How To Reduce Tech Debt With Low-Code Tools

Katie Mikova / Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Sometimes, coding shortcuts and expedient decisions made during the product design and development process may seem like a solution. Especially when teams have to meet short deadlines or need to release a new feature faster. However, in the long run, such practices can lead to less maintainable code, a growing gap between the IT capacity and the business needs, increased development costs, bad software quality, and other bottlenecks.

We have come to understand that deprioritizing what really matters for the urgency of what has to be done now only adds up to a technical debt that accumulates over time. The question is how to maneuver all this and reduce tech debt?

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Here’s how this article will answer the question while helping you understand:

Decoding: What Is Tech Debt?

Coined by Ward Cunningham in the early 1990s, the term “tech debt” introduces the idea that taking shortcuts in your software today not only means paying the price in the future, but even worse - paying that price with interest. In other words, introducing that global variable today and saving half a day's work ahead of shipping means that you're going to pay for it with more than half a day's labor down the line.

Here’s a classical technical debt example - Generating Spaghetti Code.

What’s the problem? Poorly structured, tangled, or too complex code that's hard to understand and maintain.

What’s the consequence? Slower development processes, more bugs, and difficulties in onboarding new developers with the right technical skills that can quickly jump on the project.

How do we manage tech debt here to solve this? Refactor code to improve readability and maintainability.

Here’s example #2 – Tight Deadlines

What’s the problem? Sacrificing code quality to meet tight deadlines.

What’s the consequence? Taking shortcuts to save time or effort that actually lead to the accumulation of technical debt.

How do we manage tech debt here to solve this? Establish a balance between delivery speed and code quality. Prioritize tasks but also implement tools that speed up the process. Like low-code tools.

In relation to the examples above, I have observed that developers may communicate that an aggressive deadline will result in technical debt, making features in the future take longer to ship. Analysts and project managers might account for technical debt when discussing slipped deadlines. And IT upper management might ask for an assessment of the amount of technical debt in an application when making a strategic, replace/retire/rewrite decision.

So, for most people, the problem of technical debt is a problem of time to market and slowdowns. Is tech debt the silent saboteur of efficient software development, then? It very much seems so.

Calculating The Cost Of The Silent Saboteur

Calculating technical debt is not a straightforward mathematical process like calculating a financial debt. Instead, it involves making informed assessments based on various factors and considerations within your software development project or codebase.

Of course, we can hypothetically estimate how much it will cost a company. For example, according to The Developer Coefficient report by Stripe, developers spend around 13.4 hours per week on technical debt, which causes productivity loss and cost-inefficiencies.

Think of this for a moment. Let’s say a company pays software developers $ 100,000 per year. 33% of that goes towards managing and eliminating tech debt. If we consider the IT team consists of 50, then the 33% we talk about will equal $1.65M of technical debt.

Now, if you want to calculate technical debt, here are three steps to consider as a good practice:

  1. Identify technical debt instances in the codebase.

Look at areas where code quality is suboptimal, documentation is poor and inconsistent, or tasks where code shortcuts were acted upon.

  1. Define the tech debt you are dealing with.

Put the tech debt into categories. This will allow you to understand the specific issues you're dealing with. Are we talking about design debt here? Or purely code debt? What about test debt or all of them?

  1. Assess the severity and the effort to address the issue.

Firstly, make sure to evaluate the levels of severity and impact of the tech debt. Then, consider the time, resources, skill level, and experience that must be involved in things like improving documentation, refactoring code, testing, etc. How much of it can you afford without compromising ongoing innovation and development? Prioritize which technical debt items to manage first.

Note: Remember that calculating technical debt does not aim to arrive at specific numbers. It is more about identifying, prioritizing, and addressing issues in different areas – teams, time, resource allocation, documentation, tools that are used/not used, legacy systems, etc.

The Unseen Downfalls Of Cutting Corners Or What Can Add Up To The Technical Debt?

The tech debt creates substantial drag not only on feature development but also on a codebase's general evolution. In these sorts of codebases, everything becomes difficult.

  • Teams postpone upgrading to the latest version of the language.
  • They resist incorporating modern architectural and design practices.
  • They fear replacing outdated third-party add-ins with modern ones.
  • They struggle to add features to a wheezy, CRUD-based Winforms application.

But even as they make these decisions, they understand that the market value of the product they build is waning with each passing day.

So, when you think of tech debt, don't think only in terms of the business problem of delayed features and rising defect counts. Think of the human factor, as well. To help you see the unseen downfalls, we’ve gathered the following factors that can increase the technical debt in a software project.

  • Outdated skills or inheriting poorly maintained or legacy codebase.
  • Failing to have proper and well-written documentation which makes it hard for people to understand and maintain the software.
  • Insufficient testing resulting in undetected bugs.
  • Workarounds or taking code shortcuts to save time and effort.
  • Delaying the resolution of known bugs which results in a backlog.
  • Poor communication between designers, developers, project managers, and stakeholders.
  • Knowledge gaps and frequent changes in the development team.
  • Time and resource constraints leading to trade-offs that prioritize feature development over code quality, for instance.

