Managing Technical Debt – What CIOs Should Know?

Managing Technical Debt – What CIOs Should Know?

CIOs that efficiently understand and manage their technical debt are more likely to make informed IT investment decisions than those who do not.

The concept of technical debt holds immense importance to technology executives today. Lack of expertise to manage it efficiently can impede an organization’s ability to grow and innovate. Therefore, the CIOs must pay off the technical debt and devise a definitive plan to mitigate risks. In-depth training, revising current software assets, and developing improved processes can be useful in reducing the long-term brunt of technical debt.

In this blog, we will understand what technical debt means to an IT company and how top technology executives should assess and manage the same.

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt can be defined as the trade-off between the short-term benefit of rapid deployment and long-term benefits. Technical debt is a programming ‘glitch’ that results in future re-development work when a more easy-to-implement code is used to develop software at a faster time to market than “applying the best overall solution.” Let’s explain it further:

Software developers typically have two ways to build a program or integrate new features – one is to do it in a smart and clean style, which might take longer to deploy, but it is easier to make changes in the future. The other way is to develop a software product or feature using a not-so-optimal technique or through messy coding, but which is faster and easier to implement.

This kind of quick-fix technique might lower your software development costs in the short-term or speed-up the implementation process but can result in significant problems if left unattended. This is referred to as “technical debt.” In the long-run, it can result in security vulnerabilities, higher maintenance costs, or application outages.

While the quicker-and-easy technique may work perfectly and render desired results, it can result in an unmanageable code base, which can eventually lead to an inflexible software solution. If not assessed and managed efficiently, high levels of technical debt can significantly affect your IT department’s operational efficiency and performance.

Some of the most widely known technical debts fall under the following components:

  • Design debt
  • Coding debt
  • Architecture debt
  • Obsolescence debt
  • Testing debt
  • Security debt
  • Operations debt
  • Deployment debt

Impact of Technical Debt

As software becomes omnipresent in today’s IT-driven world, the impact of technical debt is exponential. According to a report, poor quality software cost organizations an estimated $2.84 trillion – application failure being one of the primary reasons behind this.

However, not all technical debt hurts an organization, especially when it helps reach a bigger goal. In such scenarios, it could be worth having a debt that helps solve a more complex task of adding new features or future updates. But what seems a minor nuance now may become a major issue if left unaddressed. High levels of technical debt may affect your team’s agility and result in poor-quality coding or testing strain, eventually impacting the organization’s overall productivity.

As per reports, a poor quality software can cost your organization an estimated $2.84 trillion. Click To Tweet

Here’s how it can impact your business if not managed in due time:

  • Poor Coding: Often, software developers skip the conventional guidelines of writing clean and organized codes to quickly reach the deadline. This can result in a messy coding structure with low readability.
  • Impacts Future Productivity: When technical debt reaches a high level, your development team will spend more time paying off the “interests” from earlier projects rather than on new updates or features. Additionally, technical debt may also drain out your team’s productivity. Messy codes will eat-up all your effort and time to decipher and manage. As such, advancements become stagnant.
  • Adverse effects of Technical debt on your business

  • Volatility in Performance: Technical debts related to a software program’s volatile performance may result in managing system crashes and bandwidth or fixing bugs.
  • Testing Strain: When pushed with a faster project deadline, your testing team will possibly speed-up the process, skip the steps, or promise to resolve the annoyances later. This results in a technical debt of going back altogether and conducts the skipped tests from ground-up. This impacts future productivity and can also affect the product quality or the client’s reputation when codes are rushed to release and minimally tested.

When overlooked, technical debt continues to accumulate, and after a point of time, your entire IT department can come to a standstill. Considering the exponential cost involved, many companies understand the significance of addressing technical debt at the earliest, eliminating the risk of technical bankruptcy. Most IT companies are now dedicating, almost 10% of their engineering time to overcome the challenge of technical debt.

4 Effective Ways to Manage Your Technical Debt

Now, let’s understand how CIOs can evaluate and manage technical debt in their companies. Discussed here are four proven ways:

#1: Calculating Technical Debt

As more CIOs focus on reducing their technical debts, they want to measure and categorize it, estimate and quantify the cost, and assess it against the benefits of paying it off. However, the reasons to measure technical debts may vary from reducing business disruptions to stretching limited software maintenance budget available or developing core renewal projects.

With this outlook, the CIOs need to conduct a comprehensive assessment and understanding of technical debt to identify the severest and costliest problems. In the long run, this approach will help prioritize and manage software maintenance work.

