How to tackle technical debt: a guide for CTOs

Emilien Coquard
3 min readMar 20, 2024

Finding effective ways to tackle technical debt is one of the most critical challenges CTOs face in their career.

Especially when such debt is inherited from organisations’ past bad practices.

In this article, we’ll share the best solutions to manage technical debt — based on our experience extending software development teams for tech leaders in multiple industries.

Before diving into the strategy, we’ll start by defining the topic with a practical example and explaining the three types of technical debt.

Let’s make a start!

What is technical debt?

Technical debt (also known as tech debt) refers to the costs an organisation must cover due to prioritising fast and less effective solutions over optimal ones.

The debt is in the form of time, money, and/or resources.

For example, a startup can incur technical debt when planning to release its Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Tight deadlines and pressure from investors may force executives to outsource low-quality developers to launch their product as soon as possible.

The result? Prolonged development cycles, scalability challenges, and security vulnerabilities.

The consequences of accumulating technical debt for this startup went beyond just launch delays and spending more money. It affected the company’s long-term success.

The 3 types of technical debt

Despite the diverse range of technical debt types, they can be grouped into three categories: intentional, unintentional, and environmental.

Intentional debt

Intentional debt occurs when a company chooses a faster development framework or solution to build software — fully aware of its risks and issues — instead of the best.

Let’s go back to the example we shared earlier in this article, where we talked about a startup launching its MVP. If this business intentionally hired a team of inexperienced developers to release its product quickly, it incurred intentional debt.

And that’s not necessarily bad.

In some cases, organisations manage to launch a decent product and start generating revenue sooner. This early revenue can help them address and solve debugging problems that may arise in the future.

Still, it’s a risky move, as it may lead to future delays in implementing new features and addressing performance issues as the user base grows.

Unintentional debt

Unintentional debt occurs when development teams implement bad practices without knowing it.

Companies affected by unintentional debt generally hire low-quality developers or neglect proper testing and code review processes. In both cases, this poses a serious threat, as companies can be unaware of technical issues, including security vulnerabilities, for a long time.

Environmental debt

Environmental debt occurs when technical debt has accumulated over time due to the inaction of development teams in managing and maintaining programs.

Let’s consider a web application built on an older programming language and framework version. As the language and framework evolve, the application’s initial functional code becomes incompatible with the latest versions, causing features to break or performance to drop.

To address this challenge, it’s common to briefly pause or delay development after spotting feature problems. Engineers adjust the code and ensure it works well with the latest versions to provide a smoother, more compatible performance.

Technical debt will accrue if developers don’t stay updated and keep up with these changes.


Organisations waste, on average, 23–42% of their development time due to technical debt.

Source: CodeScene

Best solutions to tackle technical debt as a CTO

Now that we’ve discussed what technical debt (really) is and its types, we’ll list effective solutions you can use to handle it.


Refactoring involves the restructuration of code for better readability, maintainability, and performance without changing its external behaviour.

In other words, correcting poor or bad code.

Despite reservations from some who see it as time-consuming or unnecessary, this approach extends beyond mere bug fixing and tackles technical debt by enhancing overall code quality.

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