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Amazon’s Concept of Ownership and Technical Debt

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I’m reading Think Like Amazon: 50 1/2 Ideas to Become a Digital Leader. In talking about Amazon’s pursuit of a second headquarters, John Rossman wrote the following regarding ownership:

Amazon’s second leadership principle is “Ownership,” by which leaders at Amazon strive to never sacrifice long-term value for short-term results.

Where I think this is appropriate is the issue of technical debt. Technical debt is when we choose a less efficient approach for expediency or where we have a situation where some aspect of our system needs an update. This can occur, for instance, as a particular software product we depend on is about to move into Extended Support or move out of support altogether.

Too often I’ve heard there is too much focus on features and new functionality. However, when this selection is done at the expense of paying down technical debt, we are sacrificing long-term value for short-term results. Technical debt carries with it the same concept as monetary debt. There’s an interest rate for technical debt. It may be in how long it takes folks to do some task. It could be in the additional cost to support a product. It could be that the organization is less responsive to change because the technical debt becomes a roadblock for moving forward. As a result, teams start using workarounds just to move forward, which incurs more technical debt. At some point, we have to address that technical debt to reduce what we’re paying in interest.

As an architect, I’m always going to push for this concept of ownership. We can look at the success of organizations like Amazon, Toyota, etc. which take ownership seriously. That track record is my justification for focusing on long-term value.

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