An Empirical Model of Technical Debt and Interest

01 March 2011

Cunningham introduced the metaphor of technical debt as guidance for software developers that must trade engineering quality against short-term goals. 

We revisit the technical debt metaphor, and translate it into terms that can help IT executives better understand their IT investments. An approach is proposed to quantify debts (cost to fix technical quality issues) and interest (extra cost spent on maintenance due to technical quality issues). Our approach is based on an empirical assessment method of software quality developed at the Software Improvement Group (SIG). The core part of the technical debt calculation is constructed on the basis of empirical data of 44 systems that are currently being monitored by SIG. 

In a case study, we apply the approach to a real system, and discuss how the results provide useful insights on important questions related to IT investment such as the return on investment (ROI) in software quality improvement.

Authors: Ariadi Nugroho, Tobias Kuipers, and Joost Visser