The Technical Lessons of Pandemic Debt

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If your technology organization is like most, the volume of requests you receive may exceed your ability to keep pace with the architecture you need to support innovation and growth. Over time, this can lead to technical debt, hampering responsiveness and speed to market.

Like many organizations, our business faced challenges during the pandemic that left us with the burden of technical debt. Here’s how we reacted to emerge victorious.

The move to the Internet

Over the past two years, technology organizations have been pushed to become more agile. The pandemic meant companies needed the ability to support remote workers, and many were also forced to reinvent how they delivered commodities and/or differentiation. An unfortunate result of all of this disruption has been a relentless demand for faster delivery and higher technical debt, which for some organizations started long before the pandemic.

Year up to was no exception. We went from in-person to online delivery of our products in record time. But the technical debt we had incurred over the years made the process much more difficult than it needed to be.

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The solution, we decided, had to not only enable web conferencing for staff and students, but also include back-end systems that could support our online community.

Driving systems forward – with a focus on the customer

As we worked to resolve these challenges, we maintained our focus on serving our customers while repositioning ourselves to adapt to the new normal. Keeping an eye on the current state while carving out the future state has reinforced our two-pronged approach. Our mantra: make it happen and make sure we don’t find ourselves in this position in the future.

To that end, we have focused on paying off technical debt currently in our back-end systems. This is a work in progress – ten years of technical debt won’t magically disappear overnight – but through consistent adherence to thoughtful processes, we continue to make progress.

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A top priority is to ensure that all updates undergo a checkpoint of architectural review. This step is non-negotiable. As a result, our organization has a much better understanding of the balance between speed and foundational concepts.

Technical debt lessons learned

We continue to carefully maintain this balance and ensure that communications and plans are not limited to the tech team but are enterprise-wide. The pandemic and its associated technical debt have given many tech organizations an ear to the business, helping leaders understand that short-term wins today may produce long-term consequences if they’re not thought through.

Taking the time to ensure that an architectural review is part of your standard planning process limits technical debt so your organization can keep up with the speed of business.

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