Software development is a highly volatile industry where new project management tools, frameworks, and methodologies come and go as quickly as we can come up with new buzzwords. 

Some methods, like lean development, make more sense than others, but not a single new method, trick, or technique can argue with the fact that “the quality of work is constrained by the project's budget, deadlines, and scope.” Sometimes, we can bend the game rules to a degree, but entirely breaking them is never an option.

In this article, we’ll break down the meaning of technical debt, discover its types and reasons it happens, and also analyze how to fix it.

The Quality of Software Development: Scope, Cost and Time.

What is technical debt?

Technical debt is the price a company will pay later for choosing a simpler, faster, yet less reliable option today. Any compromise you make to release products or features faster in the present will accumulate a greater volume of work to do in the future. 

Moreover, technical debt—just like any other form of debt—accumulates interest unless carefully taken care of. 

The so-called interest makes new feature releases more expensive and less stable. Your team will be wasting time dealing with compatibility issues and bug fixes. They won’t be able to focus on the actual development of new functions. 

The Cost Software Maintenance vs. the Cost of New Feature Releases.

Is technical debt always bad?

As a matter of fact, technical debt isn't always bad. In fact, technical debt is almost always unavoidable when there's a compromise between speed, cost, and quality. Technical debt might become a severe issue only if the managers ignore it or due to poor engineering decisions.

Types of technical debt

American developer Steve McConnell in 2007 suggested that there are two types of technical debt: intentional and unintentional. McConnell says intentional technical debt is technical debt that is taken on thoughtfully, as a strategic tool. On the contrary, he calls unintentional debt “the non-strategic result of doing a poor job.”  

Let’s take a closer look at what types of technical debt exist.

Planned technical debt

If you truly understand the risks and costs but are still ready to release the product early, that’s planned technical debt. It happens when you make an informed decision and realize the compromises you’re making. In order for the planned technical debt to run smoothly, you need to calculate the risks and be precise when estimating the workflow.

Unintentional technical debt

Unplanned technical debt happens when you have one of the following:

  • Poor practices
  • Inexperience with new coding techniques
  • Rollout issues

If you released a design with too many faults, that’s unintentional technical debt. Often, unintentional technical debt is the result of poor communication between developers and other team members.

Unavoidable technical debt

If there are any changes in your business structure or new technologies arise with passing time, that might cause unavoidable technical debt. It might happen mid-project when extra scope changes are requested, which results in an immediate rise in costs.

Technical debt Quadrant

American developer Martin Fowler suggested another way to categorize technical debt by type in 2009. Technical Debt Quadrant is based on intent and context of technical debt. According to Fowler, technical debt can be classified based on intent: is it deliberate or inadvertent? After that, the question is whether it is prudent or reckless debt.

Technical debt.
  • Reckless and deliberate: When the team might know about expected troubles, but goes on with speed over quality.
  • Prudent and deliberate: When the team fully understands consequences but decides to ship and deal with them later.
  • Reckless and inadvertent: When the team lacks experience and implements the wrong solution, not knowing there will be a mess.
  • Prudent and inadvertent: When the team realizes what the solution should have been only after the deployment.

Another classification of technical debt

In 2014, a group of academics rethought the categories suggested by McConnell and Fowler and proposed classifying technical debt by its nature rather than whether it was strategic or not. They were sure the existing ways to categorize technical debt didn’t address the specific nature of the debt.

The resulting paper, “Towards an Ontology of Terms on Technical Debt'' was published by the Software Engineering Institute. It states that there are 13 distinct types of technical debt:

  • Architecture Debt
  • Build Debt
  • Code Debt
  • Defect Debt
  • Design Debt
  • Documentation Debt
  • Infrastructure Debt
  • People Debt
  • Process Debt
  • Requirement Debt
  • Service Debt
  • Test Automation Debt
  • Test Debt

Technical debt examples

Let's analyze technical debt based on one example of current interest. The Covid-19 pandemic has changed many things about our everyday lives, including the way we shop online. Many retailers already had websites and mobile apps, but they were not ready for the influx of online customers due to the pandemic. The websites and apps existed in the place, but weren't initially developed scalable enough to work with the flow of concurrent users.

