Oh, the power of metaphor. I have been thinking a lot about how powerful metaphors go a long way in creating effective communications and laying the foundation for solid teamwork. One of my favorite metaphors currently is the term ‘technical debt.’ It draws an excellent parallel between the worlds of technology and finance. Also, it is a very important concept that I think anyone in the world of technology should be aware of.
Technical debt is a metaphor that was originally coined by Ward Cunningham in 1992. It likens the ‘cost of going fast’ in the world of technology to the ‘cost of buying something you can’t afford today’ in the world of finance. Technical debt often refers to writing sub-optimal code for the purpose of shipping a product on time (or within the current iteration). Like financial debt, the goal in taking out these ‘technical loans’ is to eventually pay them back.
I sketched up a quick visual in the form of a box that explains the effort needed to do a technical task.:
The area of the box is the total amount of effort needed to complete the activity. The total effort of a task can be broken into two main parts: a) the part that makes it work and b) the part that makes it work really well (under the hood). The issue here is that folks in the business care only about the blue box. But, of course, technologists care about the green box. Focusing on the blue box can drive a lot of business value in the short-term, but foregoing that ‘green effort’ does not come without a cost.
The power of any metaphor is driven directly by its ability to create a picture in your mind that quickly and efficiently gives you a model of how to think about something new. The ‘technical debt’ metaphor is such a good one because it really does give us a clean, simple, and familiar framework to think about something that most of us don’t currently understand. Let’s explore some of the similarities between technical and financial debt:
It’s importance and what you can do about it…
I have lots more to say on this subject, but I don’t have the time to write about it just yet. Stay tuned though!