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How bug reporting improves your software development process
In June of 1996, the space rocket ‘Ariane 5’ exploded under a minute after its launch. After the incident, it was discovered that the fault occurred due to a bug in the on-board guidance computer system. One destroyed rocket, years of delayed scientific research, and a large scale public inquiry later meant that this was one of history’s most costly software bugs.
While you may not exactly be working towards the next big space launch, a software bug of any scale can cause you, and your business, problems. This situation is only made worse if the bug isn’t reported well.
If a bug report is written well, it avoids any confusion or miscommunication. As a direct result, bugs are fixed quicker. Below you’ll find all the steps and information you will need to capture when reporting a bug in a software system and use this template to improve your software development process.
A description of the issue
The first essential step of diagnosing any software bug problems is to get a clear description of the issue. Ensure that the description you produce is exactly what the user reported.
Bear in mind that the user’s description and knowledge of the system may well be different to your own. Try and avoid including speculations of what the problem might be, unless the user is already very knowledgeable about the system (i.e. at the same level as the product team!).
What was the user doing when the issue occurred?
Produce a clear, step by step list of what the user was doing when the issue occurred is important when trying to replicate the issue. Doing this gives context to the issue, and allows you to get a broader idea of what else might be affecting the performance of the software.
What should the expected behaviour be?
Unexpected behaviour of software is often referred to as a functionality error. This type of error may occur when a user is attempting to make the software perform an action that is hard, confusing, or impossible.
In some cases, a bug may be mistakenly reported by a user who is not aware of how the software system is actually supposed to work.
When you are diagnosing software issues, it is important to have an understanding what the expected behaviour of the system is to help provide clearer guidance for the user.
Is there a screenshot or video of the issue?
You know how it can be – it’s usually a lot easier to be shown something than it is to be talked through. Screenshots are very helpful when trying to diagnose the source of an issue. If possible, having the user display the browser developer tools while taking a screenshot of the issue allows any error messages to be seen.
Is the user logged in as a specific role (e.g. System Admin)? Consider if the user might be having issues because they lack the correct account authorisations or access permissions.
Browser and operating system
What browser and operating system were they using? Use a website like whatsmybrowser to allow the user to send you information about their browser and operating system.
Is the issue repeatable?
While working with the user to retrace their steps, are you able to reproduce the software issues on a similar computer set up? If not, consider again that the issue might be related to the browser or user role (e.g. System Admin). Does the issue persist on a different computer set up?
To assess the priority of an issue, think about its frequency and impact.
Frequency – How often do users encounter the problem? Are all users affected, or some?
Impact – What effect does the issue have? Does it mean that a main activity can’t be completed?
Issues involving problems with security or data are highly likely to be critical bugs, and should be treated with a greater sense of urgency. While it’s important to deal with any software issues swiftly, it’s as equally important to deal with software bugs as efficiently and as accurately as possible.
This is why using an effective process is crucial. Not only will using this process template cover all of your bases when it comes to software bug reports and getting them fixed, but it will also allow for greater software development in the long term.
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