8 Best Practices To Reduce Technical Debt

When past actions in software development return to haunt you…

Is your business being bogged down by technical debt? Let’s look at measures that you can take to reduce it and scale your operations without the weight pulling you back. 

 

Work with a flexible architecture.

Right from the word go, you want to use architecture whose design is malleable, especially with the rapid rate of software evolution witnessed today. Going with an architecture that keeps calling for too much refactoring, or whose design won’t accommodate future changes will leave you with costly technical debt. Use scalable architecture that allows you to modify or add new features in future releases. While on this, complex features required in the final product should be discussed at the planning stage, that way simplified solutions that will be easier to implement can be identified, as this will lead to less technical debt in the long run. 

 

The Deal with Refactoring 

This is basically cleaning up the code structure without changing its behaviour. With the updates, patches, and new functionalities that are added to the systems and applications, each change comes with the threat of more technical debt. Additionally, organisations are increasingly moving their IT infrastructure from on-premises facilities to colocation data centres and deploying them on the cloud. In such scenarios, some workarounds are often needed to enable the systems to function in the new environments, which they hadn’t been initially developed to accommodate. Here, you will need to take some time to refactor the existing system regularly, streamlining the code and optimizing its performance – and this will be key to pay down the tech debt. When working with a flexible architecture from the start, the amount of work that goes into this will be reduced, meaning there’ll be less tech debt involved. 

 

Run discovery tests

Discovery testing essentially takes place even before a line of code is written for the system or application. This takes place at the product definition stage, where human insight software is used to understand the needs of the customer and is particularly helpful in setting priorities for the development work that will be carried out. It gives your business the opportunity to minimize the technical debt by allowing customers to give you a roadmap of the most pertinent features desired from the product. 

 

Routine code review

Getting a fresh look at the product or application from different sets of eyes in the development team will improve the quality of the code, thus reducing technical debt. There’s a catch though – this should be planned in a convenient way that doesn’t end up becoming a burden for the developers. Here are suggestions:

Break down pull requests

Instead of having complex pull requests where numerous changes in the code are introduced at a go, have this broken down into smaller manageable pull requests, each with a brief title and description about it. This will be easier for the code reviewer to analyse. 

● Define preferred coding practices

Documenting the preferred coding style will result in cleaner code, meaning the developers will focus their effort on reviewing the code itself, not losing time on code format debates.

 

Test automation

Relying only on scheduled manual testing opens you up to the risk of technical debt accruing rapidly, and not having sufficient resources to deal with the accumulated problems when they are identified. Automated testing on the other hand enables issues to be uncovered quicker, and with more precision. For instance, you can have automated unit tests that look at the functioning of the individual components of a system, or regression testing where the focus is on whether the code changes that have been implemented have affected related components of the system. However, establishing and maintaining automated testing will require quite some effort – making it more feasible for the long-term projects.

 

Keep a repository that tracks changes made

Do you have a record of changes made in the software? Keeping one in a repository that is accessible by the development team will make it easy to pin-point problems at their source. For instance, when software is being migrated to a new environment, or legacy software is in the process of being modernised, you will want to have an accurate record of changes that are being introduced, that way if there is an undesired impact on the system this it will be easier to zero-down on the cause.

 

Bring non-technical stakeholders on board

Does this conversation sound familiar?

Development Team: “We need to refactor the messy code quickly”

Product Team: “We have no idea what you are saying”

On one hand, you have the management or product team defining the product requirements, creating a project roadmap, and setting its milestones. On the other hand, there’s the software development/engineering that’s primarily focused on the product functionality, technical operations and clearing the backlog in code fixes. Poor communication between the two teams is actually a leading cause of technical debt.

For you to take concrete steps in managing your technical debt, the decision-makers in the organisation should understand its significance, and the necessity of reducing it. Explain to them how the debt occurred and why steps need to be taken to pay it down – but you can’t just bombard them with tech phrases and expect them to follow your thought process. 

