(this is one of a set of notes from my work coaching founders, CEOs and technical leaders in the tech industry. Originally published in the “Leadership, Management and Being Human” newsletter)
I recently highlighted this rather terrific post by Jessica Rose. It kind of off-handedly introduced a notion we might call “HR Debt” – the organizational analogue of technical debt.
Coincidentally, a day later, I then walked into a client session where the issue was, in fact, fixing up a team that had been badly structured and poorly lead: we spent an hour sorting out the pain, cost and general difficulty of getting things set to rights. The notion of “HR Debt” was immediately helpful. Good!
We might describe technical debt as the literal cost (time, attention, real money) of avoiding doing things the right way. In the short term, the company saves money by, for example, not fixing a legacy architectural issue, by “hard-wiring” a piece of code, or just not fixing known bugs (feel free to provide your own list).
A (Short) Story
A long time ago, I had a meeting with my boss and the chief architect of the project we were working on. I was the project manager, and the subject of the meeting was how to finalize some decisions that had been up in the air for a while (too long, in my opinion, of course).
The meeting did not go well. I was furious with my colleague and showed it (and said it). Decisions weren’t made. The architect stormed out.
As I got up to leave, my boss said: “I knew you were going to do that. I could tell, the moment you sat down”.
At the time, I was shocked. What had he seen? Was I that obvious? I thought I had gone into the meeting with the simple notion that we should make some decisions quickly. Apparently, things were a bit more complicated.