Beware of exception debt

So you create a new process and some people get upset by it. When that happens, you have two options:

  1. Make an exception for them
  2. Tell them (nicely) to deal with it

Making an exception looks pretty dang appetizing when the process makes things objectively worse for those upset people. The book An Elegant Puzzle talks about these “locally suboptimal” processes:

Satisfying global constraints inevitably leads to local inefficiency, sometimes forcing some teams to deal with deeply challenging circumstances in order to support a broader goal that they may experience little benefit from. It’s hard to ask folks to accept such circumstances, harder to be someone in one of those local inefficiencies, and hardest yet to stick to the decisions at real personal cost to the folks you’re impacting.

Will Larson, An Elegant Puzzle

It takes courage to consistently apply the processes you put into place. It’s hard to make a small group suffer for the sake of a larger goal, but it’s necessary.

Granting exceptions sets a precedent. It’s a slippery slope. Exceptions expand over time to the point that you find yourself drowning in exception debt. You’ll end up spending more time on the exceptions than the process.

So stop working the exceptions and start working the process.

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