10 Ways DevOps Can Help Reduce Technical Debt

Technical debt is inevitable. And if left untreated, it can hamper your development process and the quality of your products. Although it takes time and money to repair accumulated technical debt, prevention is better than cure. According Gartnerinfrastructure and operations managers who can actively manage and reduce technical debt will achieve 50% faster delivery times.

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

1. Test in the early stages of software development

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

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

Plus, 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 long-term costs.

2. Identify and solve major problems first

The DevOps lifecycle has short, lean feedback cycles and faster iterations through improved collaboration between teams. Therefore, bugs, usability issues, and security vulnerabilities don’t have to wait for the next feature release to get a fix. And major issues that may impact users or operations are resolved immediately.

You can further optimize the process by categorizing or ranking issues from high to low priority to determine which issues to fix first. Then, have everyone on deck to fix the major issues first, but don’t leave any for later.

3. Establish better collaboration between development and operations teams

In most cases, technical debt arises because development teams take shortcuts to meet tight deadlines and face constant change. But better collaboration between developers and operations can shorten the SDLC, speed up deployments and increase their frequency. Additionally, CI/CD and continuous testing make it easier for teams to manage change. 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. Focus on more automation

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

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

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

5. Don’t leave it for later

Technical debt is better controlled when managed on an ongoing basis, which becomes easier with DevOps. As this facilitates constant communication, teams can track the debt, facilitate awareness and resolve it as quickly as possible. Team leaders can also include technical debt review in the backlog and schedule maintenance sprints to deal with it quickly. Additionally, DevOps reduces the risk of incomplete or deferred tasks in the backlog, helping to avoid technical debt.

6. Establish a DevOps culture

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

7. Set Clear DevOps Standards

Well-defined DevOps standards allow you to build quality gateways with every code save, then run tests and deploy. It saves your teams from repetitive and 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 prevents your teams from taking process shortcuts (like cutting corners in writing code), which is one of the biggest contributors to technical debt. Thus, accurate DevOps standards can keep productivity and quality high while keeping team morale high, which indirectly saves your business money.

8. Make the deployment process easier

A smoother deployment process can allow the DevOps team to easily identify and reduce technical debt. You may consider using containers to facilitate deployments. Containers are lightweight and portable, simplifying application development and deployment. Container orchestration tools like Kubernetes automate the container lifecycle in production, freeing your teams to focus on high-value tasks of application refactoring or technical debt reduction.

9. Implement the API Pattern First

How application components communicate is also important for dealing with technical debt, because technical debt is often caused by different systems accessing services and data in ways other teams might not expect.

The implementation of APIs makes interfaces more visible and increases the sustainability of communications. Due to the loose coupling between applications, an API-based model allows teams to make changes quickly without impacting existing structures. Additionally, any team that subsequently interacts with a service in question has a clearly defined set of expectations. As a result, it is easier to deploy 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. These tasks may include meeting compliance requirements, activity reporting, and transferring work from one person to another.

Additionally, you can implement self-service pipelines for common tasks like compiling code, running tests, building containers, and more. This saves teams time, allowing them to contribute their efforts to managing and reducing technical debt.

DevOps cannot address all technical debt challenges. But it can catch 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 settle all of your technical debt immediately, these tips will certainly help you deal with technical debt challenges effectively.

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

Margie D. Carlisle