A Positive Way to Think About Bugs

Bugs are the things of nightmares. There are the ones that appear unannounced in production systems, at a critical time, and are spotted by the most vocal hater of your company. There are the intermittent ones that you spend hours trying to track down, and the small, irritating ones that you know will never be prioritised. There are the ones you’ve never seen but suspect are there, lurking. Waiting.

Over the years I’ve had an additional bug nightmare. One where someone expects me to spend a significant amount of my time capturing bug report metrics. They want to know how long bugs take to fix, how long we took to find the bug, or how good a developer is based on the number of bug reports we have.

When you take all this negative bug energy and throw in Jira. Or Mantis. Or BugZilla… it’s easy to understand why we all hate bugs.

But there is a positive side to bugs.

It’s too common to hear of bugs surprising teams and nothing changing. Some bugs are unexpected, and it doesn’t always make sense to try to stop a similar things happening again, but those are the exceptions. It is much more common for similar bugs to appear in different parts of the systems, these are strong indicators that things are not quite right. Observing and sharing these patterns can be a great trigger to motivate teams to change.

Every wondered how you can convince people to give you time to work on tech debt, or process improvement, or make progress on that cool infrastructure project? Well bugs can be very persuasive…

When a release showstopper bug, or production issue is found use it to its full potential. Understand the root cause, try to establish exactly why the bug appeared when it did. Was the issue poor communication, lacking test environments, or something else? Don’t make this a blame game about individuals but use it to find pieces of your process or technology that could be improved. In my experience bugs are almost never a result of poor code, they are much more likely to indicate code complexity, lack of context, poor test data, or simple lack of experience.

Once you have your information tell your story. Keep telling it. You’re not trying to force people to change things, you want to simply highlight the issues that are occurring as a result of things being the way they are. Once you find your interested audience work with them to make improvements.

Step by step you’ll find things improve.

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