On the other hand, those retailers whose websites and mobile apps were properly developed didn’t face any issues, such as Amazon and AliExpress.

Causes of technical debt

Several things can lead to technical debt, so let’s take a look at them.

  1. Time pressure: Developers often face the pressure to deliver the product on time. This might lead to the deployment of apps that are not fully featured or contain bugs within. In order to get to the market as quickly as possible, development teams might sacrifice the performance of an app.
  2. Market change: Even if you release a fully-featured app, you might face customer expectations changes. New market opportunities might be challenging for a company.
  3. Outdated technology: To develop an application, you need several coding languages, developer frameworks, and libraries, which can become obsolete and not supported with passing time.

Mad Devs’ position on technical debt

With time, software tends to accumulate cruft. Those are deficiencies in the software quality that make it difficult and costly to extend or modify the software in the future. Why do we use the word “debt” though? We can compare software technical debt to a financial one. You repay it not just with the sum borrowed but with interests. When you need to extend the system, you need to make an extra effort to implement the extra features. This extra effort is the interest you pay for the technical debt.

For example, we need to implement a feature. If the system is developed properly, the new feature implementation takes several days. But if the system has accumulated technical debt, we add the time and effort needed to implement the feature to the time and effort needed to handle the accumulated cruft. Say, the entire process will take seven days instead of three. So, four days are the “interests” paid for the technical debt. At some point, it will be easier and cheaper to develop a new solution instead of sustaining the old one.

The best way to deal with technical debt is to treat it like a financial one - pay the ‘sum’ of debt part by part. Spend a couple of days to defeat cruft in your code, at least party. There’s a chance it might be enough for now - like you pay credit debt percentage so that you can repay the whole debt one day. This extra time to work with part of the technical debt makes future feature implementation cheaper.

Mad Devs’ engineers never leave the project “as it is”. Even if the previous team has accumulated heavy technical debt, we manage it by prioritizing tasks correctly. Technical debt management doesn’t mean that the work on new features won’t move on. For us, it means that along with the implementation of new features, we are fixing the accumulated issues. 


Why do projects fall victim to technical debt?

Two primary reasons companies tend to tie themselves in technical debt: Time & Money 

Any business, big or small, needs new features. Fast! So there’s no wonder borrowing time and financial resources seem like a legitimate solution.

The Quality of Software Development: Scope and Time.

Most startups are underfunded. Apart from the competitive and volatile markets, the lack of resources is often cited as the primary reason leading to product failure. In other words, two out of the three sides of the iron triangle are off the table before development even begins. 

And yet, both young entrepreneurs and seasoned veterans of the investment scene take the risk. Everybody wants to be in the 1% of successful small companies that make it to the top. 

Few truly care about technical debt because technical debt is not the main factor determining whether a startup will promptly raise investment. These factors are the time to market, competition, and the growing user base.

The Quality of Software Development: Scope and Cost.

Then there are enterprises: the gargantuan players that are quite slow when it comes to adopting change. These companies have spent years and decades perfecting business processes that are tailored to maximize profit and ROI. 

More often than not, these companies are run by people with a business-first mindset without a strong background in IT. Sadly, they see development as a bottomless pit of unnecessary investment.

Why waste $100K on refactoring if the product works as is?

Why invest in experienced coders when middle or junior engineers are speaking the same language?

Why waste time designing architecture when the market demands new functionality?

These and similar questions trouble the minds of decision-makers and product owners with a business background. 

The simplest solution is not always the best one

Building a product for 100 users without a solid “foundation” will work just fine in the present, but will fail once the user base grows to 1000 users. The absence of a reliable development methodology is easily missable at first. But then things can go sourly wrong. 

Given the circumstances and the continuous time-budget constraints, many companies and vendors fall victim to saving on all the wrong things:

  • Tests
  • Documentation
  • Software architecture
  • Infrastructure planning
  • Knowledge management

Think about this: 

  1. What will happen on a project without documentation when new team members are onboarded? 
  2. What will happen to your website’s or app’s live version when a new feature is introduced without being tested for compatibility?
  3. How can you be certain of the overall quality of your code if it has not been reviewed? 

