How to Use a Bug Tracker

Whether you call them bugs, defects, or even design side effects, there is no getting away from them. Knowing how to submit a good bug report and also what to look for in one are key skills for keeping a project moving along nicely.

A good bug report needs three things:

  • How to reproduce the bug, as precisely as possible, and how often this will make the bug appear.
  • What should have happened, at least in your opinion.
  • What actually happened, or at least as much information as you have recorded.

The amount and quality of information reported in a bug says as much about the reporter as it does about the bug. Angry, terse bugs ("This function sucks!") tell the developers that you were having a bad time, but not much else. A bug with plenty of context to make it easier to reproduce earns the respect of everyone, even if it stops a release.

Bugs are like a conversation, with all the history right there in front of everyone. Don't blame others or deny the bug's very existence. Instead ask for more information or consider what you could have missed.

Changing the status of a bug, e.g., Open to Closed, is a public statement of what you think of the bug. Taking the time to explain why you think the bug should be closed will save tedious hours later on justifying it to frustrated managers and customers. Changing the priority of a bug is a similar public statement, and just because it's trivial to you doesn't mean it isn't stopping someone else from using the product.

Don't overload a bug's fields for your own purposes. Adding "VITAL:" to a bug's subject field may make it easier for you to sort the results of some report, but it will eventually be copied by others and inevitably mistyped, or will need to be removed for use in some other report. Use a new value or a new field instead, and document how the field is supposed to be used so other people don't have to repeat themselves.

Make sure that everyone knows how to find the bugs that the team is supposed to be working on. This can usually be done using a public query with an obvious name. Make sure everyone is using the same query, and don't update this query without first informing the team that you're changing what everyone is working on.

Finally, remember that a bug is not a standard unit of work any more than a line of code is a precise measurement of effort.

By Matt Doar

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