Technical debt is a common challenge faced by engineering teams, requiring deliberate efforts to manage and pay it down. In this blog post, we will explore different approaches to tackling technical debt and building a long-term technical strategy. We will also highlight the importance of involving senior individual contributors (ICs) and engineering managers (EMs) in shaping the strategy, while considering the alignment with business and product goals.
- Engaging Senior ICs and EMs in Technical Strategy
To ensure a comprehensive technical strategy, it is essential to involve experienced ICs and EMs in the decision-making process. This engagement helps leverage their expertise and insights while creating a collective vision for the engineering function. The strategy-setting process can involve quarterly planning sessions, where EMs and tech leads define the engineering priorities, with input from ICs. This approach enables a bottom-up approach, empowering the team to contribute their perspectives.
- Long-Term Strategy vs. Short-Term Roadmaps
While quarterly planning sessions address immediate engineering goals, a long-term strategy focuses on broader aspects such as language choices, technological advancements, and developer experience (DevX). It considers the growth trajectory of the engineering function as a whole. In contrast, short-term roadmaps tend to be more reactive, addressing immediate challenges and technical debt. Balancing both long-term strategy and short-term roadmaps is crucial for sustainable technical development.
- Conducting Technical Audits
A technical audit is a valuable exercise to gain a clear understanding of the existing technical state and identify areas of improvement. ICs can drive this process, examining code quality, system scalability, and infrastructure bottlenecks. The audit results inform the roadmap for addressing technical debt and identifying priorities for future development. By involving ICs directly in this process, you tap into their technical expertise and ensure a bottom-up perspective.
- Measuring the Technical State of the Team
To track progress and maintain visibility on technical improvements, it is crucial to establish measurable metrics. Metrics such as code coverage, system performance, and reduction in technical debt can provide a quantifiable view of the team’s progress. Regularly reviewing these metrics enables better decision-making and helps prioritize efforts effectively. This blog provides some guidance on measuring the technical state of the team and tracking progress.
- Embracing Proactive Technical Improvements
Shifting the mindset from “technical debt” to “technical improvements” helps foster a proactive approach to engineering challenges. While technical debt refers to systems that require attention due to accumulated compromises, technical improvements encompass a broader scope. This includes scaling systems beyond current limitations, anticipating future growth, and modernizing outdated components. Recognizing the need for both reactive and proactive improvements is key to maintaining a healthy technical ecosystem.
Developing a strategic approach to tackle technical debt is crucial for long-term engineering success. By engaging senior ICs and EMs, conducting technical audits, and measuring progress, teams can create a roadmap that addresses immediate challenges while considering long-term growth. Embracing proactive technical improvements helps foster a forward-thinking mindset, ensuring systems are resilient and adaptable. By aligning the technical strategy with business and product goals, organizations can establish a solid foundation for sustainable technical development.