Analyzing the concept of technical debt in the context of agile software development: A systematic literature review

Woubshet Nema Behutiye*, Pilar Rodríguez, Markku Oivo, Ayşe Tosun

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Context Technical debt (TD) is a metaphor that is used to communicate the consequences of poor software development practices to non-technical stakeholders. In recent years, it has gained significant attention in agile software development (ASD). Objective The purpose of this study is to analyze and synthesize the state of the art of TD, and its causes, consequences, and management strategies in the context of ASD. Research Method Using a systematic literature review (SLR), 38 primary studies, out of 346 studies, were identified and analyzed. Results We found five research areas of interest related to the literature of TD in ASD. Among those areas, “managing TD in ASD” received the highest attention, followed by “architecture in ASD and its relationship with TD”. In addition, eight categories regarding the causes and five categories regarding the consequences of incurring TD in ASD were identified. “Focus on quick delivery” and “architectural and design issues” were the most popular causes of incurring TD in ASD. “Reduced productivity”, “system degradation” and “increased maintenance cost” were identified as significant consequences of incurring TD in ASD. Additionally, we found 12 strategies for managing TD in the context of ASD, out of which “refactoring” and “enhancing the visibility of TD” were the most significant. Conclusion The results of this study provide a structured synthesis of TD and its management in the context of ASD as well as potential research areas for further investigation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)139-158
Number of pages20
JournalInformation and Software Technology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier B.V.


This research has been partially supported by ICT SHOK N4S program financed by the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) and Digile OY.

FundersFunder number
FP7 Information and Communication Technologies


    • Agile software development
    • Systematic literature review
    • Technical debt
    • Technical debt management


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