5 best practices for successful defect management

June 7, 2024
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11 minutes
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Development
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For software development teams, managing defects is a continuous challenge. 

Maybe you’ve already set up a defect management process, but it could use some fine-tuning. 

Or perhaps you’re just starting out and want to get the basics right. 

Either way, you’re in the right place.

In this article, we’ll explore the best practices that will elevate your defect management game. 

From creating a structured reporting process and utilizing the right tools to analyzing defects, prioritizing fixes, and documenting your efforts, our insights will guide you toward a more efficient and effective defect management approach. 

Develop a defect reporting process

To effectively manage defects, establishing a streamlined reporting process is essential. 

What we mean by this is creating a standard method for dealing with defects the moment they’re spotted, as this will create a consistent framework that your entire team can follow.

A solid defect reporting process includes clear guidelines for documenting defects, outlining where they should be reported, and clarifying who’s responsible for their management.

The first step is understanding what makes a good (and bad) defect report.

a table breaking down a good vs bad defect report
Source: Shake

Good reports are the lifeblood of effective defect resolution. 

They provide clear, actionable information, saving developers valuable time while ensuring the problem is understood and fixed. 

Vague or incomplete reports, on the other hand, can muddy the waters and slow down the entire process.

Your reports should be concise, consistent, and objective. 

Additionally, it’s useful to reference established standards like the IEEE standard classification for software anomalies.

IEEE standard classification for software anomalies screenshot
Source: IEEE

This standard offers a shared vocabulary and set of attributes to classify software failures and defects, facilitating effective communication and collaboration by helping you establish consistency across teams.

As for the process of reporting defects, there are a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Issue tracking software
  • Bug reporting tools
  • Shared spreadsheets
  • Communication platforms
  • Email messages
  • Dedicated defect logs

Get unreal data to fix real issues in your app & web.

As we’ll explore in the next section, using specialized tools is often preferred over more rudimentary methods like spreadsheets and emails. 

These tools streamline the process, enhance collaboration, and ensure no crucial detail is overlooked.

Lastly, you want to clearly define the roles and responsibilities for reporting, resolving, and managing defects. 

Here are the three key roles to consider and their duties, illustrated below.

key roles involved in defect management and their responsibilities
Source: Shake

Simply put, testers or quality assurance teams are typically responsible for reporting defects. 

Developers take on the task of analyzing and resolving these issues, while project managers oversee the entire process, ensuring timely progress and communication between teams.

By establishing clear ownership and well-defined roles, you create a sense of accountability and ensure everyone knows their part in the process.

Overall, with a clear and efficient defect reporting process, you equip your team with the steps and knowledge they need to handle defects effectively and consistently.

Help yourself with tools

The right tools are essential for streamlining your defect management process and minimizing the impact of software issues. 

Whether it’s identifying and reporting defects, tracking progress, or communicating effectively, the right tools can significantly enhance your team’s efficiency and collaboration.

Several types of tools can be beneficial for defect management, including the following:

  • Issue tracking systems
  • Bug reporting software tools
  • Communication platforms
  • Test management tools
  • Project management tools
  • Version control systems

Let’s continue our discussion from the previous section by exploring a bug reporting tool like Shake

While our tool is not an issue tracker, Shake excels at providing the detailed defect reports necessary for making this process smooth and effective. 

It offers over 70 different metrics, including environmental data, logs, screenshots, and even video recordings, providing reports like the one shown below.

shakebugs ticket example screenshot
Source: Shake

The implementation is straightforward, requiring just a few lines of code. 

Then, whenever a defect occurs, testers, developers, or even end-users can simply shake their devices to open a new ticket screen.

an illustration of the shakebugs shake to send feature
Source: Shake

All the information mentioned above is automatically captured and attached, providing developers with a wealth of data to pinpoint the root cause of the issue. 

These detailed reports can then be sent directly to your existing defect tracking software or to a communication platform via our integrations.

Communication and collaboration tools like Slack can be especially powerful tools to consider for defect management.

slack tool screenshot
Source: Slack

By creating dedicated channels for defect reporting and discussion, teams can streamline communication, keep all stakeholders informed, and collaborate effectively on issue resolutions. 

Communication tools that integrate with various bug tracking and reporting tools also allow for automatic notifications and updates to keep everyone in the loop. 

On top of that, real-time discussions, file sharing, and search capabilities can further enhance collaboration, making defect management more transparent and efficient.

To get the most out of Slack for your development needs, consider exploring their dedicated page for software development.

slack for software development page screenshot
Source: Slack

Leveraging the right tools can empower your team to identify, report, track, and resolve defects seamlessly, leading to faster resolution times and improved software quality.

Prioritize defects effectively

Now, let’s go into a practice that can make or break your defect management process—defect prioritization. 

In essence, this is the art of determining the order in which defects should be addressed, along with the resources and time allocated to each. 

Nailing down effective prioritization is critical.

Why?

Because misallocating resources to trivial problems can delay fixes for more significant issues, potentially derailing development timelines. 

And, as the quote from an informative Backendless article shown below explains, delays can be detrimental to the success of a software project.

quote explaining that delays can be detrimental to the success of a software project
Illustration: Shake / Quote: Backendless

Therefore, assessing the priority and severity of each defect is crucial. 

To clear up what we’re talking about, priority refers to the urgency with which a defect should be addressed, while severity reflects the impact it has on the application’s functionality or user experience. 

Evaluating both metrics together provides a more comprehensive understanding of the defect’s overall importance.

Take a look at the following image for a visual representation of different defects according to their severity and priority.

a matrix illustrating different defects according to their severity and priority
Source: Shake

As illustrated, even low-severity problems can become urgent priorities if they have a substantial impact on the business. 

So, it’s important to have a holistic view when prioritizing defects, considering both technical and business perspectives.

