After a brief hiatus, I would like to return to the subject of technical debt.
First off, I don’t think technical debt is a question of “Yes or No”, but instead a question of “How Much.” After all, everyone loves the company where the boss gives them all the time they need to implement the “right” solution without any pressure … right until it goes out of business.
In that way, technical debt is not like real debt. In the real world, debt carries interest, and the best financial choice is to completely eliminate it. After all, ten bucks in the bank with no debt beats $10,000 in savings and $9,995 in loans – the interest on the loan will accumulate faster than cash. (Or, to quote Steve Poling “Debt is bad. Investments are good.”)
But I believe the metaphor is generally solid. It is a concept that people can understand. It involves better and worse choices – the worse choices gives you an instant gratification (like buying that shiny new iPod on Credit) and yet hurts you in the long term. Unless you work really hard to check your financial statements and build some sort of family budget model, the cost of eating out a bit too much, concert tickets, and recurring monthly payments is really hard to measure. (“It’s only $20 a month” = $240 a year. And exactly how many of those do we have, anyway? Land Phone, Two Cell Phones, Internet, Cable Tv …)
Just like real debt, technical debt is an addiction cycle. Feeding the addition – buying something, or making a quick hack – can provide gratification in the short term – but make the long term worse. So you feel bad, and to feel better, you go to the mall. (Or, to hit the next impossible deadline, make another quick hack …)
I had a friend in college who paid tuition with a credit card. When she got a statement asking for her monthly payment – I kid you not – she went to the ATM and withdrew money from the same card, deposited it in the bank, and sent a check to the credit card company.
Ho. Ly. Cow. Now, if we do a quick spreadsheet model of that we see … wow. All she needed to change her behavior was the spreadsheet and a better idea.
Of course, Financial Debt is not the only form of addiction. Another common compulsion is overeating – which I just discussed in a recent post. Jerry Weinberg covers a systems analysis of overeating in his book – Quality Software Management, Volume I.
How do you get out of the weight gain trap? Surprise, surprise, you make the hidden trade offs visible, create an environment where successes are celebrated and set-backs are supported – and provide options. For example, at weight watchers, they have a weekly weight-in and provide healthy alternatives; carrots and celery instead of chocolate frosted sugar bombs and Mountain Dew. Now pounds lost ain’t a great metric; muscle weighs more than fat, and it is possible to shed inches off your waist but maintain your weight. As I understand it, Weight Watches does take a holistic approach, and does measure multiple things – including calories.
Weight Loss. Finance. Human motivations. Metrics. We’ve got a lot more to cover in this area.
Is it time to start thinking about a peer workshop?