So how do you go about it? Reframe the issues involved with the technical debt and explain the business value or impact of the code changes. Basically, the development team should approach it from a business point of view, and educate the management or production team about the cost of the technical debt. This can include aspects such as expenses in changing the code, salaries for the software engineers especially when the development team will need to be increased due to the workload piling up, as well as the revenue that is lost when the technical debt is allowed to spiral. 

The goal here is to show the management or production team how issues like failing to properly define the product requirements will slow down future software development, or how rushing the code will affect the next releases. That way, there will be better collaboration between the teams involved in the project. 

 

Allocate time and resources specifically for reducing technical debt

With management understanding that working with low-quality code is just like incurring financial debt and it will slow down product development, insist on setting time to deal with the debt. 

For instance, when it comes to the timing of application releases, meetings can be conducted to review short- and longer-term priorities. These meetings – where the development team and product team or management are brought together, the developers point out the software issues that should be resolved as a priority as they may create more technical debt. Management then ensures that budgets and plans are put in place to explicitly deal with those ongoing maintenance costs.

 

Retire old platforms

While most of the resources are going into developing new applications and improving the systems being used, the organisation should also focus on retiring the old applications, libraries, platforms, and the code modules. It’s recommended that you factor this into the application release plans, complete with the dates, processes and costs for the systems involved. 

 

Total overhaul

When the cost and effort of dealing with the technical debt far outweighs the benefits, then you may have to replace the entire system. At this tipping point, you’re not getting value from the technical debt, and it has become a painful issue that’s causing your organisation lots of difficulties. For instance, you may be dealing with legacy software where fixing it to support future developments has simply become too complicated. The patches available may only resolve specific issues with the system, and still leave you with lots of technical debt. Here, the best way out is to replace the system in its entirety. 

 

Final thoughts

Every software company has some level of tech debt. Just like financial debt, it is useful when properly managed, and a problem when ignored or allowed to spiral out of control. It’s a tradeoff between design/development actions and business goals. By taking measures to pay down your organization’s debt and address its interest as it accrues, you will avoid situations where short term solutions undermine your long-term goals. This is also key to enable your business to transition to using complex IT solutions easier, and even make the migration between data centres much smoother. These 8 measures will enable you to manage your technical debt better to prevent it from being the bottleneck that stifles your growth.

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Saving Energy Step 2 ? More Practical Ideas

In my previous blog, we wrote about implementing a management system. This boils down to sharing a common vision up and down and across the organisation, measuring progress, and pinning accountability on individuals. This time, we would like to talk about simple things that organisations can do to shrink their carbon footprints. But first let’s talk about the things that hold us back.

When we take on new clients we sometimes find that they are baffled by what I call energy industry-speak. We blame this partly on government. We understand they need clear definitions in their regulations. It’s just a pity they don’t use ordinary English when they put their ideas across in public forums.

Consultants sometimes seem to take advantage of these terms, when they roll words like audit, assessment, diagnostic, examination, survey and review across their pages. Dare we suggest they are trying to confuse with jargon? We created ecoVaro to demystify the energy business. Our goal is to convert data into formats business people understand. As promised, here are five easy things your staff could do without even going off on training.

  1. Right-size equipment? outsource peak production in busy periods, rather than wasting energy on a system that is running at half capacity mostly.
  2. Re-Install equipment to OEM specifications ? individual pieces of equipment need accurate interfacing with larger systems, to ensure that every ounce of energy delivers on its promise.
  3. Maintain to specification ? make sure machine tools are within limits, and that equipment is well-lubricated, optimally adjusted and running smoothly.
  4. Adjust HVAC to demand ? Engineers design heating and ventilation systems to cope with maximum requirements, and not all are set up to adapt to quieter periods. Try turning off a few units and see what happens.
  5. Recover Heat ? Heat around machines is energy wasted. Find creative ways to recycle it. If you can’t, then insulate the equipment from the rest of the work space, and spend less money cooling the place down.

Well that wasn’t rocket science, was it? There are many more things that we can do to streamline energy use, and coax our profits up. This is as true in a factory as in the office and at home. The power we use is largely non-renewable. Small savings help, and banknotes pile up quickly.

