Does tech debt increase during an economic downturn?
Less Money All Around
If there’s a lack of money in the general economy, as in a wider economic downturn, there’s probably a lack of extra funds within our company as well. It’s difficult to make a sale. Clients are holding their coin closer. The money that we have already is monitored more closely. The clients that we have are suddenly more valuable because they’re less easy to replace.
The downturn makes it a buyers market. Anyone holding cash and willing to pay for our services has leverage. He who has the gold makes the rules. Client requests are more likely to be entertained.
Software product companies usually sell a standard product that is meant to fulfill the needs of the general customer base. This is boxed software or software as a service. The point is that it’s general. At least, that was the plan.
Clients make requests changes all the time, sometimes features just for them. Per-customer customizations are expensive. But sometimes a company will fulfill the customization request because of the potential in coin.
During an economic downturn, the amount of coin required to make a company cave to a customization request is lowered.
Customization and Tech Debt
In a software product, customization can start to pile up and quickly feel like tech debt. This is because these layers of customization aren’t usually intended or design for in the beginning. They come later as one-offs. And in a pinch, which is always the state when scrambling for money in a downturn, the customizations are implemented as fast as possible in order to secure funding.
Client makes a request, sales sells it, product informs development that we have to do this and quick, and engineering lays down another sweet conditional block for the new client, especially for their desired functionality.
So, does tech debt pile up this way more in an economic downturn than in a normal period of time? Probably. We need clients, even the high-maintenance ones, so we can have runway just to survive. This will all be cleaned up later. I’ll give my emergency powers up, no problem, once this is all under control.