To quote Stephen Parry @leanvoices – ‘The soft stuff is the hard stuff and if you don’t do the soft stuff you wont get the hard stuff’ .
The quote is quite apt because technical refactoring is the hard stuff and organisational refactoring is the really, really, really hard stuff to execute.
Startups focus on speed since they are burning cash every day as they search for product/market fit. But over time code/hardware written/built to validate hypotheses and find early customers can become unwieldy, difficult to maintain and incapable of scaling. These shortcuts add up and become what is called technical debt. And the size of the problem increases with the success of the company.
You fix technical debt by refactoring, going into the existing code and “cleaning it up” by restructuring it. This work adds no features visible to a user but makes the code stable and understandable.
While technical debt is an understood problem, it turns out startups also accrue another kind of debt – one that can kill the company even quicker – organizational debt. Organizational debt is all the people/culture compromises made to “just get it done” in the early stages of a startup.
Just when things should be…
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