Smash More Bugs
June 6, 2017

Smash More Bugs

by Chris Waters

Drop everything. This is what our team does when a bug is found. Recently, a customer reported an issue in a new feature that had just gone live. We quickly identified the problem, fixed it, and sent an apology and an update to the customer. This was all within an hour. They replied, “When you fix sh*t that fast, there is no need to apologize.”

For us, there is no such thing as a “trivial” bug. When a customer reports a problem, we drop everything to fix it immediately.

This is not typical behavior for a software engineering team. Most development teams capture bug reports, file them, and fix when the schedule allows. But that only introduces more issues. Because even though the bug is on the team’s radar, it is still out there in the world — irritating every customer who comes across it.

That is why we take a different approach — one that is driven by interruptions. It is part of a set of principles we pioneered and named The Responsive Method (TRM). This approach is centered around the belief that interactions with urgency move people and organizations forward.

If you are an engineer, you might find this concerning. Could this negatively impact production? The answer is “no” — interruptions are not addressed arbitrarily. Instead, we operate with an escalation tag team made up of a different set of engineers responsible for the interruptions each week. So, we consider who is on deck for escalations when we are planning feature development since we know that productivity on core development will be impacted.

If you are up that week, you know that your time will be punctuated by interruptions and can plan accordingly. It can actually be a refreshing change of pace to spend a week interacting directly with customers and working on solving issues.

So why do we go to such lengths to smash bugs immediately? We do it because it helps us:

Avoid technical debt Technical debt occurs when we delay fixing problems for so long that it becomes impossible (or prohibitively expensive) to catch up. Fixing one small issue may only take 10 minutes, but facing a backlog of hundreds of small bugs can take hours or even days. An overwhelming list of small items turns into a psychological barrier to getting started. And so the bugs and debt keep piling up.

Solve unreported problems If one customer is reporting a problem, we can only assume there are dozens more who did not report it. In fact, studies say that for every customer who bothers to complain, 26 other customers remain silent. So when customers speak out, we take action. If we did not address these reported problems immediately, who knows how many more users would stumble across them?

Reproduce problems By tackling it immediately, we vastly improve our chances of reproducing the problem quickly — thus solving it quickly. But if we were to let a bug linger for weeks, it would be much tougher to reproduce it by the time we got around to working on it. We may not even be able to reproduce it at all. And we would never know if the problem went away because of code and data changes, or if we simply did not work out the correct sequence of actions to reproduce it.

Move everyone forward As bugs pile up, so does the Customer Success team’s work. Over time, they will spend more time recognizing known problems than helping customers get ahead. Even worse, the same problem may end up being diagnosed multiple times and escalated multiple times. This is a huge waste of effort. But if we can fix the problem the first time we see it and get the fix deployed quickly, then we can avoid a huge amount of wasted time for everyone. This helps our Customer Success team move forward as well as our customers.

What happens to a bug that you see, but ignore? They buzz and multiply. And so does your customers’ frustration.

The only way to avoid this is to smash them immediately. Timely fixes will not go unnoticed, either. Customers base a great deal of their views of your company on how well you respond to trouble.

So, take quick action when you see trouble arise. This will not only earn customer love and loyalty, but it will also make your entire team more efficient and improve your product.

How does your company handle bug fixes?

Chris Waters

Chris Waters

Dr. Chris Waters is the co-founder and CTO of Aha! — the world’s #1 product development software. Chris is a serial entrepreneur who loves writing code and building products. He holds 16 patents for innovations in network security, database queries, and wireless devices.

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