University of Oulu

Eriks Klotins, Michael Unterkalmsteiner, Panagiota Chatzipetrou, Tony Gorschek, Rafael Prikladnicki, Nirnaya Tripathi, and Leandro Bento Pompermaier. 2018. Exploration of technical debt in start-ups. In Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering in Practice (ICSE-SEIP '18). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 75-84. DOI:

Exploration of technical debt in start-ups

Saved in:
Author: Klotins, Eriks1; Unterkalmsteiner, Michael1; Chatzipetrou, Panagiota1;
Organizations: 1Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden
2Pontifical Catholic University of Rio, Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, Brazil
3University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.6 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Association for Computing Machinery, 2018
Publish Date: 2019-01-14


Context: Software start-ups are young companies aiming to build and market software-intensive products fast with little resources. Aiming to accelerate time-to-market, start-ups often opt for ad-hoc engineering practices, make shortcuts in product engineering, and accumulate technical debt.

Objective: In this paper we explore to what extent precedents, dimensions and outcomes associated with technical debt are prevalent in start-ups.

Method: We apply a case survey method to identify aspects of technical debt and contextual information characterizing the engineering context in start-ups.

Results: By analyzing responses from 86 start-up cases we found that start-ups accumulate most technical debt in the testing dimension, despite attempts to automate testing. Furthermore, we found that start-up team size and experience is a leading precedent for accumulating technical debt: larger teams face more challenges in keeping the debt under control.

Conclusions: This study highlights the necessity to monitor levels of technical debt and to preemptively introduce practices to keep the debt under control. Adding more people to an already difficult to maintain product could amplify other precedents, such as resource shortages, communication issues and negatively affect decisions pertaining to the use of good engineering practices.

see all

ISBN: 978-1-4503-5659-6
Pages: 75 - 84
DOI: 10.1145/3183519.3183539
Host publication: 40th ACM/IEEE International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering in Practice, ICSE-SEIP 2018
Conference: International conference on software engineering
Type of Publication: A4 Article in conference proceedings
Field of Science: 113 Computer and information sciences
Funding: Work of R. Prikladnicki is supported by Fapergs (process 17/2551-0001205-4).
Copyright information: © ACM 2018. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here for your personal use. Not for redistribution. The definitive Version of Record was published in Proceedings of the 40th International Conference on Software Engineering: Software Engineering in Practice (ICSE-SEIP '18),