of incurring intentional technical debt, consider the opportunity cost. Is it worth absorbing the issues now to get the product to market faster? How will it impact the reliability of the product? How will it affect the launch of other features in the future? Will it slow down future development in order to be addressed? Are the benefits worth the risk? 

Sometimes it’s worth the risk. If this is the case for your team, you must take the necessary steps to monitor and manage your intentional technical debt as you continue to develop. Dag Liodden, founder and CTO of ad tech company, spoke to his approach in a recent article. He suggests track this type of tech debt in the backlog when deliberately deferring work that needs to be completed. You must deliberately track your tech debt or its unlikely to be repaid and become a future burden to your team. 

2 | Unavoidable Technical Debt

Sometimes issues are caused by factors out of the control of the development team. For example, third-party system upgrades or a coding language becomes outdated. Systems will evolve over time and can negatively impact your software product. 

The best way to avoid this type of technical debt is to future-proof your original design. Your code and systems should be repeatable and simplified as much as possible to make it easier for you to implement necessary changes without requiring a huge rework of the product. 

3 | Unintentional Technical Debt

This type of technical debt is derived from errors and a lack of deliberate monitoring. One bug or complexity builds on another and another. Next thing you know you are up to your eyes in debt and faced with a severe threat to the success of your product. 

You should try to avoid unintentional technical debt as much as possible. Good scrum teams “will take the time to understand the design of the system, incrementally improve the design and clean up bad code along the way.” While this may sound tedious, it's crucial to take these steps to avoid an expensive burden of technical debt that may cause problems in the future. 

It’s not possible to avoid all technical debt, but how you manage it will create a better overall outcome for your software product. Take the time to understand your roadmap and the types of technical debt you may incur during the development process. Then deliberately monitor and manage tech debt as it appears to avoid any build up overtime.


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