The implications of being in debt to your own product

Large technical debt affects the bottom line 

What do you do when a website you’re trying to access fails to load quickly? The odds are you’ll leave to look for a different website. In fact, 53% of mobile users will leave if a website fails to load within 3 seconds

The same can be said about any product that continuously experiences downtime due to the system’s painful introduction of new features. 

Services that rely on impulse sales are probably the best example. Especially in the transportation industry, where customers interact with the taxi service continuously, such downtimes create inconveniences in the established routines. People run late, annoyed by lagging applications, and taxi drivers lose their profits. Moreover, transportation is a competitive market, where competitors bombard users with promo codes and offer a service that always works. Over time, each downtime shrinks the customer base.  

Similarly, large projects will lose their client base over time if they continuously expose their clients to bugs and downtime.  

Why technical debts lead to The big rewrite?

Technical debts.

If the system is deep in technical debt, there will come a time when sustaining it is no longer effective and even counterproductive. 

If the risk of implementing fixes or new features is too great (for example, a bank or a financial system cannot afford downtime), the product needs to be remade from scratch. 

This new system is called an Antipattern: The Big Rewrite. It’s essentially the same product built from the ground up, but this time with appropriate procedures and processes in mind. If all goes well, the users are then migrated to the new version of the product in batches. 

The big rewrite may sound like a reasonable solution to the challenges of technical debt, but only at first glance. In reality, you will need to develop and maintain two projects instead of one until the entire user base has migrated to the second iteration of your product. 

Then there’s the reason why the antipattern has earned its name: more often than not, a newly rewritten system never gets to production as it can’t keep up with the features developers are introducing into the original system. 

Alas, the only alternative is a broken solution and the eventual loss of the entire user base. 

Ways of fixing projects stuck in technical debt

Are there alternatives to introducing an antipattern? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. The availability of solutions will depend on the severity of the situation you have ended up in. 

Best-case scenario

In the best-case scenario, you are working with the original team that has been working on the project since day 1. 

Steps to take:

  • Working closely with the team. Getting everything from their heads into cohesive documentation.
  • Analysis of the issue tracker: info in the ticket description, labels, and assignees can shed much-needed light on the state of your project as a whole. 
  • Implementing change through tests. This means that the tests are written before coding. That’s how you ensure the system stays intact and is not affected by the implementation of fixes. 

Worst-case scenario

This scenario usually occurs when a business has gone through one or more development teams over the course of the development cycle. 

Steps to take:

  • Technical archaeology: an attempt to understand and document the system.
  • Analysis of the issue tracker.
  • Introduction of fixes and issues through testing. 


How to manage technical debt on a budget

What about operating on a budget? Can a development team deliver a successful project without investing an arm and a leg?

  1. If you are working on an MVP, and ONLY if you are willing to re-develop it from scratch after raising additional funds, you can skip some of the most time-consuming processes in favor of time-to-market delivery.

  2. Alternatively, you can go back to the Iron Triangle. Taking the price side away, you will be left with time and quality. This means that you can develop a fantastic product without skipping any important business or project management processes. Prepare yourself for long-term estimates. Unfortunately, this approach is the only viable option when it comes to creating scalable, future-proof projects.

  3. Lastly, if you had a viable reason to skip one or several development processes, create a preemptive ticket to fix the issue in advance and label it “technical debt.” This way, you will always keep tabs on the bigger picture without borrowing too much, or at least you’ll help your future self with sorting out the mess. In either case, technical debt is much easier to cope with if it’s well-documented.


Reducing technical debt with Agile practices

Agile practices are a recurrent approach to project management and software development. It lets teams deliver value to clients faster and with fewer problems. An agile team separates its work into small parts, tasks, and sprints. Results are reviewed on a regular basis which gives the development team an opportunity to work with problems as fast as possible.

