Test Debt Explained: What, Why & How to Solve It?

Test Debt: In this guide, we explore the hidden costs of unresolved issues with test automation frameworks. Explore strategies to identify, manage, and mitigate test debt effectively.

Test debt is important, yet it is often an overlooked aspect of software development and quality assurance. It focuses on the total cost of delayed testing efforts. 

Whether you’re involved in manual or automated testing, understanding, and managing test debt is important for maintaining software quality. 

This article discusses what test debt is, why projects end up with test debt, its causes, warning signs, and solutions. Also, this article will explore how to select the right tools to minimize test debt and how Testsigma, a test automation platform, can assist in this.

What is Test Debt/Technical debt?

Test Debt is the difference between the expected asset value and the actual system value. This is kind of like when you expect something to be worth a certain amount, but it’s actually worth less. It’s the gap between what we think a system should be like (its expected value) and what it really is. Think of it like a debt you didn’t know you had, and now you’ve got to work to pay it off to get things in order. 

Test debt has quite similar characteristics to technical debt. It is actually a metaphorical weight that accumulates when testing tasks are postponed or compromised during software development. It comes with the effort required to fix, update/ improve, or add tests, which increases over time if not addressed promptly.

Sometimes you might take shortcuts when you’re in a rush, thinking you’ll fix it later. Technical debt is like that. It’s when developers might take shortcuts to get something done faster, but those shortcuts can cause issues or inefficiencies down the line. So, it’s like a debt because, eventually, you’ve got to go back and fix or improve those parts to avoid bigger problems in the future. 

Much like technical debt in code, test debt can hinder project progress and quality. Imagine you’ve got a bike, but instead of fixing a wobbly wheel right away, you just keep riding. Eventually, that small issue might cause a bigger problem or even an accident. Test debt is similar. If you skip some tests or don’t address issues in your testing process, over time, those oversights can make things way more complicated than they should be. It’s like leaving that wheel unchecked, will cause you more trouble later on.

Why Do We End Up with Test Debt?

Test debt often occurs due to time constraints, insufficient resources, or changing project priorities. Developers and testers may deprioritize and defer the process of test creation and maintenance to meet tight deadlines, leading to a growing backlog of testing work. 

Companies won’t end up in a test debt overnight. It takes time and it is the accumulation of many short-term and incorrect decisions making that causes the companies to end up in a test debt.

What are the Warning Signs of Test Debt?

The primary goal of test automation is to expedite software delivery while maintaining confidence in the quality and the process. However, the value of test automation diminishes when teams resort to bypassing it due to issues like prolonged execution times, instability, or lack of understanding.

Test Debt may not have a specific metric, but it becomes obvious when you look into the early warning signs. 

  • Often, test coverage is not fully completed and it introduces the gaps in your test suite. These gaps in test coverage, such as untested code paths or missing scenarios, indicate test debt.
  • If previously resolved issues resurface frequently, it could be a sign of inadequate testing. This suggests that the testing process might not cover all scenarios comprehensively or that new changes are inadvertently reintroducing old issues. Such patterns underscore the importance of improved testing practices and vigilance in maintaining software quality. 
  • Overly complex or outdated test cases can extend test execution times, hindering efficiency. There can be many tests written for applications, and therefore it will take more time to execute the entire test suite.
  • A rising number of post-release bugs indicates that testing efforts require enhancement.
  • Tests depending on other tests are also a problem. However, it is not recommended to have dependencies between tests because if the parent test fails all the dependents also fail. Independent tests are easier to maintain. 

The Impact of Test Debt

Test debt gives a significant challenge to the development and QA teams, forcing them to fix broken tests or focus on new coverage. Prioritizing manual testing for new features can be a temporary solution but isn’t sustainable in the long run because it leads to a growing backlog of broken tests. Alternatively, attempting to increase test coverage while ignoring broken tests can result in declining coverage over time, ultimately becoming a roadblock to releasing new features.  

Below we mention the impacts of test debt

Reduce Software Quality

Test debt can reduce the software quality. It could degrade the user experience and probably damage the reputation of the product or organization because these defects often manifest as unexpected and problematic issues for end-users.

Require Costly Maintenance Effort

This can be a cost-wise higher maintenance task. It takes the resources and time required to identify, diagnose, and rectify issues or defects that surface after a software product has been released to users. It often involves urgent bug fixes, hotfix deployments, and potential damage control, which can strain a project’s budget and timeline. This is more time-consuming and expensive than addressing them during development.

