What Is Process Debt, and Why Is It a Problem?


You might be familiar with the term tech debt, but do you know about process debt? 

I don’t recall ever hearing this term before. Although I know and understand what tech debt is, it’s not something I worry about in my role as a marketer. But process debt? That sounds like something that could impact me.

So when Prabhjot Singh mentioned the term during a Practically Genius podcast episode, I had to get him to dive in deeper. What is process debt, why is it an issue, and how can it be fixed? Let’s dig in. 

Listen Now: Rather listen than read? Get all of Prabjhot’s insights on process debt, automation, and improving efficiency by listening to his Genius Spotlight episode Automation Can’t Save You from Broken Processes.

What is process debt? 

Think about the last time you added a new tool into a current process. Before implementing the new tool, did you do a review of the existing process? If not, you may be creating process debt. 

In the podcast episode, Prabhjot explained that we often believe tools will modernize processes, but that thinking is a bit backwards. The truth is that software on its own cannot fix a broken process. Until the underlying process issues are addressed, process debt will continue to accumulate. He went on to state: 

Another way to explain process debt is to consider how long it has been since you’ve audited a process from beginning to end. If it’s been a while, there are likely bottlenecks, inefficient steps, and unnecessary actions hidden within the scope of the process. 

A process that worked effectively and efficiently a year ago may not be as productive now as it was then. As expectations, people, resources, and tools change, processes must also change to ensure they are running as optimally as possible. 

If you’re looking for a definition, Blueprint seems to put it best when they say, “Process debt refers to inefficiencies, waste, and redundancies that have accumulated in workflows over time.”

What causes process debt? 

As with most business issues, there’s not one singular cause for process debt. But there are some common issues that allow process debt to exist and grow. Here are just a few reasons why process debt might be an issue within your organization. Spoiler: some can’t be avoided.