According to Scott Buchholz, Director, Systems Integration Practice, Deloitte Consulting LLP, measuring your code quality debt is more quantitative and progressive than the techniques ideally used to calculate your technical debt related with IT architecture, infrastructure, processes, and integration. He further highlighted that measuring technical debt can help achieve “directionally correct” cost estimates of aging infrastructure or incompetent system design.

Typically, there are two approaches to measuring your technical debt: top-down and bottom-up approaches.

The top-down approach enables you to calculate the technical debt related to IT architecture, infrastructure, processes, and integration. It depends significantly on proxies, estimates, and benchmarks. For instance, if the CIO wants to focus on standardizing hardware, he will take a more subjective approach to collect data on the types and numbers of servers installed, their rate of breakage and associated maintenance costs, the number of servers and related labor costs involved with each system administrator, etc.

With this data, a CIO may calculate how the incremental costs related to system hardware diversity can be addressed with standardization.

For the bottom-up approach or code-testing practice, CIOs can leverage a code scanner. It will help identify the security, quality, and bugs in code, while some tools also mention the effort level or severity of remediating the problems identified. After measuring the type and severity of coding anomalies, it is crucial to evaluate the costs associated with paying down the technical debt. This will also include the cost of business disruption and maintaining the current system.

Finally, a technical executive has to quantify the costs related to paying off the debt; depending on the time and labor costs, the process will involve.

We help you asses where your current technical debt stands and how you can move forward without disrupting your business drastically. Click here to know more.

#2: Discuss Technical Debt with Your Developers

Your developers are the best ones to provide valuable insights related to technical debt, which can help you assess the pros and cons of planning and managing it effectively. Therefore, it is vital to “make technical debt part of every conversation with your developers.” This can help you focus on long-term scalability, flexibility, and improvements.

Here are some vital questions you can ask your software engineers to make insightful decisions about when to pay down the existing debt or when to take more debts:

  • What will we achieve by practicing a less-than-optimal software development fix today?
  • How will the shortcut save us?
  • What type of limitations and challenges can the shortcut result in the future?
  • Do we understand the kind of dependency associated with this? Will it impact only a product feature or more in the long run?
  • What are the future implications of taking the debt?
  • How the project timeline conflict with feature updates, release plans, etc.?
  • How long can we put-off the technical debt? Is there any strategic reason behind the same, or we predict an ideal way to fix the problem later?

Getting answers to these can significantly contribute towards making an informed decision and planning likewise.

4 effective ways to manage technical debt

#3: Access to Better Data

The CIOs need to have access to improved data to minimize the technical debt impacting software applications. Today many of the CIOs have leveraged the power of Artificial Intelligence to analyze the codes and automatically identify and prioritize anomalies. By deploying these advanced tools one can combine dynamic and static code analysis, capturing code-aware insights about each exception, and error in any particular environment. Using cutting-edge tools to gain valuable data and in-depth visibility into the quality of software applications can help developers write high-quality codes and resolve issues, reducing technical debt.

#4: Dedicate Time and Resources

You can never manage technical debt unless you dedicate time and capacity to it. Keeping this in mind, paying down technical debts must be a part of your team’s normal workflow and not something you delay until you reach the “hardening” part of the road.

Regarding allocating time and resources in managing technical debt, Marty Cagan, in Engineering Wants to Rewrite, said, “The deal with engineering goes like this. Product management takes 20% of the capacity right off the top and gives this to engineering to spend as they see fit – they might use it to rewrite, re-architect or re-factor problematic parts of the code base, or to swap out database systems, improve system performance – whatever they believe is necessary to avoid ever having to come to the team and say “we need to stop and rewrite.” If you’re in really bad shape today, you might need to make this 30% or even more of the resources.”

Hopefully, the above-discussed insights will help CIOs understand, measure, and manage their technical debts.

Read More : Journey Towards Digital Transformation: A Step by Step Approach


The best strategy to avoid technical debt is not to have it in the first place. Of course, it is not always avoidable but, in those cases, you can keep your engineering teams well informed about the decision and the future roadmap. Radixweb has helped many organizations map their technical debt and have worked closely with their internal teams to mitigate any adverse effects on the business. Technical debt is no longer the elephant in the room. It is a place you will find yourself again and again, so why not have a progressive approach in dealing with it?

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Pratik Mistry is a rare mix of technologist and senior business head at Radixweb. His passion lies is in helping companies to grow revenues by delivering top notch software development services and build value-based partnerships. When not driving high-impact go to market strategies, Pratik loves to try new cuisines and going to the movies.