Organisational Debt

Messy Desk

Organisation Debt is a term that we need to start using.
We understand financial debt. Sometimes you need more money than you have available to you so you go into debt; you eventually have to pay back that money along with some extra money called interest.
Programmers have to deal with technical debt. Technical debt is when making something work well will take more time/energy than you have available – so you make it work ‘kind of okay’ with the resources you have.  The problem is every time you go near that part of the code again you have to spent more time/energy dealing with the downstream problems it causes.
Organisational debt is the debt you set up in your own life.  You’d like a clean kitchen with everything in the right place, all knives sharpened, all broken things repaired, and everything in place.  You haven’t got time to sort all that you (it would take a day).  You’ll eventually spend that day organising, but until you do you pay back 30 seconds interest whenever you are trying to find a particular spice, you pay interest in energy every time you can’t have nice hot chocolate because you’ve failed to put a battery in the frother and you pay interest in a 100 other ways every time you use the kitchen.
This is organisational debt and it’s a very worthwhile thing to think about.
I did some filming recently for a little bit of an AAC video, and I should apologise for the shakiness of the filming.  It’s not like the filming should have been shaky, I have a stand that I bought especially to avoid this some time ago.  The problem was that when I opened my cupboard to get the stand out I was confronted by such an enormous amount of a random objects piled on top of each other and tided together with a bewildering array of wires that it was clear that looking for the stand would take much longer than it was worth.
So my disorganised cupboard makes life slightly less nice and easy, and it does get worse, because I’m falling deeper into organisational debt.  And it gets worse still: because I can’t find something then I’m late for an appointment and so whatever I was working on before just gets thrown haphazardly into the cupboard.

It’s getting nasty in there.

So why is this in any way interesting? Because there are some very sensible things said about technical debt that you should bear in mind when you think about organisation debt.  For starters, software engineers are aware that the proper way of doing things is not just tidying up, it’s refactoring.

Refactoring is (ideally) when you take some code that works, and then to rearrange it so that it is simpler, or easier for other people to understand, or uses more secure approaches, or just so it looks nicer to deal with.  Paying down technical debt is done mostly by refactoring things that currently work, but could work a lot better.

And it’s applicable in your own life.  Paying down your organisational debt is not simply tidying up, it’s thinking about exactly how you ended up in this position and working out how your needs have changed since last time you looked at it.

So my climbing gear is normally stored in various places in the cupboard.  By comparison, since I was at university I’d always had a packed and ready-to-go Judo bag easily accessible from the front door.  Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to judo for various mild injury reasons for the last year. So while the tidying up would be
get my climbing stuff together and make sure it's clean,
the refactoring would be
my climbing pack is packed and stored by the front door.
In the kitchen- the tidying up is
I wash up and put the pans properly away in the drawer
whereas the refactoring should be that
put the sharpener closer to the knives.

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