An initial Theory to Understand and Manage Requirements Engineering Debt in Practice

Julian Frattini, Davide Fucci, Daniel Mendez, Vladimir Mandic, Javier Gonzalez-Huerta, Muhammad Ovais Ahmad, Rodrigo Spinola and Nebojsa Tausan

Information and Software Technology,

2023 · doi:


Context: Advances in technical debt research demonstrate the benefits of applying the financial debt metaphor to support decision-making in software development activities. Although decision-making during requirements engineering has significant consequences, the debt metaphor in requirements engineering is inadequately explored. Objective: We aim to conceptualize how the debt metaphor applies to requirements engineering by organizing concepts related to practitioners' understanding and managing of requirements engineering debt (RED). Method: We conducted two in-depth expert interviews to identify key requirements engineering debt concepts and construct a survey instrument. We surveyed 69 practitioners worldwide regarding their perception of the concepts and developed an initial analytical theory. Results: We propose a RED theory that aligns key concepts from technical debt research but emphasizes the specific nature of requirements engineering. In particular, the theory consists of 23 falsifiable propositions derived from the literature, the interviews, and survey results. Conclusions: The concepts of requirements engineering debt are perceived to be similar to their technical debt counterpart. Nevertheless, measuring and tracking requirements engineering debt are immature in practice. Our proposed theory serves as the first guide toward further research in this area.