In traditional development, ‘done’ means ready to be tested, but there are so many bugs that it’s painful for QAs, and when they start, there are layers of defects. There is no ‘done’ in the agile approach as iterations of work are delivered to users with bugs fixed and functionality improved.

As a rule, in an agile approach, the central part of the code base must be ready to be shipped at all times. What's more, there are automated tests and feature branching workflows. New features are developed on a task branch containing code for the feature itself. Once it is complete, the unit can be merged up into the main one. This way, the technical debt stays under control due to the quality bar.

What is technical debt in DevOps?

DevOps is a set of operations that combines software development and IT operations to maximize the efficiency of the processes. It uses internal integration, team communication, and tools for automation. DevOps and Agile are often interlinked.

DevOps is often seen as a solution to technical debt as it helps to analyze and eliminate it. DevOps' real strength is its fundamental dynamism, which can be an excellent source to fight technical debt. In DevOps, nothing is static, and everything will change. The dynamic process of self-renewal is at the core of DevOps, so eventually, technical debt will be eliminated in the process of renewals and renovations.

An afterthought

It’s always impossible to completely avoid technical debt, but it’s possible to be mature about it and minimize its effects on the product. The main thing is communication between developers and the management team.

Got any more questions on technical debt? Have a brilliant idea for software and looking for the right developers? Just contact us and we’ll do everything for you.

Pricing Strategies in Custom Software Development.

Explore the chapters

2. Software Development Pricing Models Guide

2. Software Development Pricing Models Guide

Historically, organizations approached software development outsourcing as a black box where you throw away things you don’t want to do. The field is changing as the emerging markets have proved to provide quality and shown the advantages of higher dollar purchasing power.With so much at stake, traditional outsourcing engagement models thus moved towards partnership models. So now, businesses increasingly outsource things they can’t do.As a result, the emerging cooperation models have created numerous pricing models.However, once you start digging deeper with your research and evaluating IT contractors’ proposals, you’ll start to see not only the big difference in total cost but also the difference in pricing models used to calculate the cost.Ultimately, you may feel like companies are trying to take advantage of your lack of experience, and you can’t identify a potential long-term partner.In this publication, Mad Devs Customer University addresses your puzzling questions about pricing models with clarity and transparency.Unfortunately, it can be hard to determine the exact cost of a software development project. Unlike building products from an assembly line, estimating the cost of a software development project involves taking into account various factors.1. Human resourcesThe number of people who are involved in the project will have a huge effect on the cost of the project. You will need to hire a team of developers if you are not outsourcing the project. The size of the team depends on how complex the project is and how experienced the individuals are.Your team's work environment will also affect how productive they are. Having a good working relationship with one another will help them become more efficient. There may be issues that they need to resolve, but the more projects they work on, the more they will be able to improve their efficiency.The ability of your team to avoid conflict and work efficiently will have a huge impact on the project's budget. Make sure that everyone on the team is qualified and has the necessary skills to carry out their duties. Overworking the team can cause them to waste time and make them more prone to errors.2. Project complexity&sizeThe complexity of a software application is also a factor that will affect the cost of the project. It can be very challenging to develop a complex program due to the number of steps and calculations that it requires.The size of the software that you're developing will also be influenced by the number of screens that will be built. Having too many screens will increase the cost of the project.3. Software functionalityOne of the most important factors that will affect the cost of a software project is the functionality of the application. Having too many features will increase the cost of the development. It can also take longer to build and test a large number of applications.4. Scope of workThe larger the scope of the project, the more expensive it will be. Although the project will likely have a fixed schedule and human resources, the scope can change over time. This is because constant stakeholder feedback will help determine the cost and the quality of the project.5. UX/UIThe cost of a custom design depends on the features and scope of the project. Having a well-designed and engaging user interface is very important for a successful software development project. The right mix of animations, visual elements, and unique navigation elements will keep your users coming back.6. IntegrationsAnother factor that can affect the cost of a software project is the integration of its features with other business applications. For example, having multiple third-party tools such as CRM will increase the cost of the project.7. MigrationDifferent migration techniques and the unique requirements of different storage vendors can also add to the complexity of the process. Having a customized approach is also important to ensure that the data that you're moving will fit seamlessly into another system.8. Extra expensesEven though you're paying for the software, you should also consider the additional costs that the service provider might charge. These costs might not be related to the developers' hourly rates. It can be necessary if the complexity of the project increases or there is technical debt.Aside from the hourly rate, there are also additional costs that the service provider might charge. These additional costs can pile up and add up to a huge bill.Some businesses will also require that they pay for the licenses that the developers will need to complete the project. Others will require that they pay for the infrastructure costs associated with buying or leasing software.Most people don't realize that there are also maintenance fees that are included in the cost of a software development project. These fees can range from minor repairs to security updates.So when we’ve covered the major factors that influence project cost, we can move to pricing models. It can be overwhelming to build software from scratch. Not only does it involve writing code, but it also involves various phases such as architecture, design, testing, and deployment.To avoid getting bogged down by the various steps involved in building a robust software solution, companies should keep in mind that there are various pricing models available. They should also be aware of the premium options that are available for their project.With pricing models, companies can easily understand what they are paying for and what benefits they will get from their projects. There are several types of pricing models that can help companies develop software: Fixed price, Time and Material, Outstaffing, Dedicated team, Hybrid, and Gain-sharing model.Let’s look closer at each of them.

