We’ve all done it. We’ve all regretted it, too. Heck, it all made sense, at the time. After a while, however, those situational decisions can start to hold you back if you don’t address them and ensure they are built for the future. Everyone has had to deal with this, no matter what you call it. Your company’s (or department’s) reputation, bottom line, agility, scalability, knowledge base, and capabilities can all be at risk. If you aren’t already addressing technical debt, it’s time to act. This post helps such companies understand technical debt and the role Azure DevOps managed services can play in improving their posture, exposure, and capabilities.
What is technical debt? Why should you care?
Is it my app? Is it our integrations? Is it our technology stack? People? Processes? Where to begin?
Entire technical ecosystems can be built on foundational technologies and processes that are preventing your organization from realizing its full potential. Ever had a server that just never seems to get replaced, or that can longer be patched? Ever have a system written in a codebase that hasn’t been taught for 10, 20, 30 years, or more and is near impossible to find resources for support? Ever wonder why things just keep falling through the cracks? What about processes that nobody seems to remember their origins or rationale? All this and more is the technical debt we live with each and every day.
Wouldn’t you like to break the chain?
Microsoft Azure DevOps services can help solve technical debt issues…
There are many ways Azure DevOps can help address the challenges raised by technical debt. It may not be able to address them all, but it can get you organized, provide line of sight, and empower your ability to address the technical debt issues incrementally or in broad swaths. DevOps automation can help create process flows that minimize lingering debt. You can create pipelines that structurally enforce requirements to minimize the assumption of new debt. And Azure DevOps become a natural repository for knowledge sharing that evolves as your organization’s needs change.
Azure DevOps managed service teams…
A key aspect of Microsoft Azure DevOps is creating teams that are multidisciplinary and small. They can own the complete development of a product or service from its inception to retirement. Such groups interact with technical debt more often and are highly motivated to find ways to streamline. They tend to pay back the debt or minimize it as soon as possible to make their own life more manageable.
One area of interest is how to quantify and qualify the debt on hand. This can be addressed through categorization (labeling) and scoring your work items within Azure DevOps (or offline, but remember, line-of-sight!). You can then select these items based on impact, risk, complexity, etc… This works best if you then employ a methodology requiring the systemic reduction of technical debt as part of your solution process. A reasonable standard is for 20% of effort related to any sprint, deliverable, etc. be dedicated to improving your technical debt posture. By incorporating this into your planning, design, and delivery principles you will quickly find that you are reducing your exposure and making lasting improvements that pay it forward. Sometimes, technical debt is unavoidable, perhaps even by design provided by the organizational constraints, but by recognizing this upfront you can then track and distribute efforts to pay it back in the (near) future.
Paying back technical debt with DevOps automation
Automation, among other things, provides for reliability and repeatability of results. Automation is one of the primary tenets of using Azure DevOps. This can be as narrow or as broad as you desire based on your team makeup and underlying requirements. However, no matter how you look at it, automation is central to the success of any DevOps program. In fact, many times your DevOps pipelines will have layers or automation built into their branches to facilitate knowledge, testing, and deployment.
OK, but how does DevOps automation help with technical debt?
If you are familiar with Azure DevOps Services or Azure DevOps managed services, then this all may seem easy to you. However, if this is new for you, we will break it down a bit more. Below we will review environment management to consider how infrastructure-as-code and configuration-as-code can assist in paying back our debt and helping avoid any further debt buildup.
The time a user will devote to troubleshooting problems is the price and impact of the technical debt. Unreliable environments are a common technical debt that almost all users experience. If an application succeeds in Dev but not in the pre-production stages, the reason is usually a discrepancy. If the application also fails in the production stages, you can pin it down on comparison. Inconsistency might be in the operating system configuration or the application dependencies. The problem can be anywhere in the myriad of configuration settings through which the app depends, or even in the communication aspects between the services in the application.
When users are not busy troubleshooting deployments that are a result of unreliable environments, they can invest that saved time into paying back their technical debt which leads to DevOps automation. Configuration-as-code and infrastructure-as-code can empower users to accurately convey their intentions for what they want from the environment. They can use DevOps tools to achieve and manage a desirable environment consistently across all instances.
Additionally, by holding DevOps automation as code, the entire process becomes more straightforward to repeat and improve. Users can find the code effortlessly via search, propose recommended changes through pull requests, etc. This recapitulation capability implies that the automation code is less likely to get ‘out of date,’ thus preventing yet another kind of technical debt from rising.
Azure DevOps services can be highly beneficial to all companies in many regards and reducing (or eliminating) technical debt is one of its many benefits to modern-day organizations.