Should Technical Debt Be Given Story Points?

  • Agile and Scrum
  • Scaling Agile
Created on :
March 30, 2023
Saket Bansal
Updated on :
June 22, 2023

Technical debt refers to the future work created by taking shortcuts to developing a feature or functionality quickly. As these shortcuts accumulate, the product becomes increasingly difficult to work with, improve, and maintain. The debate around whether technical debt should be estimated and given story points has led to varying opinions. This article will explore the advantages and disadvantages of estimating technical debt, as well as some considerations for using estimation in the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe).

Advantages of Estimating Technical Debt

1. Quantification: Estimating technical debt provides a quantifiable measurement of the work that needs to be addressed to improve the product’s technical aspects. This allows stakeholders to understand the scope of accumulated debt and make informed decisions.
2. Forecasting: By estimating the work required to address technical debt, teams can better plan iterations and sprints, allocate resources, and determine the time needed to complete the work.
3. Accountability: When technical debt is estimated and quantified, it becomes more transparent, leading to a greater sense of accountability within the team. This helps ensure that shortcuts are addressed and resolved on time.

Disadvantages of Estimating Technical Debt

  1. Inaccuracy: Estimating technical debt can be challenging, as it involves predicting the future work required to address accumulated shortcuts. This can lead to inaccuracies, impacting the team’s ability to plan and allocate resources effectively.
  2. Focus on Numbers: Assigning story points to technical debt may cause teams to focus too much on the numbers rather than the actual work that needs to be done.
  3. Velocity Inflation: Including technical debt in velocity calculations can lead to an inflated velocity number, which may not accurately represent the team’s progress towards its goals.

Alternatives to Estimating Technical Debt

  1. Capacity Allocation: Some teams choose to reserve a percentage of their sprint capacity for addressing technical debt, without estimating the specific work required. This approach can be effective if the organization has a manageable amount of technical debt.
  2. Separate Tracking: Technical debt can be tracked separately from other work items, allowing teams to focus on addressing it without impacting their overall velocity.
  3. Timeboxing: The team can allocate a fixed timebox for a given technical item and review the progress made once the timebox gets over. 

Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) Recommendation

In SAFe, Teams identify technical improvement or exploration work as enablers. Teams can have Enabler stories in their Team Backlog. Enablers are estimated in story points and included in the teams’ loading and velocity.


There is no universal answer to whether technical debt should be estimated and given story points, as the decision depends on the specific context and needs of the organization. The key is to understand the advantages and disadvantages of estimation and use that information effectively to improve forecasting, closure predictions, and quantification of work created per iteration. Ultimately, the choice to estimate technical debt or not should be based on the organization’s goals and the best approach to achieving them.

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