On the importance of reducing organisational debt — and how we did it

David Bauer
NZZ Open
Published in
3 min readOct 7, 2019


One of the aspects that makes working on digital transformation so challenging (but also interesting) is that you have to try many things in order to get some things right. You inevitably try and build things that don’t work (or at least not as well) as intended. And that is fine. Fail fast, fail often, as they say. But what does that actually mean?

Developers use the term technical debt to describe the implicit cost that comes from constantly building new things without taking the time to get rid of old code by refactoring. The complexity of the system grows, moving forward becomes harder and harder. The same can be said of teams or entire organisations — something that has been called organisational debt.

Too many tools, structures, processes — once introduced with good intentions — reduce a team’s ability to focus on what really matters. Any tool or process that is in place commands a bit of attention, even if it is hardly ever used. Actually, something that has no clear ownership, tends to come up in unexpected situations, which makes it even more disruptive when you have to deal with it.

That’s why we at NZZ Visuals and NZZ Editorial Tech made a conscious effort to shut things down over the past three months.

This is how we proceeded:

  1. We complied a list of things that we once built or introduced — tools, infrastructure, processes — that are not core to what we do and lack clear…