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Technical debt: Hot to assess it and manage it

Nick Dvas, COO, | Jan. 4, 2016
As with any kind of risk, technical debt is beneficial when properly managed.

* Remember diminishing returns. The law of diminishing returns applies to repaying technical debt almost unconditionally. Removing the largest problem might decrease risks dramatically. Every subsequent problem solved will bring less and less utility.

* Plan for contingency. Since technical debt is a risk, having contingency reserves is a good idea. You’ve run up the bills when your business required that, which is great. But when you’re planning the next period, the next development, make sure you’re taking into account an actual amount of risk.

* Divide et impera. There is a time to rend, and a time to sew – not only for your company as a whole, but for your developers as well. A huge temptation exists to let some developers – those, more rapid and less thorough – to make new developments, incurring technical debt, while leaving “workhorses” to clean up and repay it. But it is not a good idea. Even though it might affect short-term productivity, for the sake of motivation and team building, no developer can be excused from debt-repaying duty.

In spite of all the consequences described here, when dealing with technical debt, you should be risk-prone, not risk-averse. Since incurring technical debt still requires a large effort, it is almost impossible to make too much debt in a short period of time. When repaid fast, technical debt does not leave much accumulated interest. Being properly managed, technical debt is safe and enables delivery of valuable product for business growth.


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