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Managed Chaos
Naresh Jain's Random Thoughts on Software Development and Adventure Sports
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Technical Debt is Really a Lease

At the last SDTConf, Todd Little facilitated a session called “Technical Debt is Really a Lease.”

I had a few interesting take-aways from this discussion:

  • A debt always has a notation that you need to pay it eventually (unless you default.) This is not true in case of a technical debt. There might be parts of your code which is a complete mess, but you don’t touch it and its fine to live with that debt. Or you might just decide to throw away that code since it served its purpose. You might never need to pay off that technical debt.
  • Deep down in our psychology, the term “debt” trigger a negative thought. We strive hard to avoid a debt. However if you project the same thing as a lease, it seems to have a more positive feel. In the business world, taking on a lease, in many cases, can give you a good business advantage. In fact some might even consider it to be stupid not to lease out stuff.
  • The important thing to consider is: what is the “Cost of Service” for a lease/debt? If the cost is significantly high, you are better off not taking it on. But if the cost is really low, it makes all economical sense to embrace it. We’ve learned that long-term, heavy interest leases/loans are a bad idea for that very reason. But a short-term, low interest loan can provide extra working capital to expand business.

IMHO it can really help teams to think of technical debt really in terms of the “cost of service” of a lease.

Beware not to make technical debt a dumping ground for tasks that the team wants to defer without a conscious, thoughtful reason. I’ve seen in many organizations, technical debt becomes an easy excuse for the team to skip things that are very important but for their short-sighted hasty decisions.

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