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The Key Concept of Resource Debt


Robby

Many technology professionals—especially those who work in management—are familiar with the concept of technical debt. It’s worth explaining what this is, but really, it’s an example of a wide variety of non-financial debt that plagues many organizations and individuals.

“Resource debt,” as you might call it, is often silent but often destructive. Here’s how it works.

Debt
© Flickr User Hazma Butt

A fantastic summary of the concept comes from Martin Fowler, who explains it as follows:

You have a piece of functionality that you need to add to your system. You see two ways to do it, one is quick to do but is messy – you are sure that it will make further changes harder in the future. The other results in a cleaner design, but will take longer to put in place.

Technical Debt is a wonderful metaphor developed by Ward Cunningham to help us think about this problem. In this metaphor, doing things the quick and dirty way sets us up with a technical debt, which is similar to a financial debt. Like a financial debt, the technical debt incurs interest payments, which come in the form of the extra effort that we have to do in future development because of the quick and dirty design choice. We can choose to continue paying the interest, or we can pay down the principal by refactoring the quick and dirty design into the better design. Although it costs to pay down the principal, we gain by reduced interest payments in the future.

Folwer is a programmer, but the same concept applies throughout business. If you want to add or fix something, you generally have two options:

  1. The fast, quick-and-dirty way
  2. The slow, methodical way

If you choose #1, you are incurring debt. That’s because eventually it will catch up to you. You’ll have to change your policy or solve a problem or spend hours untangling something. But sometimes, you need to meet a deadline so it is the best option.

If you choose #2, your future self will thank you. But the problem with #2 is that you may need an answer right now and this takes too long.

The important thing about this concept is not that #1 or #2 is better. It’s all about context. What matters is communicating to your team that every choice either adds to the debt or reduces the debt. As long as people realize that work isn’t magic, they have a good chance of working well together.

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About the Blogger: Robby Slaughter is a productivity speaker and expert. He is a principal with a AccelaWork, an Indianapolis consulting firm.

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Wed, March 28 2018 » Uncategorized

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