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21 September 2014 onderzoeken


Design Debt


Hans says you should clearly convey the cost for maintenance of programs to the decision-makers for projects. The business needs to understand the total cost that the decision to invest in new technology will bring. That way, managers can approve the right projects. I refer the cost of maintenance as ‘design debt’ and it is not only assessed during the project but throughout the entire life span of the solution. Design debt is certainly a very current topic, and it is discussed at the Antwerp Management School where I teach. It’s about the decision-making process concerning the best IT architecture for constructing information systems. All too often, people look at the risk of programming failure but not so much at the design and architecture. 


Design Debt Approach


Hans suggest you use a design debt approach. “I take a nuanced view. The greatest risk of failure for a project is not in the technology, but in the size of the project: above 10 million dollars, they seldom succeed. With the design debt approach the maintenance of the software is put on the project agenda from the outset, and the decision-makers are informed of the total cost over the long term. That’s a good thing. However, there is the assumption that the IT department decides which projects get carried out, but due to consumerization it is often the end-users who are in charge, to some extent.”

Ticking Time Bomb


Hans suggests you think of design debt as a ticking time bomb. “If you calculate the design debt upfront it will prevent remorse later on. For example when the business urges to release software before all functionalities are realized, this will build up the design debt with this uncompleted work. The same holds for the lack of testing, documentation or delayed maintenance. The longer the delay, and the more code is written in the current form, the more debt piles up that has to be paid at the time the refactoring is done. However in some cases, it is cheaper to leave an old application the way it is. That’s where the comparison with interest breaks down, because a true debt always has to be paid off. Nevertheless, everyone agrees about the need to rationalize debts.”


About the Contributor:

Attributed Author

Hans Mulder Hans Mulder MSc BA is Standish European research director and professor at the Antwerp Management School. As the founder of his own company, Venture Informatisering Adviesgroep, he is on the management and executive boards of various IT companies. He is regularly engaged as an IT expert when conflicts between companies need to be resolved in or out of court.




Venture Informatisering Adviesgroep NV, kortweg VIAgroep is gevestigd in Den Haag en ingeschreven in het handelsregister Haaglanden onder nummer 164.764.

Hans Mulder in 60 seconden.

Hans Mulder in 60 seconden.

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