Technical Debt tracking: Current state of practice: A survey and multiple case study in 15 large organizations
Journal article, 2018

Large software companies need to support continuous and fast delivery of customer value both in the short and long term. However, this can be hindered if both the evolution and maintenance of existing systems are hampered by Technical Debt. Although a lot of theoretical work on Technical Debt has been produced recently, its practical management lacks empirical studies. In this paper, we investigate the state of practice in several companies to understand what the cost of managing TD is, what tools are used to track TD, and how a tracking process is introduced in practice. We combined two phases: a survey involving 226 respondents from 15 organizations and an in-depth multiple case study in three organizations including 13 interviews and 79 Technical Debt issues. We selected the organizations where Technical Debt was better tracked in order to distill best practices. We found that the development time dedicated to managing Technical Debt is substantial (an average of 25% of the overall development), but mostly not systematic: only a few participants (26%) use a tool, and only 7.2% methodically track Technical Debt. We found that the most used and effective tools are currently backlogs and static analyzers. By studying the approaches in the companies participating in the case study, we report how companies start tracking Technical Debt and what the initial benefits and challenges are. Finally, we propose a Strategic Adoption Model for the introduction of tracking Technical Debt in software organizations.

Technical Debt

Multiple case study

Software process improvement

Change management



Antonio Martini

CA Technologies

University of Oslo

Terese Besker

Chalmers, Computer Science and Engineering (Chalmers), Software Engineering (Chalmers), Software Engineering for Testing, Requirements, Innovation and Psychology

Jan Bosch

Chalmers, Computer Science and Engineering (Chalmers), Software Engineering (Chalmers), Software Engineering for People, Architecture, Requirements and Traceability

Science of Computer Programming

0167-6423 (ISSN)

Vol. 163 42-61

Subject Categories

Reliability and Maintenance

Software Engineering

Information Systemes, Social aspects



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