4 Strategies for Agile Bug Tracking

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Bugs are one of the most annoying and most commonplace occurrences when developing software.

On a small scale, they can be fairly simple to test and catch. But as the size and scale of an application and team increases, bugs can quickly get out of hand. Not only do they cause frustration and pain for the end users, but they also eat into the precious time developers and designers can otherwise use working on the next iteration of a product or new features.

Even with unit testing, integration testing, and usability testing, there are instances when things don’t work the way they should. Especially in an Agile environment, quick turnaround in catching and resolving issues is important because, if not handled appropriately, an initially small number of bugs can quickly become an overwhelming backlog that’s difficult to contain.

In this article, we’ll discuss strategies you can use to help track and resolve bugs effectively when working in an Agile environment.

Agile mindset over Agile methodology

It’s important to have an Agile approach to bug tracking rather than fitting bug tracking into an Agile model of development. Let me explain.

Looking at the Agile Manifesto, two points stand out:

  1. Working software over comprehensive documentation
  2. Responding to change over following a plan

Most teams today have adopted an Agile model in a way that fits their setup and context.

Spotify, for example, used Scrum methodology (an Agile framework for organizing projects) when they first started out. But as they scaled up, they realized that strictly adhering to Scrum practices wouldn’t work for them anymore. Instead of adamantly continuing to follow Scrum practices, they decided to keep the parts of Scrum that still worked and change areas that needed tweaking in order to ensure successful scaling of the model.

The lesson you can learn from Spotify is that it’s good to keep Agile principles but not harp on strictly carrying out its practices.

Simply emphasizing Agile ideas such as collaboration and open communication can help teams move more quickly, find flaws, and fix them before they turn into major issues.

Below, we’ll discuss four ways your team can follow Agile ideas while tracking bugs effectively.

Strategies for Agile bug tracking

The four bug tracking strategies outlined below draw on Agile concepts that you can fit into your own development process, no matter what methodology you’re following.

1. Make sure all stakeholders can understand a project’s bugs

In the conventional bug tracking scenario, bugs are filed by a tester or reviewer. They’re assigned by the project manager to the developer, where they might have originated. Once the developer works on their assigned bug, it goes back to the tester to be verified. If the tester finds it’s resolved, they close it. If not, the entire cycle goes around again.

In this cycle, the value of context and open communication among all stakeholders is crucial. Whether it’s a tester, developer, designer, or even a manager, everyone needs to be in the loop and have sufficient background intel to move quickly in an Agile approach. Numerous bug and issue tracking systems exist to ensure that everyone has access to this background communication and context.

As Joel Spolsky, CEO of Stack Overflow, notes, “Keeping a database of bugs is the hallmark of a good software team.”

A good bug report details what the issue is, what the expected outcome was, and what was seen instead. But with conventional—i.e., non-Agile—issue tracking systems, there’s also the matter of listing out the steps to reproduce the issue.

In an Agile approach, time is of the essence. In order to move quickly, you should consider using a tool that offers visual bug tracking. These tools allow you to take notes on live projects or prototypes in real time, creating a visual example of a bug rather than a written description. These visual examples make issue tracking accessible for all stakeholders, even non-technical ones.

2. Prioritize your bugs by the impact they’ll have on your system

A criticism that Agile has faced is that the backlog of reported bugs grows without much attention and can easily spiral out of control. As a team and project scales, the tendency for this to happen increases.

This is why prioritization is absolutely crucial to iterating more quickly while ensuring quality. That means not just merely implementing the concept of prioritization, but doing it the right way.

While bugs are often real issues, lack of clarity can lead to a confused filer reporting something that may not necessarily be an issue, or users reporting feature requests as bugs. Feature requests are more intensive, eat into more resources—both in terms of time and energy—and at times add more complexity to the system rather than sorting out an existing issue.

Much like your team prioritizes product backlog by judging risk and learning what value it contributes to the end user, bugs can be prioritized with respect to the kind of impact they will have on the end system.

3. Pay close attention to early user feedback

Users are the most important stakeholders in the entire development process. A crucial aspect of the Agile approach is collecting feedback from users to assess the project. Instead of developing extensive feature sets before testing and finding bugs, teams should embrace getting early feedback from users.

User-reported bugs give developers a much better idea of what should be prioritized and what can be put onto the product backlog. In the case of a really critical bug, moving quickly and fixing it in real time handles the issue right then and there, before it can be dumped in the backlog and become another number in the stack.

The value of user feedback cannot be overstated in an Agile approach. It’s a central part of design and development sprints today, more so when cross-functional teams are involved because the level of collaboration required to fix issues increases.

4. Give your developers ownership over issues

One issue that’s overlooked in setting up teams is the amount of ownership and autonomy teams have in operation. The amount of ownership a team can take when making decisions over resolving issues will vary from case to case. But those who read Spotify’s example will see how beneficial alignment and ownership can be when delegating tasks.

Product Management 101

Giving developers ownership of an issue allows them to move swiftly to resolve it without wasting time. This method also translates to quicker turnaround from feedback gathered and internal reviews.

Agile and adaptable

Agile isn’t just about delivering software faster. It’s about delivering quality software faster. To do so, teams need to have the setup and tools required so that they can change tasks more quickly.

Instead of following set practices, it’s more important to understand the core principles that make Agile a swift delivery method for software developers and designers.

When tracking bugs and issues in an Agile environment, you can minimize overhead by having efficient feedback channels. You can keep project managers, developers, designers, QA testers, etc., in the loop without sacrificing the pace of resolving issues. By including input from users, teams can ensure that the issues prioritized are actually in line with with what matters most to the stakeholders concerned.

I’d love to hear feedback from teams on the ground: What’s your process for tracking bugs swiftly? Are there any techniques that help your team be Agile when it comes to resolving issues? Let me know in the comments.

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About the Author

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Rishabh Saxena

Rishabh is a digital marketer at zipBoard. He's interested in UX and web development. Find more of his writing on Medium or follow him on Twitter.

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