Understanding the Root Causes

Why Technical Debt Happens?


In our last blog post, we explored the concept of technical debt, a metaphor for the additional work that arises from choosing quick, short-term solutions (i.e. quick fixes) over more comprehensive, long-term ones. In this blog post, we’ll dig into why technical debt happens, shedding light on the common causes and how they impact businesses.

The Collision of Deadlines and Best Practices

Technical debt often accrues when business goals and tight deadlines clash with best software design and implementation practices. In the fast-paced tech world, “done is better than perfect” is a common mantra. Waiting for every line of code to be perfect before deployment can mean missing critical market opportunities. This pressure to deliver quickly leads to compromises that accumulate as technical debt.

Common Causes of Technical Debt

  1. Deadlines

    Deadlines can be the biggest driver of technical debt. When the pressure to deliver is high, teams may cut corners to meet those deadlines. This could mean writing less-than-perfect code, skipping thorough documentation, or reducing the time spent on planning and testing. These shortcuts help meet immediate business needs but leave behind issues that need fixing later.

  2. Shift of Business Priority & Limited Resources

    Business priorities can shift rapidly, often leading to technical debt. Limited resources force teams to make tough decisions, opting for quick fixes to meet pressing business demands. This is particularly common in startups and SMEs, where the focus is on rapid delivery and market entry.

  3. Overwhelmed Cognitive Load

    Modern software development is complex, involving multiple coding languages, frameworks, and legacy systems. Developers are often overwhelmed by this cognitive load, especially when dealing with poorly documented systems left by predecessors. Without a clear, consistent approach, this complexity can worsen the technical debt situation.

  4. Lack of Experience

    Inexperienced developers might unintentionally introduce technical debt by not following best practices or by being unaware of better solutions. This is common in fast-growing teams or companies that rapidly scale their development workforce.

  5. Changing Technologies

    The tech landscape evolves rapidly. What was a best practice a few years ago might be outdated today. As new technologies emerge, older systems can accumulate debt simply because they’re not built with the latest advancements in mind.

  6. Inadequate Planning and Documentation

    Skipping proper planning and documentation to speed up the development process can lead to significant technical debt. Without clear guidelines and documentation, future developers might struggle to understand the codebase, leading to more errors and quick fixes.

Technical Debt Vicious Cycle
Technical Debt Vicious Cycle

Is Technical Debt Bad?

Just like financial debt, technical debt is not good nor bad. It can be a strategic trade-off for accelerated development and early market entry. However, it must be acknowledged and managed wisely to avoid hindering long-term growth and sustainability.

The Consequences of Technical Debt

While technical debt can be beneficial in the short term, it can spiral out of control if not managed properly. Here are some of the consequences:

  1. Subpar Performance and Customer Satisfaction

    Technical debt can lead to performance issues such as bugs, system malfunctions, and overall degradation of product and service quality, affecting customer satisfaction.

  2. Diminished Productivity

    As technical debt grows, developers spend more time fixing old issues instead of developing new features. This can significantly reduce overall productivity.

  3. Longer Development Cycles and Higher Maintenance Costs

    Managing technical debt requires time and resources. Severe, long-accumulated debt may even necessitate external help, driving up operational costs.

  4. Increased Risk

    Unresolved technical debt increases the risk of security breaches and compliance violations. This is especially critical in sensitive industries, where vulnerabilities can lead to financial losses and regulatory penalties.

  5. Low Team Morale and Restained Innovation

    Constantly dealing with technical debt can frustrate developers, leading to low morale and high turnover rates. Teams bogged down by debt struggle to innovate, slowing down overall progress.

It’s All About Trade-Off

Technical debt is a common challenge in software development, driven by the need to balance speed and quality. Understanding its causes helps in managing it effectively. In our next blog post, we’ll explore strategies to manage and “pay off” technical debt, ensuring sustainable growth and innovation.