Technical Debt: Consequences and Strategies to Reduce It

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, businesses are constantly under pressure to deliver products and services quickly to adapt to shrinking product lifecycles. To keep up with this demand, developers often take shortcuts or patch code, resulting in technical debt. This can lead to significant consequences for both the development team and the entire organization.

In this blog post, we will dive into the concept of technical debt, its causes and consequences, real-life examples, and strategies for reducing it. We will also explore how agile methodologies can be used to identify and address technical debt in a timely and efficient manner

What is Technical Debt?

Technical debt refers to the additional work that needs to be done in the future due to taking shortcuts or making compromises in the code during the development process. Just like financial debt, technical debt accumulates interest over time and can become increasingly difficult to manage if not addressed promptly.

There are various factors that can contribute to technical debt, such as tight deadlines, lack of resources, and changing requirements. It can also occur due to poor coding practices, outdated technologies, and inadequate testing.

What is Technical Debt?

What is Technical Debt?

Types of Technical Debt

There are two main types of technical debt: intentional and unintentional. Intentional technical debt is incurred knowingly, usually to meet a deadline or deliver a product quickly. Unintentional technical debt, on the other hand, is the result of poor coding practices or lack of knowledge.

Intentional technical debt can be further classified into four categories:

  • Deliberate: This type of technical debt is incurred intentionally to gain a competitive advantage or to meet a specific business need.
  • Reckless: Reckless technical debt is incurred without proper consideration of the long-term consequences.
  • Prudent: Prudent technical debt is incurred after careful consideration of the potential risks and benefits.
  • Strategic: Strategic technical debt is incurred as a part of a long-term plan to achieve a specific goal.

Where does Technical Debt come from?

Technical debt can arise from various sources, including:

  1. Tight Deadlines: Rushing to meet deadlines often leads to shortcuts in code quality and architecture.
  2. Lack of Documentation: Inadequate or outdated documentation can make it difficult for developers to understand and maintain the codebase.
  3. Inexperienced Developers: Teams with inexperienced members may produce code that lacks scalability, reusability, and maintainability.
  4. Changing Requirements: Rapidly changing project requirements can lead to quick fixes and patches rather than comprehensive solutions.
  5. Legacy Systems: Working with outdated or legacy systems can introduce technical debt due to the need to integrate new technologies with old ones.
  6. Insufficient Testing: Skipping or inadequate testing can result in undetected bugs and issues, leading to accrued technical debt over time.

Addressing these causes is crucial in managing and reducing technical debt within software projects.

Understanding the Consequences of Technical Debt

Technical Debt

While taking on technical debt may seem like a quick and easy solution in the short term, it can have serious consequences in the long run. Here are some of the ways in which technical debt can impact a development team and an organization:

Increased Maintenance Costs

As technical debt accumulates over time, it becomes increasingly difficult and time-consuming to maintain the codebase. This can result in higher maintenance costs for the organization, as developers spend more time fixing bugs and addressing issues caused by technical debt.

Reduced Productivity

Technical debt can also have a negative impact on the productivity of the development team. As they spend more time dealing with technical debt, they have less time to work on new features or improvements, leading to delays in project delivery.

Decreased Quality

When developers take shortcuts or make compromises in the code, it can lead to poor quality and a higher number of bugs. This not only affects the user experience but also reflects poorly on the organization's reputation.

Difficulty in Scaling

As technical debt accumulates, it becomes increasingly difficult to scale the product or add new features. This can limit the growth potential of the organization and hinder its ability to meet changing market demands.

Employee Turnover

Working with technical debt can be frustrating and demotivating for developers, leading to high employee turnover rates. This can result in additional costs for the organization, such as hiring and training new employees.

Real-Life Examples of Technical Debt

To better understand the consequences of technical debt, let's take a look at some real-life examples from well-known companies.

Microsoft Windows Vista

Microsoft Windows Vista was released in 2006 and was met with widespread criticism and negative reviews. One of the main reasons for this was the large amount of technical debt that had accumulated during its development. The project was plagued by delays and changing requirements, which led to shortcuts being taken and poor quality code being written.

As a result, Windows Vista was slow, buggy, and incompatible with many existing applications. This damaged Microsoft's reputation and resulted in many users sticking with the previous version, Windows XP, instead of upgrading to Vista.