Can you do away with the Project Initiation Meeting?

Project initiation meetings are often skipped to fast-track projects. Once a sponsor is found, organisations go straight to project planning and execution. But based on our own experience, holding a project initiation meeting can actually eliminate many issues that may crop up in the future and hence may speed things up instead in the long run.

It is in the project initiation meeting where your project objectives and scope are clarified and all stakeholders are brought to the same page. Project sponsors and stakeholders will have to know in a nutshell what is needed from them, what the possible risks are, what different resources are required, and so on. So that, when it’s time to proceed to the next phase, everyone is already in-sync.

So what are taken up in such a meeting? Perhaps an actual example can help. Sometime in the past, we set out to work on an eCommerce website project. After conducting the project initiation meeting, these were some of the things we were able to accomplish:

  • Identified deliverables e.g. site design, interface to payment system, etc.
  • Come up with the project phases
  • Agreed what should be in and out of scope
  • Defined the acceptance test criteria
  • Identified possible risks
  • Identified the possible training and documentation work needed
  • Established whether any analysis was required, e.g. as with regards to payment interfaces
  • Formulated disaster recovery plans
  • Defined roles and responsibilities
  • Drafted timelines and due dates

Aren’t these covered in project planning? If the project is a big one, the answer is no. In a large project, project planning is a much more exhaustive activity. In a project initiation meeting, only the basic framework is defined.

Some questions may still remain unanswered after a project initiation meeting, but at least you already know what answers you need to look for. In the example we gave earlier, we left the meeting knowing that we needed:

  • a list of all necessary hardware to estimate the costs
  • to identify possible dependencies we might have with third parties
  • to identify what software had to be bought and what skills we needed to hire

When it was time to proceed to project planning, everyone involved already knew what direction we were taking. In effect, by not skipping the project initiation meeting, we were able to avoid many potential obstacles.

What Energy Management Software did for CDC

Chrome Deposit Corporation ? that’s CDC for short ? reconditions giant rollers used to finish steel and aluminium sheets in Portage, Indiana by applying grinding, texturing and plating methods. While management was initially surprised when the University of Delaware singled their plant out for energy assessment, this took them on a journey to bring energy consumption down despite being in an expansion phase.

Metal finishing and refinishing is an energy-intensive business where machines mainly do the work while workforces as small as 50 individuals tend them. Environmental impacts also need countering within a challenging environment of burgeoning natural gas and electricity prices.

The Consultant’s Recommendations

The University of Delaware was fortunate that Chrome Deposit Corporation had consistently measured its energy consumption since inception in 1986. This enabled it to pinpoint six strategies as having potential for technological and process improvements.

  • Insulate condensate tanks and pipes
  • Analyse flue gas air-fuel ratios
  • Lower compressed air pressures
  • Install stack dampers on boilers
  • Replace belts with pulleys and cogs
  • Fit covers on plant exhaust fans

CDC implemented only four of the six recommendations. This was because the boiler manufacturer did not recommend stack dampers, and the company was unable to afford certain process automation and controls.

Natural Gas Savings

The project team began by analysing stack gases from boilers used to heat chrome tanks and evaporate wastewater. They found the boilers were burning rich and that several joints in gas lines were leaking. Correcting these issues achieved an instant gas saving of 12% despite increased production.

Reduced Water Consumption

The team established that city water was used to cool the rectifiers. It reduced this by an astonishing 85% by implementing a closed-loop system and adding two chillers. This also helped the water company spend less on chemicals, and energy to drive pumps, purifiers and fans.

Summary of Benefits

Electricity consumption reduced by 18% in real terms, and natural gas by 35%. When these two savings are merged they represent an overall 25% energy saving. These benefits were implemented across the company?s six other plants, resulting in benefits CDC management never dreamed of when the University of Delaware approached them.

ecoVaro offers a similar data analytics service that is available online worldwide. We have helped other companies slash their energy bills with similarly exciting results. We?ll be delighted to share ideas that only data analytics can reveal.

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