Hinders the Speed of the Development

Accumulated test debt hinders development speed by necessitating additional time and effort to address testing deficiencies, which can lead to project delays and missed deadlines. This delay occurs as teams must allocate resources to catch up on testing tasks and rectify issues that accumulate due to postponed testing efforts.

Frustrate the Development Team

The unaddressed test debt creates significant stress and frustration within the development team due to the constant struggle with delayed testing efforts and increased bug-fixing workload. This can hinder overall team morale, impacting project outcomes.

Repeatedly facing such challenges without a clear resolution in sight may even lead some members to question the efficiency of their workflow or the quality of the tools they use. Over time, this can lead to decreased job satisfaction, less performance, and less motivation to give a quality output impacting the team’s overall productivity.

Test Debt under Manual Testing

Test debt also occurs when testing processes heavily rely on manual tests without proper documentation or automation. This debt accrues when testers repeatedly perform repetitive, time-consuming test cases manually, leaving room for inconsistencies, human errors, and overlooked scenarios. 

As the software evolves, the absence of automated regression tests can lead to delayed defect identification and increased testing efforts. Due to tight deadlines, the testers may not have sufficient time or resources to create and execute comprehensive test cases. This can result in gaps in test coverage, leaving certain parts of the software untested. The limited availability of skilled testers can affect the ability to thoroughly test the software, especially in complex or large-scale projects.

Test Debt in Automation Testing

Test Debt in automation testing arises when the efficiency and effectiveness of automated test suites decrease over time. This usually occurs due to factors such as the changes in features in the application, evolving test requirements, and the accumulation of deprecated or redundant test cases. 

Sometimes the test cases may not be properly designed or may not be modular and reusable. Modifying such scripts to facilitate changes in the application can be time-consuming and error-prone. 

When the automation testing scripts age and fail to adapt to the dynamic nature of software development, they contribute to test debt, hindering the automation testing process and diminishing its value in ensuring software quality. 

Also, there can be unreliable tests that sometimes pass and sometimes fail without changes to the application under test and those tests should be removed and fixed to avoid test debt.

How to Choose a Tool that Helps Keep the Test Debt to Minimum?

Choosing a testing tool that minimizes test debt involves several critical considerations. Firstly, prioritize test automation capabilities, and ensure the tool supports various test types and scripting languages. 

An easy-to-use, codeless, or low-code interface is essential for efficient test creation and maintenance, enabling a broader range of team members to contribute effectively. 

Scalability matters too, opt for a tool that can adapt to your organization’s evolving needs, accommodating different environments and devices for comprehensive test coverage.

Further, look for integration capabilities that connect with your existing development and testing tools, such as CI/CD pipelines and bug tracking systems, streamlining workflows to reduce test debt. 

Assess the strength of the tool’s user community and vendor support, as these resources can be invaluable for troubleshooting and knowledge sharing. Finally, consider cost and licensing models that align with your budget and project requirements, such as flexible pricing structures.

How Can Testsigma Help?

Testsigma considers factors such as ease of test creation, scalability, and integration capabilities. Testsigma is a powerful test automation platform that can assist in managing test debt efficiently. With its AI-driven test maintenance and codeless automation capabilities, Testsigma reduces the burden of test script maintenance. 

Here are the steps to execute an automation test with Testsigma

Automated Tests

You can easily create automated tests using a user-friendly interface without the need for coding skills. Testsigma’s automation increases efficiency, broadens test coverage, and assists in early issue detection during the development cycle. First, you can create a test case and then add test steps. 

Test case

Testsigma uses AI to automatically update tests when the application changes, reducing test debt. This ensures broad test coverage by executing tests across multiple browsers and devices.

Testsigma can integrate with your CI/CD pipeline and other testing tools for a streamlined testing process. This can be accepted for both manual and automation testing because it will help handle frequent changes, faster execution, and feedback.

Testsigma helps minimize test debt by offering codeless automation and AI-driven test maintenance. It simplifies test creation, even for non-coders, reducing the initial backlog of manual tests. Testsigma automatically updates tests as the application changes, preventing test debt accumulation. Its cross-browser testing capability ensures comprehensive coverage, reducing the risk of untested scenarios.


Test Debt is an often underestimated but huge challenge in software development and quality assurance. Whether you are involved in manual or automation testing, identifying and effectively managing test debt is important for increasing the software quality and efficiency. 

It is important to select the right testing tool to show and notify the accumulating test debt before it is too late. By offering codeless automation, AI-driven test maintenance, and seamless integration, Testsigma helps teams mitigate test debt efficiently, ensuring the delivery of high-quality software while minimizing the burden of maintenance and reducing stress for development and QA teams.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between defects and technical debt?

What are examples of tech debt?

What is test automation debt?