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What is technical debt? How to measure and reduce it?

Jean-François Arnaud
Jean-François ArnaudCEO of Blacksmith

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is a concept that refers to the accumulation of work not done or poorly done in an IT project.

It can be caused by many factors, such as lack of time, lack of budget or resources, or poor planning.

Technical debt can have serious consequences on the quality and maintenance of an IT project. Indeed, by leaving aside certain works or by carrying them out in an inadequate manner, we can create bugs, security vulnerabilities or performance problems. These issues can be costly to fix and can cause additional delays and costs.

Like it or not, the technical debt is present and inseparable from any project. It is therefore important to know how to measure it throughout the project and to learn how to manage it.

What is technical debt?

How can you measure the technical debt of your IT project?

We saw above what technical debt is, now let's see how we can measure and reduce it.

As Peter Drucker (aka the "management pope") said: "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.".

Before thinking about reducing the technical debt of a project, it is necessary to be able to assess its magnitude in order to make the right decisions in order to reduce it effectively.

While there are several methods for measuring technical debt in an IT project, here are the main ones:

  • Code analysis: it is possible to measure the technical debt by analyzing the source code of the project. One can use code analysis tools to detect parts of code that are outdated, poorly documented, poorly readable, or error-prone. These parts of code often represent significant technical debt.

  • Automated testing: Implementing automated testing can help measure technical debt by detecting errors and bugs in code. The more automated tests there are and the more parts of the code they cover (code coverage), the more technical debt will be easily identifiable.

  • Code quality monitoring: it is possible to monitor the quality of the code using indicators such as the code coverage rate, the number of commits, the number of code revisions or the number of bugs detected. These indicators can help measure the status of technical debt in the project.

  • Risk assessment: Technical debt can be measured by assessing the risks associated with the project. For example, if the project has many outdated or poorly documented pieces of code, this can pose a significant risk to the quality and maintenance of the project.

Some tools exist to automate these measurements, Sonarqube, for example, makes it possible to detect, classify and resolve faults in the source code.

The software notably makes it possible to identify code duplications, to measure the level of documentation and to know the test coverage deployed.

How can you measure the technical debt of your IT project?

How can you reduce the technical debt of your digital project?

Here are some tips to reduce the technical debt of your digital project:

  • Establish effective project management: Good project management allows tasks and resources to be planned appropriately, which can help reduce technical debt.

  • Allocate enough time and resources to tasks: By allocating enough time and resources to the tasks to be accomplished, we can avoid leaving work in abeyance or carrying it out inadequately.

  • Write quality code: By making sure to write quality code, you can reduce the risk of bugs and performance problems, and therefore technical debt.

  • Set up automated tests: Setting up automated tests can help detect errors and bugs present in the code, and therefore reduce technical debt.

  • Refactoring code: Refactoring code involves rearranging or rewriting it in a way that makes it more readable, maintainable, and performs well. This can help reduce technical debt.

  • Track technical debt status: By regularly tracking technical debt status, one can identify parts of the code that need attention and take action to fix them.

It is important to note that technical debt reduction often requires time and resources. It is therefore important to plan these efforts adequately and to prioritize them according to the risks and challenges of the project.

To summarize this article:

  • technical debt is a common phenomenon in IT projects, which can have serious consequences on the quality and maintenance of a project

  • It is important to have effective project management processes in place and regularly monitor the status of technical debt in order to prevent and reduce it

  • You can reduce the technical debt of your web project by allocating time and resources to code refactoring tasks, code review (for example with reviews of "pull requests") or by increasing the share of code covered by automated testing.

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