The problem with robbing Peter to pay Paul is that Peter generally turns up to collect on his debt. And Peter turns out to have a really brilliant legal team. Or worse Peter sends his friend Ray Donovan around to collect. And Ray always collects.
With technology we sometimes call this “Technical Debt”
Jeff Atwood describes it well
No matter how talented and smart the software developers, all these tiny deferments begin to add up and cumulatively weigh on the project, dragging it down. My latest project is no different. After six solid months working on the Stack Overflow codebase, this is exactly where we are. We’re digging in our heels and retrenching for a major refactoring of our database. We have to stop working on new features for a while and pay down some of our technical debt.
Some of this debt is of the nature ”Boss, it’ll take two days to hack a fix together, or it’ll take a week to two weeks to do it properly” Where the temptation is to take the path of least resistance and just hack it together.
Which can be OK. As long as you recognise that you need to pay down that debt. There is price and you will pay the interest on the debt. And interest is accrued at a high compounding rate, and that whether or not Albert Einstein said it “Compound Interest is the most powerful force in the universe.”
Too often the temptation is to avoid paying down the debt. Or like the Irish property bubble to role over the interest and hope you can get out of town before the whole house of cards comes crumbing down.
There is a human cost to much debt accumulation as well. The 80+ hour weeks of startups and many intense work environments create a people debt. It may be necessary and it is dysfunctional and it creates a debt. And like technical debt that has to be paid back as well. With interest. And Ray collects.