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Why managing technical debt should be your priority as a forward-thinking agency

Just like financial debt, technical debt can accumulate and harm your bottom line.

Design by Jean Lorenzo

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4 min read

Running a successful web agency requires attention to detail, and you’ll find it’s often subtle decisions that help win your client’s approval. 

On the surface, choosing a platform to build your client’s site may seem like a simple decision. After all, it's usually one of the first details you discuss with them. They may even suggest using a particular platform due to their previous experiences.

But if you’re a web developer, especially one making technical design decisions, you understand that this choice goes beyond the advertised cost and features of a platform. Your goal is not just to meet current business requirements but to also foresee and mitigate future technical issues that may arise.

This is where the concept of technical debt comes in. Just like financial debt, technical debt can accumulate over time, and if not managed properly, can lead to increased costs, decreased resources and unhappy clients.

But as we’ll see, the right technical decisions can be the difference between a smooth client handover and a total headache.

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Wait, what is technical debt?

Technical debt refers to suboptimal decisions made in the development of your software that require additional resources to either maintain or refactor code in the future.

At their worst, these technical decisions can impact your organization’s productivity, as they demand extra resources to support clients if unanticipated requirements or critical issues arise after handing off your software.

But technical debt isn’t always a result of “bad code.” Often, it arises from decisions made even before any code is written. For instance, choosing to self host your site using on premise infrastructure can have long-term consequences. This decision can greatly increase the maintenance required to keep a site live, especially as the business scales up and demands more robust technical requirements. Alternatively, opting for a cloud platform like Wix Studio, known for its out-of-the-box secure, reliable and performant managed hosting, decreases the need for developer maintenance, making it easier to maintain and scale your client’s sites in the future. 

How to manage technical debt

To effectively manage technical debt and boost your developer’s productivity, consider these strategies:

01. Leverage existing solutions

Developers are natural problem solvers, turning feature requests into elegant solutions using code. Thing is, they can likely leverage existing packages, libraries or plugins for most client requests.

Take authentication systems, a commonly requested feature. They’re popular because clients often want their customers to be able to log in into private user accounts to manage their access to a site's services. While it’s possible to “roll your own auth,” namely implement your own authentication system, this may introduce hidden costs related to maintaining the solution in the long-term.

For example, if the user wants to add another feature or third party login provider, it might introduce the need to implement additional complex code that wouldn’t be necessary when using a complete auth solution such as the Wix Members Area App. Not only does this free up your developer’s valuable time, but it also reduces your agency’s responsibility regarding support of systems as critical as authentication. Instead, you can focus on developing unique features tailored to your client’s specific needs.

You generally want to avoid over engineered solutions, especially when there are existing alternatives that can increase developer productivity. It’s equally important to carefully consider each client’s requirements separately, as you’ll see next.

02. Embrace new technologies

If you join any developer circle on social media, you’ll quickly find yourself in the middle of lively debates about which technologies are the best and why. In web development, the concept of web stack is defined as a set of technologies used together to create websites and web apps. Web stacks are popular among developers because they aim to provide the ideal blend of technologies needed to create solutions in specific scopes.

This introduces the potential for developers to get comfortable with their existing tools or design patterns. While this level of specialization is great for helping developers become more productive over time, it introduces the potential of creating solutions using tools that are not suited for the problem they currently face. 

Let’s say your team got a contract to build a website for a multinational corporation that needs to handle a global volume of eCommerce transactions, but in the past you had worked with smaller clients. While it might be tempting to resort to familiar tools and website architectures, sometimes the best solution is to use platforms designed for enterprise scale rather than hacking together a suboptimal solution. This also works as a great way of minimizing the possibility of unanticipated technical debt as the platform you use as the base of your client’s site will be ready for the level of scalability required from the start.

03. Prioritize developer velocity 

In software engineering, most costs are a result of maintenance rather than the initial development, which makes sense when you think about a business’s need to continuously innovate. This means web apps should be built in a way that prioritizes developer velocity,  allowing developers to continuously improve a product in an agile manner.

If a web app is developed with an unscalable architecture, this can introduce issues when new features are required by the end user. When this happens, not only will your software become obsolete as demands change, but it will decrease your team's productivity since additional resources will be required to develop new features. This can mean a decrease in revenue, as customers often expect web apps to innovate rapidly based on their feedback.

At the same time, while most platforms aim to prioritize developer velocity, concerns outside of the core features of web apps often take up a lot of developer time. These are known as non-functional requirements and can be defined as features that are indirectly essential to the needs of a product. Luckily, Wix Studio allows you to quickly ship web apps without ignoring non-functional requirement considerations such as accessibility, data protection laws (such as GDPR), SEO, performance and security.

By integrating these ideas into your engineering culture, you not only mitigate the risks associated with technical debt but also position your agency as a forward-thinking tech leader that’s able to deliver.

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