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We Sound Like Idiots When We Talk About Technical Debt

How much debt is your company carrying? If I asked that question you might immediately talk about a balance sheet or a loan or bonds or some other kind of financial instrument. In the world of business, debt is a way to build companies and a liability that can drag them down. But no matter what it is, debt is something expressed in terms of monetary instruments.

Technical debt is something that we talk about a lot in IT. We use the expression to discuss how we must contend with systems that aren’t as capable as we would like or that require additional investment of our time or resources to operate properly. To us it does feel like a debt or a price we pay to do our jobs. But in the grand scheme of things is it really a debt? Or an inconvenience?

Image: Corey Dirrig (c) Gestalt IT

Kam Lasater has written an excellent piece that talks about the disconnect between our perception of technical debt and how the rest of the organization sees it. As evidenced by the title of the post, you can guess that he thinks we blow it a bit out of proportion in comparison to the rest of the things the business uses to operate. He has some great thoughts on the matter, such as this:

Companies and business leaders don’t care if jobs are hard or annoying or take longer than they “should”. The difference between a user story taking a day or 3 days is negligible compared to its business value. Companies and their leaders care about revenue and costs. They care about customers and growth. They care about time to market. If we want to have our non-technical colleagues listen and act, we need to either improve our use of the financial terms they understand or we need to translate our message into business outcomes that they do care about.

Read on for more great wisdom in this post: We Sound Like Idiots When We Talk About Technical Debt

About the author

Tom Hollingsworth

Tom Hollingsworth is a networking professional, blogger, and speaker on advanced technology topics. He is also an organizer for networking and wireless for Tech Field Day.  His blog can be found at

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