Beyond priority and severity, it’s crucial to consider a defect’s impact on your project timeline. 

This can be visualized effectively using Gantt charts, like the one you can see below.

gantt chart screenshot
Source: Smartsheet

Gantt charts are visual representations of project schedules, illustrating tasks, dependencies, and timelines. 

By incorporating defects into your Gantt chart, you can see how they might impact critical paths—sequences of tasks that must be completed on time to meet the overall project deadline. 

Armed with this information, you can adjust your project plan proactively, reallocate resources, or modify deadlines as needed.

In short, effectively prioritizing defects is key for successful defect management, ensuring resources are focused on the right issues at the right time to mitigate risks and maintain project momentum.

Maintain clear defect documentation

Maintaining clear and comprehensive documentation is a cornerstone of successful defect management.

This practice ensures that every issue is thoroughly understood, tracked, and communicated throughout its lifecycle. 

A well-organized record of defects provides valuable context for developers, helps track progress, and ultimately streamlines the resolution process.

So, let’s take a look at which elements high-quality defect documentation should contain.

a graphic listing the elements of good defect documentation
Source: Shake

Clear identifiers (like titles or codes) and descriptive summaries are essential for easy searching and understanding defects. 

But don’t stop there! 

A good defect report goes beyond the basics, providing step-by-step instructions on how to reproduce the issue. 

These instructions are invaluable for developers, allowing them to replicate the problem in their environment and delve into the underlying cause.

And while written descriptions can be helpful, nothing beats visual evidence. 

Screenshots and recordings clearly illustrate where a problem occurred and what exactly went wrong. 

This visual context can save valuable time and reduce back-and-forth communication between team members.

Equally important is defining what was expected to happen versus the actual behavior caused by the defect. 

This clarifies the deviation from intended functionality and sets a clear goal for the resolution process.

an example of an actual vs expected result caused by a defect
Source: Shake

It’s a seemingly simple, but crucial detail that can sometimes be overlooked in the rush to report an issue.

Finally, don’t forget to include the defect priority and severity levels we discussed earlier. 

This helps everyone on the team understand the urgency and impact of each issue, guiding the decision-making process.

To ensure consistent and comprehensive reporting, leverage issue creation templates within your tracking tool. 

Here’s an example from Jira.

screenshot of a jira issue creation template
Source: Atlassian

These templates can make it mandatory to set priority, provide a clear title, and assign the defect to a team member for resolution. 

For more nuanced details like steps to reproduce, environment data, and visual evidence, teams can write these up manually or, preferably, use specialized bug reporting tools.

By establishing a culture of thorough and standardized documentation, you empower your team with the information they need to address defects effectively, minimize their impact, and ultimately deliver a more polished and reliable product.

Very handy for handling user feedback. CTOs, devs, testers – rejoice.

Conduct root cause analysis

Effective defect management goes beyond simply identifying and fixing issues as they arise. 

After all, it is crucial to delve deeper and uncover the root causes of those defects, especially recurring ones. 

To prevent similar defects in the future, you need to understand the reason and underlying conditions that led to it.

Recurring defects are like warning bells, often indicating an underlying systemic issue within your software development process. 

If you only treat the symptoms—the defects themselves—and ignore the root cause, those problems are likely to resurface. 

This can lead to a vicious cycle of firefighting and patching, consuming valuable time and resources.

Therefore, the importance of detailed defect reports in root cause analysis cannot be overstated. 

Those meticulous reports, crafted through a structured process, provide the essential clues for uncovering deeper issues. 

Software engineer Jacob Wilson explains how his team’s incident reporting process provided much-needed detail for figuring out the root causes of defects.

quote about the importance of having a good incident reporting process in defect management
Illustration: Shake / Quote: LinkedIn

He also emphasizes the value of retrospectives.

These structured discussions for reflecting on past work and code should be opportunities for learning and growth, Wilson points out, and not placing blame on each other.

There are numerous root cause analysis methods and practices, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. 

Some common approaches include:

  • The 5 Whys
  • Pareto Analysis
  • Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
  • Fault Tree Analysis (FTA)
  • Ishikawa Diagrams (also known as fishbone diagrams)

Let’s focus on one particularly useful technique—the Ishikawa diagram.

ishikawa diagram
Source: Shake

This visual tool, also known as a fishbone diagram, breaks down the potential causes of a defect into broader categories and further identifies subcategories within each. 

By systematically analyzing each category and its potential contribution to the problem, you can often pinpoint the root cause more effectively.

This structured approach helps teams move beyond assumptions, fostering a collaborative environment where the focus is on understanding and addressing the underlying causes of defects.

Whether you employ Ishikawa diagrams, another established method, or your own customized approach, root cause analysis is a critical step in breaking the cycle of recurring issues and building a more robust, reliable software product.

Ultimately, root cause analysis turns reactive bug-fixing into proactive problem-solving. 

It’s the key to building a healthier and more resilient software ecosystem.

Conclusion

And with that, we wrap up our discussion on the five best practices for successful defect management. 

We covered how to establish a defect reporting process with the aid of the right tools and prioritize defects effectively. 

Also, we discussed the importance of defect documentation and root cause analysis as key elements in the defect management process. 

By incorporating these best practices into your workflow, you can transform your approach to defects. 

Not only will you solve current problems more quickly, but you’ll also be taking proactive steps to prevent future issues. 

All of this leads to a smoother development process, happier users, and a better product overall.

About Shake

Our SDK reporting tool gets you all the relevant clues to fix bugs and other issues in your app or web. So you can focus on new features, with happy users on your side.

We love to think it makes CTOs life easier, QA tester’s reports better and dev’s coding faster. If you agree that user feedback is key – Shake is your door lock.

Read more about us here.

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