March 07, 2023

3 min

How to Reduce Technical Debt Through DevOps

Automated processes allow organizations to address issues in the moment, rather than waiting until problems become unmanageable.

Roger Campbell

When people talk about the benefits of DevOps, the first components that come up are usually speed, efficiency and reliability. Certainly, organizations can achieve these results by integrating and automating the work of their software development and IT operations teams. But one other big benefit is often overlooked: the ability to reduce technical debt. 

By “technical debt,” I mean the performance issues and minor defects that accumulate in an application over time. Traditional development environments typically lack effective processes to systematically address these issues, which often end up being neglected as teams bow to the tyranny of urgency. In a DevOps environment, by contrast, organizations can automate workflows in ways that prevent technical debt from building up. 

The DevOps Handbook discusses the “three ways of DevOps”: flow, feedback, and continual learning and experimentation. These provide a useful framework for talking about how organizations can address technical debt through their DevOps processes.

How DevOps Can Improve and Streamline Workflows

Unless they fully understand their workflows, business and IT leaders cannot truly appreciate how those workflows bring value to the organization. Mapping out workflows is critical to any DevOps effort, and this step can create new efficiencies that prevent technical debt and limit the need to rework projects.

We recently worked with one customer whose development lifecycle was bloated by a two-week approval process. However, when we looked under the hood, we learned that changes were approved 99.5 percent of the time. We reasoned (and our client agreed) that it makes no sense to hold up a project for a 1-in-200 chance of a minor approval issue. The client decided to eliminate the approval step, and instead build periodic audits into the organization’s DevOps workflows. This change made the development lifecycle more productive and efficient, and it freed up time for IT professionals to focus on the organization’s technical debt.

DevOps Allows for More Constant and Valuable Feedback

One reason technical debt accumulates is that development teams don’t know there is a problem. In a traditional “waterfall” development environment, a team might release several updates before realizing that something isn’t working as intended. At that point, the amount of rework required to fix the problem can be daunting.

By contrast, DevOps pipelines provide constant feedback, helping teams to catch problems as they arise. These pipelines will, by design, fail at any step where the criteria has not been fully met, providing an opportunity for in-the-moment analysis that leads to quick fixes rather than lengthy backlogs. Additionally, automating tasks such as testing, deployment and infrastructure management can help reduce the time and effort required to manage code changes and make it easier to maintain a stable and secure production environment.

Continuous Learning and Experimentation Through DevOps

When teams experiment and refine their processes over time, they prevent bloat and inefficiency. Too often, we see organizations with more traditional development processes end up with what my colleagues and I call “tool fruit salad,” where different teams are using either redundant or incompatible tools to solve problems.

By working together across teams and unifying around a common strategy, IT professionals can share best practices that not only make individual teams more efficient, but also promote more efficient cross-team collaboration. Ultimately, this continuous learning and experimentation frees up time and resources that DevOps teams can use to attack their technical debt.

Story by Roger Campbell, a member of the Digital Services Transformation team at CDW, a group of highly experienced technology experts that work strategically with Sirius clients to design custom solutions addressing critical business needs.