The influence of Technical Debt on software developer morale

Terese Besker, Hadi Ghanbari, Antonio Martini, Jan Bosch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)
35 Downloads (Pure)


Context: Previous research in the Technical Debt (TD) field has mainly focused on the technical and economic aspects, while its human aspect has received minimal attention. Objective: This paper aims to understand how software developers’ morale is influenced by TD and how their morale is influenced by TD management activities. Furthermore, this study correlates the morale with the amount of wastage of time due to TD. Method: Firstly, we conducted 15 interviews with professionals, and, secondly, these data were complemented with a survey. Thirdly, we collected 473 data points from 43 developers reporting their amount of wasted time. The collected data were analyzed using both quantitative and qualitative techniques, including thematic and statistical analysis. Results: Our results show that the occurrence of TD is associated with a lack of progress and waste of time. This might have a negative influence on developers’ morale. Further, management of TD seems to have a positive influence on developers’ morale. Conclusions: The results highlight the effects TD has on practitioners’ software work. This study presents results indicating that software suffering from TD reduces developers’ morale and thereby also their productivity. However, our results also indicate that TD management increases developers’ morale and developer productivity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110586
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Systems and Software
Early online date29 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Software development
  • Technical debt
  • developer morale
  • software productivity
  • Technical debt management
  • Human factors


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