How Developer Seniority Level Matters to Software Development Cost

3. How Developer Seniority Level Matters to Software Development Cost

In this article, Mad Devs Customer University addresses the main factor in the cost of software development: the software developer seniority level. The hourly rate of a top-level developer can be dramatically different from (sometimes even a few times higher than) the rate of an entry-level one. Here, we want to help you figure out what these levels are and how they affect the price.Picture it: you have a project in mind, but you have no idea what software developer qualifications are required for it. Some IT contractors offer you Senior developers (so the rate and the price immediately soar), and others suggest that Mid-level developers or Juniors will do just fine. How do you know what’s right? Your best interest is to make sure that the team working with you does not have underqualified or overqualified professionals in it. If they are overqualified, you’ll end up paying more than necessary. If they are underqualified, the development will take longer than it could, and you’ll end up, again, overpaying.The problem, however, is that the qualifications you’re interested in are not easily defined. The widespread hierarchy goes: Junior, Middle, Senior, Team Lead. But there are no universal criteria in the industry for who falls into which category. Each IT company has its own understanding of what knowledge, skills, competencies, and experience a developer must obtain to climb up this ladder.Therefore, we will look at the question of qualification from two angles. On the client side, when he/she needs a certain level of expertise. And from the developers' side, how the career ladder of Software engineer levels looks like.Let’s start with first part.

Top countries to outsource software development

4. Top Countries to Outsource Software Development

Mad Devs Customer University continues its series of publications about pricing strategies to help customers in the IT industry maximize benefits in their work with contractors. Here, we will address the issue that many customers are implicitly or explicitly concerned about: does it matter where your team of developers is from? If so, how will geography affect your work with the team? What regions to choose from?First, it’s important to stress that geography matters, but it’s not the number-one factor. We want to take it off the table right away: you can find the right team for your project or organization anywhere on the globe. Modern communication technologies have made it possible to reach talents anywhere. Companies are shifting away from the traditional rule book when it comes to hiring and managing development teams, as the rise of remote work has forced many to rethink their approach. Working with a remote team can be very easy, as more data protection and distance work software have emerged.However, in some regions, you may be more likely to find a team that fits you in terms of approaches and culture. Things to consider include:And one of the main points - don’t overestimate the importance of your team’s location. Let’s elaborate on this.Assumption: countries with higher dollar purchasing power charge lower prices. In fact, it’s not always the case. Skills and experience are more important, and a high-rate developer from a developing country can cost as much as a high-rate developer from a developed country.Why doesn’t the developers’ location play a major role in influencing the cost of the software? Is it fair to pay a developer from San Francisco the same amount as a developer from Vietnam?They can deliver the same quality of work, so everything’s fair.Naturally, the towering leader in terms of senior developers’ average salaries is the United States, but it in no way suggests that the work of developers from elsewhere will be necessarily cheaper or of poorer quality.Too many factors shape average salary: taxes, cost of living, and income level, to name a few.Conclusion: check the skills and experience ahead of the actual location or the legal address. (And if you still want to narrow down your search to the region, jump right into the middle of the article.)

