DevOps and Technical Debt: A Guide for Businesses by@hiren-dhaduk

DevOps and Technical Debt: A Guide for Businesses

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Hiren Dhaduk

A versatile leader with experience in assisting successful companies extend their tech capabilities.

Technical debt is inevitable that every organization has to pay someday with time, resources, and money, mainly for choosing speed over quality. Other tech debt sources are legacy architecture, outdated technology, un-updated servers, substandard tools used for development, etc. Enterprises spend 41% of their IT budget on tech debt, while small businesses spend 27%.

IT teams nowadays are increasingly expected to meet critical speed-to-market requirements. As a result, they sometimes have to forgo development work like writing clean code or concise documentation or building clean data sources.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that DevOps might produce its characteristic forms of tech debt. However, DevOps itself works as a solution to resolve the tech debt. We’ll see ‘how’ later on; first, let’s start with some basic understanding.

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is the increased operational costs/risks over time due to the technical decisions organizations have made to achieve immediacy, simplicity, or meet budget constraints.

In other words, there are consequences when an enterprise decides to build software by selecting the shortcut, taking a faster and simpler way for on-time delivery instead of a detailed and excellent one. So, yes, short-term benefits are certainly there, but at the expense of long-term value.

How to measure technical debt?

Measurements, in general, allow you to understand where to focus and what to fix. However, measuring technical debt could be challenging and unique to each organization based on managing risks and priorities. And when left unchecked, tech debt will undoubtedly grow.

Technical Debt Ratio (TDR) is the ratio of remediation cost to development cost. Here, remediation cost is the cost to fix a software system, whereas development cost is the cost of developing it. Therefore, you should aim to lower TDR scores, preferably less than or equal to 5%, as high TDR scores reflect poor quality software.

4 ways DevOps address technical debt

As we mentioned earlier, a DevOps team incurs tech debt due to various factors. For example, developers often postpone or terminate software development activities to accomplish other activities. Upon resuming, the postponed task might lose its steam.

So, let’s see how organizations should entwine some essential practices into various phases of the DevOps lifecycle to address the technical debt challenges.

  1. Encourage and reward DevOps teams

As DevOps teams are responsible for managing the entire lifecycle of software development, they have to face tech debt challenges every day. According to a recent survey, over 60% of engineers believe tech debt causes outages, introduces bugs, and slows down development. And so, motivating them is the most sensible solution to solving technical debt.

First, these teams should assess and track the level of technical debt. Accordingly, the managers can carve out sprints to root out the debt-induced cruft. DevOps teams must also be motivated to avoid accumulating more debt in new software.

  1. Automate DevOps practices

DevOps without automation is undoubtedly tedious and would not justify the implementation in the first place. However, by automating routine, time-intensive, or error-prone tasks, you can use that saved time in repaying technical debt.

Bugs can appear in the code when development teams implement new features. Automated code analysis and testing can help find these bugs earlier in the process, so the shipped product is bug-free. Furthermore, when you embody automation in the CI/CD process with automated builds and testing, you can identify conflicts between new code and the production branch earlier. Besides, automation enforces quality standards, which further reduces tech debt.

  1. Use containers

Containers are lightweight, portable, and platform-independent entities, simplifying application development and deployment and speeding up the whole development life cycle. Besides, orchestration tools like Kubernetes automate the container lifecycle in production, allowing DevOps teams to focus on other tasks, such as re-designing applications, reducing technical debt, etc.

Containers are a great fit for microservices. What’s more, the use of small and independent services with a clear bounded context makes it easy for DevOps teams to identify and decrease technical debt.

  1. Build an API-centric model

Often, technical debt results from different teams accessing data and services differently, catching other teams off guard. When you encourage your DevOps team to build API-centric applications with well-structured, versioned interfaces, the products in the process will have clear roadmaps.

API-centric models enable the DevOps teams to change the existing implementation without affecting the overall structure. Some organizations also pursue multiple versions of APIs to introduce significant changes without negatively impacting existing clients of the API.

Conclusion

A complex technical debt hampers any company’s ability to compete and innovate. However, there’s no escaping from tech debt as every enterprise at some point would focus more on meeting the market demands or project delivery deadlines over the quality or the efficiency. Therefore, no DevOps team should consider itself free of technical debt. But, despite all this, the fundamental dynamism of DevOps eventually helps reduce technical debt, provided you follow the ways explained in this article above.