Is there a solution apart from the good practices mentioned above? Yes. Over the past few years, one of the most effective ways for companies to manage tech debt is by leveraging the capabilities of low-code platforms. Let’s look into this further.

How Can Low-Code Tools Reduce the Tech Debt?

low-code drivers that reduce tech debt

Businesses are recognizing the need for low-code technology that operates efficiently, enabling their development teams to channel their efforts towards productivity and innovation rather than being bogged down by tedious and repetitive tasks that involve hand coding all the time. And with this, they also realize the importance of these tools in other areas like minimizing the technical debt in different processes – product design, development, integration, and maintenance.

Taking advantage of low code and its ability to streamline and simplify software development while maintaining a focus on quality and maintainability, software business and IT teams manage to achieve:

Robust Iterative Flow

What exactly does it mean? This refers to the fact that with low-code platforms, you can have a design file from which you can generate production-ready code, and then you can analyze the result. After that, if necessary, you can easily re-design, generate the improved code based on the new design, analyze the result once more, and if you have to, you can do everything again. The biggest benefit is that all this can happen in a single click and within minutes.

Following The Best Practices

Tools like App Builder ensure the design and the code generated follow all of the best practices and modern concepts out there. To illustrate this more vividly, when we plan the roadmap and the next step, we consider what’s next to come in the world of software development. Hence, we always refer to the latest technological releases. For example, Angular 17 is going to be released next month, and we already see how that can be incorporated into the exported code (for Angular) to leverage the latest version of the framework. The same goes for the design. We use Flexbox to manage layouts and more, but we do have CSS Grid layout support as part of our Roadmap.

Democratization Of Code

Companies are increasingly finding it tough to find IT talent and low-code environments can potentially cut 50% to 90% of development time compared to a coding language, according to 451 Research. Low-code technologies like App Builder empower them to democratize the entire app development lifecycle, get more people involved in a single project, and form multi-disciplinary fusion teams.

There’s also the benefit from remote developers who work on outsourced projects and “citizen developers,” through stakeholders and business analysts who can test the app, to designers who can take advantage of complete design systems supported by such low-code tools to import their designs and improve the designer-developer handoff.

Optimizing Workflows of the IT Department

Low-code tools make it easier for IT teams to use their resources wisely and to remain more flexible at the same time. Management won't have to face the application backlog anymore, feeling hopeless about completing even 1/3 of what’s being expected. With low-code tools, they can create and deliver more applications quickly, with fewer bugs and less friction.

Component & Feature-parity Between Frameworks

Think of this – whatever a developer builds for a given technology translates to another. You build an Angular app. Then, another team has to create the same one in Blazor and tackle a strict timeframe. But, at the same time, it has to be absolutely bug-free without any additional work or fixes postponed for later in the future. With low-code tools, it’s actually possible, thanks to the low-code capability to ensure component and feature parity. This interoperability provides organizations with greater flexibility and increased efficiency in the app development process.

This is exactly how App Builder works, for instance. And we have a dedicated blog post that explains the entire design-to-code story, which you can read further.

Facilitating High-Speed RAD

Comprehensive low-code platforms like App Builder also pack real UI controls (high-performance data grids and data charts) that transform legacy apps to modern, responsive web experiences 10x faster than hand coding. So, instead of cutting corners and using coding shortcuts, teams can automate the development process using a RAD tool that generates production-ready code in different frameworks - Angular, Blazor, Web Components. Plus, it increases teams’ productivity too.

Implement Reusable Components

When components are designed to be reusable, they are often well-structured and follow best practices. This consistency in coding standards reduces the chances of introducing code that fails to comply with established guidelines, which often leads to technical debt. Moreover, when a software project grows, the components' reusability makes it easier to scale and accommodate new features. This scalability prevents technical debt that may arise from quickly implemented, non-scalable solutions.

Source of Inspiration & Pointing Out Good Practices

App Builder, for example, has various prebuilt templates and sample apps to get less experienced programmers started or to train citizen developers for the requirements of the app and the logic they have to build.

Effective Risk Governance

Fostering better risk mitigation is key to eliminating and avoiding technical debt. In the most practical sense, with low-code tools, IT teams benefit from a visual development environment for building applications, reducing the need for manual coding. Which, in general, tends to be more error-prone due to various inconsistencies, more bugs, etc.

Final Thoughts & Article Takeaways:

To sum it up, the way low-code tools can help companies manage the technical debt is by:

  • Significantly reducing application development cost with drag & drop development experiences.
  • Eliminating UI/UX bugs with tooling that includes pre-defined patterns, templates, and components.
  • Implementing (code exporting) the best code practices.
  • Minimizing long-term maintenance costs with high-quality code output.
  • Allowing teams to experiment with new technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced analytics that low-code tools off when teams don’t have the skills yet.
  • Reducing technology churns and automating business workflows.
  • Delivering cloud-based software benefits like scalability, elasticity, security, and data encryption.

It's important to acknowledge that some technical debt is inevitable in software development, especially when teams are expected to deliver projects quicker than expected. However, when managing and addressing technical debt becomes an ongoing process, the negative impact of rushed decisions, additional work, and easy fixes will be less ostensible.

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