Red Flags in Custom Software Development.

7. Top Common Pitfalls of Outsourcing Software Development

In the early days of the software industry, developers were working alone on their products for years. And one day, their products have taken over the market and made their creators rich and famous. Of course, this was deserved. But it is worth noting that this was not because their products were the best, but rather because they were unique at the time. However, the software industry was rapidly changing, becoming more extensive and complex. The competition was growing, and the struggle for users' attention becoming much fiercer. So the market became filled with better and better products and services. And we got more and more used to the constantly increasing quality and amount of them. Now we're not willing to compromise at all, knowing that we can always find something better. This is all possible because more professionals from different fields, not only technical, are getting involved in development. Now any competitive product is the combined work of developers, designers, analysts, marketers, and managers. This is just a short list of specialists who have found a new home in the software industry. For example, when Steve Jobs was creating the Macintosh, he even invited zoologists who understand the anatomy to help him find the best proportions for the future device that fit perfectly. But the more specialists are involved in software development, the more processes it includes, and the more difficult it is to manage them. And each process must be treated with special attention. Because each of them can be the main factor of success and failure of the future product, you need to know the pitfalls of software development in general, and particularly the main pitfalls of project management.At Mad Devs, for example, we pay individual attention to each process in development. From specifying goals and the most suitable means to achieve them to using the best design, development, testing, and support practices. And this careful attention makes our customers want to contact us again and again. After all, they can always trust transparency, flexibility, stability of development, and the high quality of the final product. You can see this by looking at any of our cases.

Software development cost estimation

10. Mad Devs' Software Development Cost Estimation

Determining how long and how much it will take to deliver a new software product is one of the hardest things to do in software development. But the main critical problem that arises during software cost estimation is a lack of determination on how long and how much it will take to develop a new software product. It is inherently difficult to estimate software costs, and humans are terrible at predicting absolute outcomes. However, this problem can only be resolved by transparent communication and development processes based on collaboration and co-creation. Mad Devs is a software development company, which specializes in developing highly scalable, enterprise-level software solutions, and consulting. We have been engineering our partners’ growth since 2004. Our goal is to deliver value to our customers in the long run by solving end users’ problems. For us, no two projects are the same. Each is unique in what it sets out to achieve and unique in the myriad of parameters that form its existence. For years, we’ve seen new players in the IT industry struggle to find insights into custom software development. Mad Devs has summarized its expertise by introducing Customer University: a series of articles that bring light to questions that need to be asked during negotiation and proposal evaluation stages. We believe in starting the partnership by building trust from the very beginning. Therefore, we understand that pricing is one of the customers' main issues. To do this, we explain the mechanism of project estimation transparently. For convenience, we have divided the technical process into four stages.When we receive a partnership request, we foremost assess the proposed project to see if we are a proper contractor to take it on. Several features impact our work process, such as expertise in questions, the scope of the project, and can we cover the project with our resources. Mad Devs believes that signing a contract is a long-term commitment, so it is essential to consider every detail. We believe customers' business success depends on whether we have enough expertise and capacity to deliver the project.After we ensure that we have enough expertise and capacity to deliver the product, we start evaluating the customer's product vision and check whether it has a proven record of market fit. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to build a valuable product for end-users without precise product specifications and requirements. Such projects usually involve high risks and a lack of personal growth for our developers. Instead of developing features, the IT team will be trapped in a circle of re-developing one module repeatedly and wasting the budget. Cost is a product of time and team members. Suppose you employ people for a more extended period, the cost increases. Adding more team members increases the cost of delivering the same business value. We expect a certain level of preparedness from our clients. Please note if you have the following problems: