The cost of postponing

Liz Lawley of Mamamusings has an interesting piece called Broken windows and technical debt. She refers to an article which extends the broken window theory to software development and introduces the term technical debt. The idea is that for each problem in the code that doesn’t get fixed, the developer(s) incur a debt. After too many postponed fixes, the debt might become unmanageable.

While the broken window theory sounds very interesting, it is not clear if it can be applied to software development. It is not even clear if this theory makes sense from a sociological point of view. As folks point out in some comments, it is often difficult to decide what is ‘broken’ in code, and fixing it may incur a bigger cost than just letting it be. Someone else relates this idea to the concept of emotional debt.

Nevertheless, it is an interesting idea that can be applied to many areas of life. See, for example, the mail metaphor of Dave Thomas:

My current metaphor for that is my email inbox. Because I have this habit every now and then of not answering email for a while. And then it gets to the point round about the 250 message mark, where I suddenly realize, I’m never going to answer these messages.

It is just what our mothers try to teach us: that there is a big price to pay for postponing what we know we must do. So all of you who are reading this to avoid exam preparation, acticle revisions, housework and what not, I hope I gave you at least a bit of bad conscience. ;-)