A systematic literature review on technical debt prioritization: strategies, processes, factors, and tools

Valentina Lenarduzzi, Terese Besker, Davide Taibi, Antonio Martini, Francesca Arcelli Fontana

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Background: Software companies need to manage and refactor Technical Debt issues. Therefore, it is necessary to understand if and when refactoring of Technical Debt should be prioritized with respect to developing features or fixing bugs. Objective: The goal of this study is to investigate the existing body of knowledge in software engineering to understand what Technical Debt prioritization approaches have been proposed in research and industry. Method: We conducted a Systematic Literature Review of 557 unique papers published until 2020, following a consolidated methodology applied in software engineering. We included 44 primary studies. Results: Different approaches have been proposed for Technical Debt prioritization, all having different goals and proposing optimization regarding different criteria. The proposed measures capture only a small part of the plethora of factors used to prioritize Technical Debt qualitatively in practice. We present an impact map of such factors. However, there is a lack of empirical and validated set of tools. Conclusion: We observed that Technical Debt prioritization research is preliminary and there is no consensus on what the important factors are and how to measure them. Consequently, we cannot consider current research conclusive. In this paper, we therefore outline different directions for necessary future investigations.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110827
JournalJournal of Systems and Software
Early online dateOct 2020
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Systematic Literature Review
  • Technical Debt
  • Technical Debt prioritization

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Information Systems
  • Hardware and Architecture

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