One of the most common struggles of product managers is, often, how to manage a relationship between design and engineering while also trying to build a great product. And why shouldn’t that be a concern? Nobody wants to accrue debt. Neither financial nor technical. The concept of technical debt is a serious thing when it comes to user experience. In this article, we will discuss about how to manage technical debt in detail.
Sure the aspect looks intriguing and also a challenge at the same time but it is also crucial to understand it. Managing or reducing technical debt is a common challenge faced by product managers, designers, and developers. But in order to answer that question, we’ll first have to go in-depth and take a look at what tech debt means.
What is Technical Debt?
Many times development teams try to launch a product in a hurry. So much so, that they don’t pay much attention to the fact that there might be some issues with the design or code that could be harmful to them in the long run. This gives rise to technical debt.
Technical debt can be defined as any ongoing problems in the product experience due to launching a fast, easy, or careless solution that later negatively impacts users. Sometimes it’s a matter of priority to launch a product at a certain time. But product development teams have to understand that the cost of rectifying the user experience later can be even more.
Technical debt can be of many types when it comes to product development. But two of the synonyms for this concept are:
- Design Debt: when the design is ignored to launch the product faster but leads to a poor user experience later
- Code Debt: When the code is not reviewed enough leading to all the errors that have to be rectified later.
Where does technical debt come from?
Here are some of the situations that can give rise to technical debt:
- Sometimes there is a lack of time or budget to work on every little feature with the same care.
- Sometimes designers overload a website or an app with different features, only to give rise to confusion and hamper the user experience.
- When user testing of the interface isn’t carried out before its implementation.
- Not analyzing the product and how it’s doing in the market.
- Not reviewing the design or code enough.
- When a team begins with a project without any research and just proceeds on the basis of assumptions.
How to Manage Technical Debt Effortlessly
Tech debt is a crucial aspect that should be handled in time. Ignoring it will only lead to its accumulation which can be very harmful to your business or product in the long run.
Here are 4 ways in which you can, if not get rid of, lessen the chances of accruing technical debt.
1. Design Reviews Can be Helpful
A million code reviews take place in an ongoing development process. Just like that, you should also make design review a permanent thing. This method will help you add an additional filter for user demands before your product launches. Just like you cannot move to the next stage till the code is perfect, design should be considered an important factor as well.
Although you don’t have to go with rigorous design reviews. Just go for a simple review session including both the design and engineering teams. This way you will be able to prevent design debt in the first place.
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2. Keep a Backlog of your Debt
In order to maintain your debt, you have to get to the root of it. Chances are that it was the result of conscious decision-making at the time of launch. In such a case, you know the consequences and still go on with your decision. This will cause you more harm than good. But at least you can beware of the debt and make another conscious decision of rectifying it.
On the other hand, if technical debt has been incurred due to a careless development process, that is a whole different problem. In that case, you have to have a word with your development team and talk to them clearly about the problem and its consequences.
Keeping a backlog can help you rectify the debt quickly as you will have a record of everything that has caused the debt to accumulate over time.
3. Work on Technical Debt Clear-Ups
Many times product development teams don’t do anything about careless designs. This leads to design debt pile-ups that are harmful to the product in the long run. The best way to get rid of it is to give some time to make amends and cleanups. Unlike the code, the design is not revised again and again. So there might be several details that might go missing.
You can manage this by thoroughly reviewing the design or hiring a front-end specialist as they have better knowledge and an eye for the tiniest design details. This is a crucial step as traditional programmers might care less about the design and visuals.
4. Prioritize Based on User Journeys
User journeys are not always the same. Therefore, different UX debts will have a different impact on your product. For example, you might be able to recover from a small design issue that is causing a component to render badly on the invoice generation page. But if the same problem occurs on your eCommerce checkout, it will have a comparatively bigger impact on users.
You can manage this design debt aspect by implementing regular user testing sessions in your development processes. It will help you prioritize what is important and what is not. This way you will be able to know different situations that might lead to user debt.
In order to save your product from the technical debt of any kind, be it design debt or any other, ask yourself if getting to the market quickly is worth the risk of negatively affecting user perceptions. Also, don’t forget that the costs of fixing issues, later on, will be much higher. Developing a well-planned product will only be beneficial in the future.
Different teams have different opinions about design debt and its management. So there is no best way. But the first step you can take to avoid it is to spend some time reviewing your projects. Try to identify the situations where something should have been done differently. Or maybe take notes and discussed. As it’s rightly said, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that you have one.