10 ways DevOps can help reduce technical debt

Technical debt is inevitable for most organizations, but DevOps practices can help minimize it. Consider these tips
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Technical debt is unavoidable. And if it is not addressed, it can hamper your development process and product quality. While it costs time and money to fix accrued technical debt, prevention is better than cure. According to Gartner, infrastructure and operations leaders who can actively manage and reduce technical debt will achieve 50 percent faster delivery times.

DevOps has emerged as the solution to many challenges in the IT industry. It can also address the technical debt challenge. Here are ten ways DevOps can help your business manage and reduce technical debt.

1. Test in earlier stages of software development

A key DevOps practice, shift-left testing or testing early in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), helps find and prevent errors early in the delivery process. It includes unit tests, static code analysis, code coverage analysis, and other code-level practices to catch errors at the earliest stage possible, when they cost the least to fix.

[ Also read 9 reasons you have technical debt and how to reduce it. ]

Additionally, testing as you develop improves code design and makes it easier for development teams to understand in the future. Thus, early testing reduces technical debt and lowers costs in the long term.

2. Identify and solve major problems first

The DevOps lifecycle has lean, short feedback cycles and faster iterations due to enhanced collaboration between teams. Therefore, bugs, usability issues, and security vulnerabilities do not have to wait until the next feature release to get a fix. And major problems that can impact users or operations are fixed immediately.

You can optimize the process further by categorizing or ranking problems from high to low priority to determine which issues to resolve first. Then have all hands on deck to solve the major problems first, but do not leave any for later.

3. Establish better collaboration between development and operations teams

In most cases, technical debt occurs because development teams take shortcuts to meet tight deadlines and struggle with constant changes. But better collaboration between dev and ops can shorten SDLC, fasten deployments, and increase their frequency. Moreover, CI/CD and continuous testing make it easier for teams to deal with changes. Overall, the collaborative culture encourages code reviews, good coding practices, and robust testing with mutual help.

[ Read also: Software development in 2022: 5 realities CIOs should know ]

4. Emphasize more automation

When you automate routine time-consuming tasks and tasks that tend to be more prone to errors, your teams have more time to repay technical debt.

Moreover, automation embedded into CI/CD with automated testing, automated build, and infrastructure as code (IaC) helps identify debt earlier and enables continuous debt repayment. It also enforces code quality standards. Thus, automation can relieve current technical debt while also avoiding future debt.

When you automate routine time-consuming tasks and tasks that tend to be more prone to errors, your teams have more time to repay technical debt.

5. Don't leave it for later

Technical debt is best controlled when managed continuously, which becomes easier with DevOps. As it facilitates constant communication, teams can track debt, facilitate awareness and resolve it as soon as possible. Team leaders can also include technical debt review into backlog and schedule maintenance sprints to deal with it promptly. Moreover, DevOps reduces the chances of incomplete or deferred tasks in the backlog, helping prevent technical debt.

6. Establish a DevOps culture

A true DevOps culture can be the key to managing technical debt over long periods. DevOps culture encourages strong collaboration between cross-functional teams, provides autonomy and ownership, and practices continuous feedback and improvement. It provides an effective platform to track technical debt, calculate, and communicate it to other teams. Moreover, DevOps culture can be used to educate and inform developers of the kind of codes that introduce bugs in the future and raise the code quality.

7. Set precise DevOps standards

Well-defined DevOps standards enable you to create quality gates on each code check-in, then run tests and deploy. It saves your teams from repetitive, error-prone manual tasks and optimizes their development efforts.

[ Want more strategies for mitigating technical debt? Download the free ebook: Technical debt: The IT leader’s essential guide. ]

Enforcing DevOps standards also prevent your teams from taking process shortcuts (like cutting corners in writing code), which is one of the biggest contributors to technical debt. Thus, precise DevOps standards can maintain a high level of productivity and quality while keeping team morale high, indirectly saving money for your company.

8. Make the deployment process smoother

A smoother deployment process can make it easy for the DevOps team to identify and reduce technical debt. You can consider employing containers to make deployments easier. Containers are lightweight and portable, which simplifies application development and deployment. Container orchestration tools like Kubernetes automate container lifecycle in production, enabling your teams to focus on high-value tasks of refactoring applications or trimming technical debt.

9. Implement API-first model

How application components communicate is also important in addressing technical debt because technical debt is often caused by different systems accessing services and data in ways other teams do not expect.

Implementing APIs makes interfaces more visible and increases the durability of communications. Due to loose coupling between applications, an API-based model enables teams to make changes quickly without impacting existing structures. Moreover, any team that later interacts with a service in question has a clearly defined set of expectations. As a result, it is easier to roll out features/changes with less technical debt.

10. Deploy self-service pipelines for common tasks

Another strategic way to reduce technical debt is to automate or streamline tasks that add time and cost to the development process but do not add value to the product. Such tasks can include meeting compliance requirements, activities reports, and work handoffs from one person to another.

Moreover, you can implement self-service pipelines for common tasks such as compiling code, running tests, building containers, etc. It saves time for teams, enabling them to contribute their efforts to managing and reducing technical debt.

DevOps cannot address all the challenges around technical debt. But it can detect debt early, reduce bugs, and control code quality, which slows debt accumulation and helps keep it below a maintainable threshold. And while you may not be able to address all of your technical debt right away, these tips will certainly help you tackle technical debt challenges efficiently.

[ Need to explain key Agile and DevOps terms to others? Get our cheat sheet: DevOps Glossary. ]

Hardik Shah is a Tech Consultant at Simform, a leading DevOps Consulting and Implementation Company. He leads large-scale mobility programs that cover platforms, solutions, governance, standardization, and best practices. Connect with him to discuss the best practices of software methodologies.