Technical debt is inevitable that every organization has to pay someday with time, resources, and money, mainly for choosing speed over quality. Other tech debt sources are legacy architecture, outdated technology, un-updated servers, substandard tools used for development, etc. Enterprises spend 41% of their IT budget on tech debt, while small businesses spend 27%.

IT teams nowadays are increasingly expected to meet critical speed-to-market requirements. As a result, they sometimes have to forgo development work like writing clean code or concise documentation or building clean data sources.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that DevOps might produce its characteristic forms of tech debt. However, DevOps itself works as a solution to resolve the tech debt. We’ll see ‘how’ later on; first, let’s start with some basic understanding.

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is the increased operational costs/risks over time due to the technical decisions organizations have made to achieve immediacy, simplicity, or meet budget constraints.

In other words, there are consequences when an enterprise decides to build software by selecting the shortcut, taking a faster and simpler way for on-time delivery instead of a detailed and excellent one. So, yes, short-term benefits are certainly there, but at the expense of long-term value.

How to measure technical debt?

Measurements, in general, allow you to understand where to focus and what to fix. However, measuring technical debt could be challenging and unique to each organization based on managing risks and priorities. And when left unchecked, tech debt will undoubtedly grow.

Technical Debt Ratio (TDR) is the ratio of remediation cost to development cost. Here, remediation cost is the cost to fix a software system, whereas development cost is the cost of developing it. Therefore, you should aim to lower TDR scores, preferably less than or equal to 5%, as high TDR scores reflect poor quality software.

4 ways DevOps address technical debt

As we mentioned earlier, a DevOps team incurs tech debt due to various factors. For example, developers often postpone or terminate software development activities to accomplish other activities. Upon resuming, the postponed task might lose its steam.

So, let’s see how organizations should entwine some essential practices into various phases of the DevOps lifecycle to address the technical debt challenges.

  1. Encourage and reward DevOps teams

As DevOps teams are responsible for managing the entire lifecycle of software development, they have to face tech debt challenges every day. According to a recent survey, over 60% of engineers believe tech debt causes outages, introduces bugs, and slows down development. And so, motivating them is the most sensible solution to solving technical debt.

First, these teams should assess and track the level of technical debt. Accordingly, the managers can carve out sprints to root out the debt-induced cruft. DevOps teams must also be motivated to avoid accumulating more debt in new software.

  1. Automate DevOps practices

DevOps without automation is undoubtedly tedious and would not justify the implementation in the first place. However, by automating routine, time-intensive, or error-prone tasks, you can use that saved time in repaying technical debt.

Bugs can appear in the code when development teams implement new features. Automated code analysis and testing can help find these bugs earlier in the process, so the shipped product is bug-free. Furthermore, when you embody automation in the CI/CD process with automated builds and testing, you can identify conflicts between new code and the production branch earlier. Besides, automation enforces quality standards, which further reduces tech debt.

  1. Use containers

Containers are lightweight, portable, and platform-independent entities, simplifying application development and deployment and speeding up the whole development life cycle. Besides, orchestration tools like Kubernetes automate the container lifecycle in production, allowing DevOps teams to focus on other tasks, such as re-designing applications, reducing technical debt, etc.

Containers are a great fit for microservices. What’s more, the use of small and independent services with a clear bounded context makes it easy for DevOps teams to identify and decrease technical debt.

  1. Build an API-centric model

Often, technical debt results from different teams accessing data and services differently, catching other teams off guard. When you encourage your DevOps team to build API-centric applications with well-structured, versioned interfaces, the products in the process will have clear roadmaps.

API-centric models enable the DevOps teams to change the existing implementation without affecting the overall structure. Some organizations also pursue multiple versions of APIs to introduce significant changes without negatively impacting existing clients of the API.

Conclusion

A complex technical debt hampers any company’s ability to compete and innovate. However, there’s no escaping from tech debt as every enterprise at some point would focus more on meeting the market demands or project delivery deadlines over the quality or the efficiency. Therefore, no DevOps team should consider itself free of technical debt. But, despite all this, the fundamental dynamism of DevOps eventually helps reduce technical debt, provided you follow the ways explained in this article above.

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