Adapted from our recent web event, Condensing the Path to Composable for B2B: An Executive Conversation, with Kelly Goetsch, CSO of commercetools and Ryan Heusinkveld, CEO of Smith.
No organization is entirely immune from technical debt. The confluence of changing business needs and use cases, technology decisions, accumulated system updates, patches, and upgrades (across every system within the commerce ecosystem), ever-evolving marketing conditions, and inevitable team turnover make accruing some level of technical debt inevitable over time.
This invisible burden – invisible to those outside of the IT organization – can hinder innovation, slow down decision-making, and ultimately hold companies back from delivering fully-evolved commerce experiences to their teams and customers. Minimizing and managing technical debt is an often overlooked, but important element of enabling a high-performing tech ecosystem.
With that in mind, here’s a look at how companies can identify, address, and ultimately overcome this challenge.
Understanding Technical Debt
Technical debt can take on many forms, but here are some of the common types of technical debt that organizations may encounter. Technical debt can manifest in various ways, including:
- Deferred Software Upgrades: Neglecting to update and upgrade licensed software can lead to compatibility issues, security vulnerabilities, lack of new feature functionality, and decreased efficiency.
- Deferred Maintenance: Avoiding routine maintenance tasks can result in system instability and increased operational risks.
- Complex and Buggy Code: Overly complicated and error-prone code, particularly code lacking proper documentation, can make future development and troubleshooting challenging.
- Skills Gap: Failing to upskill employees and keep up with new technologies can lead to a workforce ill-prepared for industry advancements, such as cloud computing, microservices, and artificial intelligence.
Technical debt isn’t just about outdated technology—it’s also about the knowledge and skills required to adapt to new ways of doing business.
Strategies for Managing Technical Debt
To address technical debt effectively, organizations must implement strategies that allow them to “pay down” this debt. They must also look at current decisions and processes to minimize the prospect of introducing new technical debt as they move toward an environment of continuous innovation.
- Dedicated Capacity: Include capacity for addressing technical debt during each sprint. It is recommended to set aside 10%-15% of sprint resources to address and eliminate previously accrued technical debt. This strategy involved allocating a portion of resources specifically for addressing technical debt. This approach allowed the team to make steady progress in reducing debt over time.
- Articulate the Benefits: Communicate the benefits of addressing technical debt to the business side of the organization. They are likely not educated on the ramifications of technical debt, but they are directly impacted by its downstream impacts. Whether it leads to faster development cycles, improved quality, or reduced maintenance costs, it is crucial to show how reducing technical debt aligns with broader organizational goals and to get buy-in to address it.
Empowering Your Organization
Technical debt is a challenge that organizations of all sizes and industries face. However, by recognizing its various forms and implementing strategies to manage and reduce it, companies can empower themselves to innovate and adapt to the ever-evolving technology landscape.
In the end, addressing technical debt isn’t just a matter of fixing code; it’s about ensuring your organization remains agile, competitive, and prepared for the technological challenges that lay ahead. By working together and prioritizing debt reduction, you can unlock your organization’s full potential and realize improved outcomes across commerce channels.