How to Measure Technical Debt
At the beginning of your project, your tech team may take shortcuts to speed up the development process or overcome some project constraints, often at the cost of awkward, hard-to-maintain code, postponing its refactoring for better times. That’s how many businesses set off the time bomb of technical debt: The costs of software maintenance start to go up, reaching their peak during product deployment and support. At this point, tech leaders need to find time and resources to measure and manage their technical debt.
In this post, we’ll address the following issues:
- How to measure technical debt and why it is important;
- What are the processes and tools to measure technical debt;
- Ways to deal with your technical debt.
Measuring technical debt: Why is it important?
Although the result of managing technical debt is not visible to users, it boosts the quality of your product, especially when it comes to its reliability, security, and performance. Besides that, here are other reasons to consider measuring your technical debt:
Technical debt takes a toll on performance. According to Gartner, the cost of managing technical debt in large software organizations is estimated to be, on average, 25% of the whole development time. If your team ignores technical debt for a long time, your engineers will spend more and more time repaying in the future, losing time for implementing innovative solutions to improve your product.
Technical debt tends to pile up. If you keep postponing measuring and monitoring your technical debt, it will keep snowballing and creeping into your project life, creating chaos. As a result of this, you risk losing momentum when it comes to achieving your goals.
Technical debt impedes the implementation of new business models. A significant technical debt limits your capabilities to adopt new technologies. For instance, if you want to switch from a licensing revenue model to a more popular subscription-based one, you may need to minimize your technical debt to recalibrate your software according to your new approach.
So, these are just a few reasons you may want to learn how to measure technical debt. Now, let’s address the question of how technical debt is measured.
How is technical debt measured: Key markers
The problem with measuring technical debt is that there are no sets of metrics to understand how grave your situation is. So, how to measure technical debt? The best way to do so is to consider its effect on the following aspects:
The number of items in your backlog. Take a look at your backlog size and estimate how much time your tech team needs to resolve all tasks. Oftentimes, your team probably cannot get around to your low-priority features and unresolved issues. The number of such items can give you a hint of where you stand in terms of your technical debt.
High costs. If you notice that the costs of software maintenance go up, this may be a clear sign of technical debt. Also, high expenses on staff and infrastructure can be a clear sign of growing technical debt.
Cycle time. This is the amount of time your team spends to complete one task. The less time it takes from the developer’s first commit to code deployment, the better your situation is when it comes to technical debt, whereas a long cycle time means otherwise.
Stability. You have a significant technical debt when your tech team sees implementing workarounds as a faster way to resolve the problem as compared to getting rid of it once and for good. With workarounds, unnecessary system changes keep piling up, impeding the stability of the software. If that’s your case, you need to look for ways to deal with technical debt.
Increased time-to-value. How much time does it take for your customers to realize the value of your product? If you have technical debt, you risk leaving your clients waiting until your service or product works properly to generate the utmost value for them.
How else can you measure tech debt? Take a look at your team’s priorities at the moment, as those may be the outcomes of technical debt:
- Coping with security risks. Technical debt may cause security loopholes, so your team may have to spend a lot of time focusing on managing security risks.
- Dealing with downtime. The discontinuity can be an indicator of technical debt, so take notice if such a problem exists in your company. The issue of downtimes can be caused by a series of workarounds your team had to implement.
- Quality Assurance debt. Reduced test coverage, weak alignment between code requirements to particular tests, and improperly written test cases – all of these steps may lead to technical debt.
What are the processes and tools to measure technical debt?
Now that you have an idea of the potential indicators of technical debt, time to take a look at the processes and tools you can use to measure your technical debt. Here are some of the tools that will potentially suit your project:
It’s a codebase issue-tracking tool that lets companies document technology debt thanks to actionable points that you can synchronize with Jira, GitHub, Asana, Azure DevOps, and more. The tool helps you monitor, plan and prioritize code refactoring while integrating them as part of your sprints.
It’s an open-source code quality management system. The focus of this tool is down to measuring and improving the health of your codebase. It relies on in-depth analytics to highlight bugs and potentially confusing code, providing your team with metrics you can track during SDLC.
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A SaaS solution that offers code analysis features to monitor over 60 technical debt metrics and makes the code more reliable, maintainable, and portable.
Jira is a valuable tool for your team to set up and monitor your backlog within your debt management process. While it doesn’t have code analysis capabilities, it’s a must-have for managing your tasks aimed at reducing your technical debt.
This platform allows your team to evaluate your code quality through a variety of metrics and visualize them in the form of dashboards. The tool comes with quality management features, but it lacks an in-depth analysis of your code and issue tracking other tools provide.
This is a web-based debt management tool that provides action plans and debt management priorities for your pre-set technical debt indicators.
The platform helps tech leaders optimize workflows and assign tasks, which can help you set up a proper technical debt management process. Velocity can be easily integrated with your Jira and DevOps tools. It also comes with code analysis and issues reporting features.
Measuring technical debt: The process
After reviewing the tools, let’s take a look at the processes you may implement to approach your technical debt.
Admit your tech debt. Acknowledgment of your technical debt is a good stepping stone to resolving it. Then, you need to create an action plan to start paying it off.
Define a set of tasks. There is no universal approach to address the problem of technical debt. As your first step, you may want to create a list of tasks and assign hours dedicated to their resolution. Additionally, it may be a good idea to implement a formal decision-making process for managing tasks related to handling technical debt. This approach will empower tech units and business stakeholders to work together and take into account each other’s interests.
Use Agile methodology. Managing tech debt is much more effective if your team addresses it in every sprint. The Agile software development approach ensures your team delivers quality results within small chunks of work. Thanks to Agile, your debt management activities will be a part of your product backlog, which facilitates the process of monitoring and measuring technical debt.
Automate your Quality Assurance. Your team should make use of testing tools to spot bugs and errors, review the code and validate its quality. With that in mind, automated testing should become a part of your software development team’s routine. This approach is opposed to manual testing, which can be the root of the technical debt. Manual testing tends to be slow and ineffective as compared to automated Quality Assurance.
Dive into refactoring. Restructuring messy code is essential to boost its maintainability and make it error-free and understandable. In fact, refactoring should be a part of your strategy of paying off technical debt, as it helps transform your legacy code, which is in many cases the root of many problems. By refactoring, you can gradually minimize the impact of your technical debt and get a cleaner code, which in turn facilitates your further technical debt management steps.
How can nCube help you with your technical debt?
In our experience as a company that builds software development teams for companies worldwide, businesses tend to deal with their technical debt in two ways:
Rewriting the codebase from the ground up. Although this is a drastic step, many tech leaders resort to it as it allows them to improve the flexibility of their software. Coping with this challenge requires a team of skilled technologists. We at nCube can help you source the needed talent to build a new product from the ground up, using modern technologies.
Refactoring the legacy code gradually. Some tech leaders err on the side of compromising and are ready to put refactoring to their backlog and handle code improvement step by step. If that is your case, nCube can help you strike the perfect balance between coping with your technical debt and rolling out new features by providing a relevant team of developers with various quality skills to handle these tasks.
No matter which way you choose, the engineers we provide will dive into your project and work together with your in-house team on a common goal of handling and measuring your technical debt under your management. Let’s connect!