Dark debt

Dark debt is a form of technical debt that is invisible until it causes failures. The term was coined in the STELLA conference and codified in the conference report.

Dark debt is found in complex systems and the anomalies it generates are complex system failures. Dark debt is not recognizable at the time of creation. … It arises from the unforeseen interactions of hardware or software with other parts of the framework. …

The challenge of dark debt is a difficult one. Because it exists mainly in interactions between pieces of the complex system, it cannot be appreciated by examination of those pieces. …
Unlike technical debt, which can be detected and, in principle at least, corrected by refactoring, dark debt surfaces through anomalies. Spectacular failures like those listed above do not arise from technical debt.

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One thought on “Dark debt

  1. “Dark debt” was a new phrase/concept/definition to me, and it instantly caused one of those forehead slapping “of course” moments.

    That was immediately followed by notions of applying the concept to one of my domains, government finance, organization, and decision-making. In that area, I’ve described the process and its downstream effects often, but never had a concise phrase that captured the concept.

    The STELLA Conference Report is now printed and in my bag for weekend reading.

    Thanks much!

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