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Dealing with Technical Debt

By Steve Jones,

Stop for a minute and think. How much technical debt do you have in your code? Let's make this easy, take a break from this, close your eyes, and take thirty seconds or so and think about just your code. How much would you rewrite or redo if you could?

Now, stop and think for another minute. How do you measure the amount of debt? What's your metric? Leave a note in the discussion after you finish this and let us know.

There's an article from a project manager about technical debt and how his team decided to measure this in their organization. They actually set a series of metrics for things they cared about and assigned an actually dollar, well, pound sterling, value to each. They then totaled these for all projects and came up with a total debt number. They then track this, incurring new debt or paying off older debt over time.

I think that's an interesting idea. I don't know that the debt needs to be money, but I do think money is a little better than some abstract metric like tickets or requests. Money is something many of us are familiar with and we hold debt. Assigning a concrete value does let us measure where we stand in a way that we can better relate.

Just like financial debt, not all technical debt is bad. Sometimes debt lets us get more things done sooner than we might otherwise be able to do. We do need to take shortcuts at time in development to get a prototype working, or deliver a feature or meet some other goal.

It is easy to overdo things, and just like with finances, overextend ourselves. Paying down that debt can prove to be a struggle in both cases, perhaps even crippling our ability to tackle any other projects.

If you think about technical debt now, do you view things differently? Do you have a measurement system? Can you tell if your incurring or paying down debt? It might be valuable to implement something and ensure you don't keep building up more than you can handle. It might even be something to show your manager and get some time to fix a few bugs.

 
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