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Managing Technical Debt in Software-Reliant Systems

April 2011 White Paper
Nanette Brown

This whitepaper argues that there is an opportunity to study and improve the “technical debt” metaphor concept and offers software engineers a foundation for managing such trade-offs based on models of their economic impacts.

Publisher:

Software Engineering Institute

Abstract

Within any incremental development paradigm, there exists a tension between the desire to deliver value to the customer early and the desire to reduce cost by avoiding architectural refactoring in subsequent releases. What is lacking, however, is quantifiable guidance that highlights the potential benefits and risks of choosing one or the other of these alternatives or a blend of both strategies. In this paper, we assert that the ability to quantify architecture quality with measurable criteria provides engineering guidance for iterative release planning. We demonstrate the use of propagation cost as a proxy for architectural health with dependency analysis of design structure and domain mapping matrices as a quantifiable basis for iteration planning.