The launch of the website in 2013 was a disaster due to technical debt. The website was meant to serve as a portal for Americans to sign up for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. However, it suffered from numerous issues, such as long loading times, crashes, and incorrect information being displayed.

The main cause of these problems was the rushed development process and lack of proper testing. Due to tight deadlines, many shortcuts were taken, and the website was not thoroughly tested before its launch. This resulted in a poor user experience and damaged the reputation of the website and the government

Nokia's Symbian Operating System

Nokia's Symbian operating system was once the most popular mobile operating system in the world. However, it started losing market share to competitors like Apple's iOS and Google's Android due to technical debt. The codebase had become bloated and difficult to maintain, resulting in slow development and delayed releases.

Moreover, the lack of innovation and updates to the operating system also led to decreased customer satisfaction and a decline in sales. Eventually, Nokia had to abandon Symbian and switch to using Windows Phone, but by then it was too late, and they had already lost a significant portion of the market.

How to Reduce Technical Debt?

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate technical debt, there are strategies that can help reduce its impact on a development team and organization. Here are some ways to effectively manage technical debt:

Prioritize and Plan

The first step in reducing technical debt is to prioritize and plan for its management. This involves identifying the areas of the codebase that require attention and creating a plan to address them. It is important to involve all stakeholders in this process to ensure that everyone is on the same page.


Refactoring involves making changes to the code without changing its functionality. This can help improve the quality of the codebase and reduce technical debt over time. It is important to regularly schedule refactoring sessions to keep the codebase clean and maintainable.

Automated Testing

Implementing automated testing can help catch bugs and issues early on, reducing the chances of technical debt accumulating. Automated tests can also help identify areas of the codebase that require refactoring or improvement.

Continuous Integration and Delivery

Continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) is a practice that involves automating the process of building, testing, and deploying code changes. This can help catch issues early on and prevent them from turning into technical debt.

Educate and Train

It is important to educate and train developers on best coding practices and the importance of managing technical debt. This can help prevent unintentional technical debt and promote a culture of continuous improvement.

Utilizing Agile Techniques for Gradual Reduction of Technical Debt


Agile methodologies emphasize delivering value incrementally, a principle that can be effectively leveraged in the management of technical debt. Here are several agile techniques that can aid in the gradual reduction of technical debt.

Refining User Stories through Refactoring

User stories are a valuable tool for capturing requirements and outlining the scope of work for specific features. When refactoring tasks are incorporated into user stories, developers can effectively manage technical debt while simultaneously working on new features. This integration allows for a more holistic approach to development, ensuring that improvements and enhancements are made alongside the creation of new functionalities.

Engaging in Sprint Retrospectives

Sprint retrospectives provide a valuable opportunity for the team to reflect on their processes and identify areas that can be improved. By having regular conversations about technical debt during these retrospectives and coming up with practical strategies, teams can effectively address and manage technical debt as they move forward.

Allocating Technical Debt Sprints

Certainly! Many companies set aside a complete sprint specifically aimed at tackling technical debt. This concentrated effort enables the team to focus on reducing technical debt without the added stress of delivering new features simultaneously. It's essential to carefully prioritize and plan these dedicated sprints to guarantee their success.


Technical debt is a common challenge faced by development teams and organizations. While it may seem like a quick and easy solution in the short term, it can have serious consequences in the long run. By understanding the types and consequences of technical debt, as well as implementing strategies for reducing it, organizations can effectively manage it and prevent it from becoming a major issue.

Agile methodologies provide a framework for managing technical debt incrementally and ensuring that it does not hinder the delivery of valuable software. By incorporating technical debt management into agile projects, teams can continuously improve the quality of their codebase and deliver high-quality products to their customers.


No, it is not possible to completely eliminate technical debt. However, it can be effectively managed and reduced over time.

It is important to address technical debt as soon as it is identified. The longer it is left unaddressed, the more difficult and costly it becomes to manage.

Refactoring should be done regularly, preferably during each sprint. This helps keep the codebase clean and maintainable.

While agile methodologies cannot prevent technical debt entirely, they provide a framework for managing it effectively and reducing its impact on development teams and organizations.

Technical Debt: Consequences and Strategies to Reduce It
Phạm Hoàng Giang January 26, 2024