10 Signs You Already Have Operational Debt

If you don’t know what Operational Debt is, take a look at our article What is Operational Debt

In short, this type of debt is related to time, specifically, the time you need to put back into your business after borrowing to get ahead somewhere else (often in a growth phase). 

Did you bring on a dozen new employees without documenting your onboarding process? How about ordering new equipment for your warehouse only to find that you already had what you needed? Don’t worry; these problems don’t have to be the end of the line. 

Let’s take a look at 10 signs you already have operational debt and what you can do about it…

1. Projects aren’t getting done on time and you have no idea what anyone is working on

It is extremely common for teams to have most of their communications in-person, over email, in meetings, or in an IM like Slack, GChat, or Microsoft Teams. These are all great ways to handle delegation and project design until they aren’t

A week after asking a colleague to knock out a simple task, you might not even remember who you asked. This issue is compounded when you’re overseeing dozens of projects across multiple areas of the business. 

Those missed deadlines can mean missed opportunities, lost investments, and put the future of the business at risk entirely. 

2. Teams are constantly “reinventing the wheel” and everyone has a different way of doing things

I’d hazard a guess and say we’re all guilty of having a few things we like to do a certain way, despite the recommendations of others. I bet you didn’t even know that “10 & 2” driving has been replaced by “9 & 3,” and why should you? It’s just another (admittedly pretty similar) way to do the same thing, right? Well, I’m not going to tell you that your sales call being improvised rather than scripted is dangerous, but I will say that a lack of standardization limits growth, can ruin customer experience, but most importantly, is completely within your control. 

3. Internal communications are filled with friction points

In this context, friction points are areas in which the information provided prevents the recipient from immediately acting. Friction can happen where you share too much and friction can happen where you share too little. Finding the right balance of what needs to be communicated, to whom, how, and when, is vital to limiting friction between team members. 

4. There’s a dramatic lack of focus across teams

Even when you know what your goals for the day are sometimes you can spend hours staring at a computer screen not quite sure how to get there. Just spinning your wheels. 

When teams are completely divorced from one another you might not realize how the work you’re doing ties into the overall company goals, much less how you’re preventing another team from completing something they’re working on. 

5. KPIs and performance metrics are impossible to measure and track

Who’s performing well? Who’s performing poorly? How are you even supposed to know? 

Without the right tools and questions, it’d be an unrealistic thing to keep an eye on. Do you go with your gut? Base it on who you like? Before you can measure metrics you need to define them, but where do you start?

6. Competitors are speeding past and gaining market share faster than you’re able to keep up

After a period of rapid growth, you’re seeing the second, third, fourth, or even fifth to the market gobbling up opportunities that should have been yours. 

7. Growth opportunities are being missed or skipped

Did you skip out on a conference that could have landed you new clients? Are you having to tell potential clients “we’d love to do that but…”? The fear of being unable to deliver can be crushing, but it’s not something you need to be afraid of. The right tools and processes will help keep you on track to deliver the experience your customers deserve. 

8. Customer experiences are completely inconsistent

“Look at all these happy customers,” you exclaim, ignoring the handful of disgruntled, uncared for, or otherwise overlooked customers. 

If seven people had this amazing experience, surely the other three are mistaken. I hear this line of thinking a lot but most of the time, the unhappy customers did simply have a different experience. It’s not the experience that you and your team outlined. It’s often related to the second point, above. Standardization isn’t just about saving time or making things easier, less confusing, or more cost-effective, it’s about ensuring that all customers have a similar experience so you can actually keep track of things like your overall satisfaction with as few variables as possible. 

9. Everything takes longer than it should

Things taking longer than expected doesn’t mean you made bad hiring decisions or that your team is poorly trained but it does mean you could probably benefit from implementing some simple changes in day-to-day operations. This is a highly subjective stance to take in the first place, have you communicated your goals to the team appropriately? Have they confirmed the viability of those goals?

10. You’re worried that additional growth will only make things worse

This is the worst. If you’re actively avoiding opportunities, staying up late at night wondering how you’re going to turn things around, or turning down highly qualified applicants (whether you know it or not) because they’ll be TOO GOOD, you’ve likely got an operational debt problem. 

Top 3 Ways to Fix Operational Debt

  • Share your vision
    Make sure your team knows what you want and has some input on how you’re going to get there.
  • Document and share company knowledge
    A central knowledge base is vital to the successful scaling of your company. You can take a look at our high-level overview of 3 top knowledge base solutions by checking out our Knowledge Base Solutions article.
  • Measure and make small improvements, constantly
    Building your dream is a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s borrow from Agile methodology and say that making incremental changes over time will lead to a better solution, prevent you from biting off more than you can chew, and keep you from going further into operational debt.

Thanks for reading!


Go from zero to 100 with a business that scales. This resource gives you the blueprint for the critical systems that will turn your business back into a well-oiled machine.

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