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Arnon Rotem-Gal-Oz is the director of technology research for Amdocs. Arnon has more than 20 years of experience developing, managing and architecting large distributed systems using varied platforms and technologies. Arnon is the author of SOA Patterns from Manning publications. Arnon is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 68 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Make Technical Debt Explicit

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5894915612_8dd16c7d26_n This is a rehash of a topic I posted about back in 2008 but it is just as relevant today. 

When you work towards a release or some other looming milestone. There’s that  urge to leave stuff behind, cut some corners – you know, just a wee bit, no harm done – so we can ship the damn thing already. Mostly you’d fight that urge, sometimes you’d want to make a conscience choice to make a shortcut because, well sometimes delivery is more important

Well, a little drop in quality in a single piece of code will not do much harm… for a while. There are, however, two problems with going this way. One is that it is a slippery slope, i.e. it is probably not just one piece of code. The second problem is that if low quality code is left alone to fester and then you add additional layers on top of it it is harder to change the original code as more code need to be refactored. The term the industry came up for this low quality code you leave behind is  “Technical Debt” . This is a good metaphor since as I mentioned before it gets worse with time.

Technical debt is going to be part of our code bases whether we like it or not – what we want to make sure is that we manage it. The best way to manage it is to make it explicit – make technical debt part of your product backlog – every time you get the urge to add a //TODO comment add that into the backlog.

Having the technical debt on the backlog has several benefits such as

  • It will not be forgotten – it will be documented…
  • It will not be hidden – The true state of the product will be in the open for management/product owner to see. As a manager I want to know the true state of the product. If I know what I can and can’t have I can get ready for that. If I think everything is rosy and then the system blows up in my face, that’s not so good..
  • It will be managed – The importance/relevance of the “debt” will be reevaluated every time the product backlog get prioritized.

Technical debt will occur in your project, whether it is agile, “water-falled” , incremental or what not. Don’t ignore it

Published at DZone with permission of Arnon Rotem-gal-oz, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Horse Badorties replied on Wed, 2012/11/14 - 10:33pm

The secret to managing technical debt is to throw away the code that owes the debt. Poof! Technical debt Jubilee!

replied on Tue, 2013/03/26 - 2:20pm

Technical debt is like financial debt. It can be really useful to finance new features in the short term, but the negative aspects of debt will catch up with you in the long term. Use with discretion. 

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