Technical debt is the accrued set of technical issues that create friction during the pursuit of new business value. The term is often applied to software engineering practices, but it is also an invisible force working against marketing teams. The growing complexity of systems and services under the digital marketing umbrella inevitably leads to the accumulation of technical debt. Left unmanaged, technical debt can bring your digital marketing efforts to a grinding halt and potentially tarnish your brand.
Technical debt typically accumulates with each new feature as the complexity of the system grows. It is not a precise measure but rather a heuristic one. In essence, for each technical shortcut you take towards a solution, you pay the price at a future date – by either resolving it or working around it. Technical issues become too numerous at a certain point, causing systems to be retired and others to be built in their place. Avoiding the debt altogether is generally not viable. The rate at which it increases is what is most important and most manageable. A well-managed technical debt extends the company’s life span and ensures that everyone dependent on the system can remain productive in the long run.
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We were approached by the sales and customer service team for a medical device company to help them manage their complex technology stack. Over several years, they had built an ecosystem of tools to manage the complex pipeline of data from marketing through to the customer support efforts. This ecosystem had developed organically over time through a mix of commercial, open-source, and custom tools in response to evolving business needs. Convertiv was asked to perform a deep dive into the toolchain and re-engineer it to pay down accumulated technical debt and improve performance across the pipeline.View customer story →
It is always possible to over-engineer things, especially when the future roadmap or requirements are not clearly defined. Managing technical debt means making the right tradeoffs at the right times and having the process in place to determine what to do in any given situation. Left to their own devices, most seasoned web developers will want to find a best-in-class solution and implement it carefully. The hard part in today’s climate is dealing with the fast pace of modern web development. Real-world situations mean that it will sometimes be acceptable to do a quick and dirty implementation if the building is truly on fire. Having these types of rapid sprints is not a bad thing so long as there is ample room to go back and reevaluate what’s already there and clean the house at regular intervals.
Ensuring the team is well-educated about the best practices of the technology being applied is one of the best ways to minimize the amount of debt created. Technology vendors usually provide such information alongside other documentation indicating how best to move forward with their solution. Periodic technical reviews are also an excellent strategy to ensure that debt isn’t accumulating unchecked over a more extended period. Following a review, improvements to existing practices should be documented and adhered to in the future.
Finally, choose your tools wisely. There are now thousands of tools available to solve nearly every problem out there. Doing something quickly to support your teams doesn’t mean ignoring due diligence. Where able, stick with tools that follow and support web authoring best practices. This can go a long way in making sure your workflow is solid and that your website remains healthy and extendable for a long time.