Empirical Software Engineering

, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 159–182 | Cite as

Exploring the costs of technical debt management – a case study

  • Yuepu GuoEmail author
  • Rodrigo Oliveira Spínola
  • Carolyn Seaman


Technical debt is a metaphor for delayed software maintenance tasks. Incurring technical debt may bring short-term benefits to a project, but such benefits are often achieved at the cost of extra work in future, analogous to paying interest on the debt. Currently technical debt is managed implicitly, if at all. However, on large systems, it is too easy to lose track of delayed tasks or to misunderstand their impact. Therefore, we have proposed a new approach to managing technical debt, which we believe to be helpful for software managers to make informed decisions. In this study we explored the costs of the new approach by tracking the technical debt management activities in an on-going software project. The results from the study provided insights into the impact of technical debt management on software projects. In particular, we found that there is a significant start-up cost when beginning to track and monitor technical debt, but the cost of ongoing management soon declines to very reasonable levels.


Technical debt Decision making Cost Case study 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yuepu Guo
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rodrigo Oliveira Spínola
    • 2
    • 3
  • Carolyn Seaman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Information SystemsUniversity of Maryland Baltimore CountyBaltimoreUSA
  2. 2.Department of Systems and ComputingUniversity of SalvadorSalvadorBrazil
  3. 3.Fraunhofer Project Center for Software and System Engineering at Federal University of BahiaSalvadorBrazil

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