Test Debt: Reasons and Solutions

a mobile phone and some cash money, giving a hint to the terms testing and debt

17 August 2023 katharina Leave a comment QA, Test Methodology

Test debt –the additional work and effort required in the future due to shortcuts or compromises taken during the testing process– poses a significant challenge in software development and testing. In this article, we will explore the concept of test debt, its impact on software quality, and effective strategies for managing and mitigating it. By understanding and addressing test debt, organizations can ensure better software quality and minimize future maintenance burdens.


What is test debt? A definition.

In software development and testing, the term “test debt” refers to the work that needs to be done in the future due to taking shortcuts or compromises in the testing process. It is similar to technical debt, which represents the extra effort required to fix or improve code that was implemented in a suboptimal way.

There are several terms that are commonly used in the software testing field to describe “test debt.” These terms include:

  • Testing backlog: Refers to the accumulation of testing tasks that have been deferred or postponed, leading to a backlog of work that needs to be completed in the future.
  • Tool debt: Similar to test debt, it represents the extra effort and work required to address testing deficiencies or shortcomings resulting from outdated or inadequate testing tools or frameworks.
  • Quality debt: This term is used to describe the additional work and effort that needs to be invested to improve the overall quality of a software system due to compromises or shortcuts taken during the development or testing process.
  • Quality backlog: Like a testing backlog, it represents a backlog of quality-related tasks or issues that need to be addressed to ensure the desired level of quality in the software.

These terms essentially describe the same concept of additional work or effort needed to address testing deficiencies or shortcomings resulting from compromises made during the testing process. Each term may be more commonly used in different contexts or by different individuals or organizations.

Types of test debt

Understanding the different types of test debt is essential for identifying areas where testing may have been insufficient or neglected.

  • Incomplete test coverage: Test debt can accumulate if certain areas of the software are not thoroughly tested or completely ignored. This can leave undiscovered defects, which may lead to issues later on.
  • Lack of automated tests: If there is a heavy reliance on manual testing without sufficient investment in automated testing, it can result in test debt. Manual testing is time-consuming and prone to human error, making it difficult to maintain consistent and comprehensive test coverage.
  • Deferred bug fixing: Sometimes, due to time constraints or other factors, known issues or bugs are not addressed immediately. This leads to a backlog of unresolved defects, increasing the maintenance burden and potentially impacting software quality.
  • Insufficient test documentation: When test artifacts, such as test plans, test cases, or test scripts, are not adequately documented or maintained, it can create test debt. This can cause difficulties for future testers trying to understand and reproduce the testing process.
  • Fragile or outdated test infrastructure: If the test environment or test tools are not regularly maintained or updated, it can result in test debt. Outdated infrastructure can lead to compatibility issues, unreliable test results, and difficulties in reproducing test scenarios.

As we see, test debt typically arises when there is pressure to deliver software quickly, and testing activities may be rushed or skipped to meet deadlines.

Anticipated vs. actual test debt

We may begin by exploring outside of the domain of software and testing, particularly in finance. Why do so many people find themselves in financial debt? Test debt has a lot of common factors.

Let’s look at the two parts of test debt, “anticipated” and “actual”: The term “anticipated value” refers to anything that has been defined, discussed, and agreed upon. Unfortunately, collaborative exercises like the shift up do not yet reflect quality expectations. The “true” value is based on a property of test debt: It is difficult to quantify.

You owe a specified amount of money to an entity, and you can quickly calculate your financial debt. That is more difficult in the case of technical and test debt. You can use test quality attributes, technical debt models, and critical indicators to bind them together. For others, their intricacy and lack of alignment with business drivers can make them difficult to comprehend.

Reasons and Consequences of Test Debt

Reasons for test debt can be manifold:

  • Time pressure and project deadlines: these require balancing time constraints and quality objectives, sometimes resulting in trade-offs that lead to test debt
  • Lack of testing expertise or resources: in general it’s important to have skilled testers and adequate resources, or tools that can be easily handled by people with only basic skills;
  • Communication and collaboration issues: Collaboration challenges between development and testing teams will always exist, thus it’s essential to keep an eye on it and keep effects of poor communication on testing effectiveness limited

How to get rid of Test Debt?

To preserve their speed and reactivity; businesses must constantly prevent and erase test debt. Otherwise, each update adds weight to the whole program delivery pipeline, slowing it down.

As organizations strive to meet tight deadlines and deliver software quickly, test debt can accumulate, leading to incomplete test coverage, lack of automated tests, deferred bug fixing, insufficient test documentation, and fragile test infrastructure.

It’s important to manage and address test debt in a timely manner. The longer it accumulates, the more effort it will require to rectify the shortcomings and ensure software quality. Test debt can be minimized by emphasizing good testing practices, allocating sufficient time and resources for testing, investing in test automation, and maintaining thorough test documentation.

The test debt may be the result of specific decisions or a lack of certain actions. Both, inaction and action, contrary to popular belief, can contribute to debt.

How to Manage Test Debt

Managing and mitigating test debt is crucial for ensuring software quality and minimizing future maintenance efforts. By implementing effective strategies, organizations can address the shortcomings resulting from inadequate testing practices and reduce the impact of test debt on their projects.

  • Test prioritization and risk assessment: Identify critical areas for testing focus and allocate resources based on risk assessment.
  • Continuous integration and automated testing: If a company’s software change iteration is too slow, you have to speed up the cycles – test automation is one way to do this. Leverage continuous integration to minimize test debt and benefit from automated tests for efficient and effective testing.
  • Agile testing practices: Incorporate testing early and continuously in the development process, utilizing methodologies like test-driven development and fostering collaboration.
  • Documentation and knowledge sharing: Emphasize the importance of well-maintained test documentation and promote knowledge transfer and collaboration within the testing team.
  • Tool research: Using the right tools for your testing and test automation with tools like Repeato is crucial to establish an efficient testing process.


In conclusion, test debt is a persistent challenge in software development and testing that arises from compromises and shortcuts taken during the testing process. It can lead to incomplete test coverage, lack of automation, deferred bug fixing, insufficient documentation, and outdated test infrastructure. The consequences of test debt include increased maintenance efforts, compromised software quality, and potential customer dissatisfaction.

However, by adopting proactive measures such as prioritizing testing, investing in test automation, practicing agile testing methodologies, and maintaining comprehensive documentation, organizations can effectively manage and mitigate test debt. By addressing test debt, software development teams can enhance the overall quality of their products, minimize future risks and costs, and deliver software that meets or exceeds customer expectations.


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