The Consortium for IT Software Quality (CISQ) has created standard measures for quality characteristics in software – reliability, security, performance efficiency and maintainability.

Now, the group is working to create a measure of technical debt an organization carries across the aforementioned quality characteristics that takes in the amount of work required to clear that debt.

To create the measure, CISQ will begin surveying developers on Jan. 1 to size up 86 defects that violate the quality characteristics and respond with how long they think it would take to clear each defect.

“This is something managers and executives want,” explained Dr. Bill Curtis, executive director of CISQ. “They want to know, what is the level of technical debt, and how much will it cost to fix?”

Development teams, as has been reported time and again in the industry press, are hard-pressed for time, so when it comes to adding new functionality and creating a possible business opportunities versus taking the time to remove technical debt, the new functionality always wins. “The developers have business breathing down their necks,” Curtis said. Technical debt remains largely unseen, until, Curtis said, “it slows you down so much, or you have something so risky that security might be breached, or you have something that can’t be scaled. That’s when debt moves to the fore.”

But is the answer to throw out the whole system, or re-engineer the existing system? Do you repair or replace? Technical debt is one input to that decision, Curtis said.

And, seemingly with all things technological, the answer is: “It depends.” Is the problem limited to one software module in an application, or does the defect hide at the system level, making it about 20 times more difficult to fix. “You have to set a policy at the executive level,” Curtis said. “You need to spend time within each sprint to fix defects.”

In fact, he said he’s starting to see corporate auditors asking for measures of risk that can impact on corporate profitability and performance. “By law, that information needs to be in a company’s 10K annual statement” filed by publicly held companies with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The survey, which has already begun, is being first sent to internal CISQ participants. CISQ hopes to have results compiled by mid-January and to be ready to submit a proposal at the February meeting of the Object Management Group consortium to begin the process of having the technical debt measure become an OMG standard, Curtis said.

For more information about how to participate, write to