A comprehensive guide to defect management

June 7, 2024
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12 minutes
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Development
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Defects in software development are a fact of life. 

And, if not managed properly, they are a major nuisance, draining time and resources.

That’s why a well-defined defect management process is so crucial:

It ensures that defects are handled systematically, from the moment they’re spotted to the moment they’re resolved.

So, if you’re interested in learning about the ins and outs of defect management, you’re in the right place. 

This guide provides a deep dive into the entire process. 

We’ll cover everything from what this process is, to the key goals of defect management, and the tools and metrics that can help you achieve them. 

Let’s transform how you handle software defect management.

What is a defect?

Before we dive into the intricacies of this practice, let’s clarify what exactly a defect is and how it relates to the broader concept of defect management.

A defect, in its most general sense, is a flaw or imperfection in a software product that causes it to deviate from its intended behavior, requirements, or specifications. 

This deviation can manifest itself in various ways, from minor glitches in the user interface to major crashes that render the application unusable.

defect definition
Source: Shake

It’s important to note that the concept of a defect is sometimes conflated with similar terms, like “bug.” 

And while these terms are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences worth highlighting. 

Take a look at this table summarizing the key distinctions.

a table summarizing the differences between a bug and a defect
Source: Shake

While both bugs and defects signify problems within a software product, bugs are typically discovered during testing, while defects are often found by end-users in the live environment—reflecting the fact that not all app problems are immediately apparent during tests. 

Consider a scenario where a mobile app’s login function works perfectly in a controlled testing environment, but crashes for users on older devices with specific operating system versions. 

This would be a defect, discovered in the live environment, despite having passed initial testing.

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That said, it’s important to note that the terms “bug” and “defect” can still convey a similar point in everyday conversation, and even by software development professionals. 

So, don’t get too hung up on strict definitions!

Now, let’s turn our attention to defect management. 

It’s a systematic process aimed at identifying, tracking, prioritizing, and resolving defects within a software product.

an illustration of the steps in the defect management process
Source: Shake

While the fundamental focus of defect management is to detect and resolve issues, it also encompasses a preventive aspect by analyzing the root causes of defects and implementing corrective actions, aiming to reduce the likelihood of similar problems occurring.

Another key component of defect management is establishing a deliverable baseline or a set of quality criteria that the software product must meet before it can be considered ready for release. 

Finally, defect management emphasizes continuous improvement through data analysis and analyzing defect trends—identifying recurring patterns and refining development processes over time.

In essence, defect management is a holistic approach to tackling software issues, striving to deliver high-quality products while continuously learning and improving.

Goals of defect management

With a better understanding of defect management, let’s now turn our attention to its core goals. 

While the previous section touched upon some of the overarching aims, we’ll now highlight three key objectives that drive this process. 

These goals form the foundation for a successful defect management strategy and should be front and center as you implement your approach.

So, let’s get started!

Early defect detection

One of the most crucial goals of defect management is the early detection and identification of defects. 

Early defect detection involves integrating various techniques and strategies into your development lifecycle. 

These include meticulous code reviews, rigorous testing, and automated analysis tools which are all done early on in development.

The benefits of this proactive approach to defect management are numerous, with three of them illustrated below.

benefits of early defect detection
Source: Shake

Firstly, early defect detection is a major resource saver. 

By identifying and addressing issues early in the development cycle, you avoid costly rework and minimize the time spent on debugging

It’s a well-known fact that the later a defect is found, the more expensive it becomes to fix.

If we were to plot the cost of fixing defects based on the development stage, it might look something like the graph below.

a graph showing how the cost of defect fixes increases the later the defect is discovered
Source: Shake

The reason why detecting defects later on is more costly is simple. 

By the time a defect reaches the production environment, it may be deeply embedded within your codebase. 

Fixing it could necessitate undoing previous work, potentially introducing new issues and delaying the project timeline.

With a focus on early detection, your team can also accelerate time-to-market. 

This can be a significant advantage from a business perspective, as it allows you to release new features or products ahead of competitors, capture market share earlier, and generate revenue faster.

Early defect detection also contributes to improved software quality, explains QA tester Foram Bhatt:

“Early defect detection significantly reduces the need for extensive rework during later stages of development…[boosting] customer satisfaction by delivering a reliable and robust product.”

This philosophy of addressing problems at the earliest opportunity translates to a more efficient development process, fewer bugs in production, and ultimately, a higher-quality end product.

Prompt defect resolution

While detecting defects early is a crucial step, an effective defect management process also ensures they’re resolved promptly. 

This is achieved by establishing structured procedures to handle defects throughout their lifecycle and by fostering close collaboration between teams.

Let’s delve into the former first. 

A typical defect lifecycle, often managed within a defect tracking system, follows a clear path, as illustrated below.

the path of a defect lifecycle
Source: Shake

First, a defect is logged and then assessed to confirm its validity. 

This initial step quickly eliminates false alarms and ensures that only legitimate defects proceed through the workflow. 

Once validated, the defect is assigned to a developer tasked with its resolution.

After a developer implements a fix, the defect undergoes a verification process to confirm that the issue has been truly addressed, involving retesting the affected area. 

This step is crucial to prevent the defect from reappearing later in the development cycle, which could lead to delays and unnecessary rework. 

Only after successful verification is the defect marked as closed.

To further enhance efficiency and save time and resources, regular defect triage meetings are a vital component of the resolution process. 

These meetings bring together key stakeholders—including project managers, testers, and developers—to discuss the status of open defects, assign priorities, and track progress. 

an illustration showing the participants in the defect triage process
Source: Shake

The collaborative nature of these meetings is a key advantage, as it brings together diverse perspectives and expertise. 

This allows teams to identify the most effective solutions more quickly and address any roadblocks or challenges as they arise.

By combining structured procedures with open communication and collaboration, successful defect management ensures prompt resolution.

Future defect prevention

The ultimate goal of defect management is not just to fix issues quickly, but to prevent them from occurring in the first place. 

After all, the most efficient way to deal with a defect is to stop it before it even has a chance to cause trouble.

For starters, let’s take a closer look at the process of defect evolution.

an illustration showing the process of defect evolution
Source: Shake

As this illustration shows, a code mistake or error transforms into a defect. 

If this defect isn’t caught during testing and makes its way into a live product, it could lead to a system failure or a negative user experience. 

The key is to intervene at the earliest possible stages, either by catching the mistake or bad practice that causes the defect or by identifying the defect itself before it wreaks havoc.

There are several effective methods for achieving defect prevention, some of which are illustrated below.

MethodDescription
Code ReviewsTeam members inspect code for errors and potential improvements.
Static Code AnalysisTools automatically scan code for potential vulnerabilities and bad practices.
Automated TestingScripted tests verify functionality across different scenarios.
Continuous IntegrationCode changes are continuously integrated and tested.
User Acceptance TestingEnd-users test the application in a real-world environment.

A key technique to help nip potential problems in the bud is unit testing.

a pyramid illustration the types of testing
Source: Shake

This type of testing focuses on individual units of code, such as functions or modules, ensuring they operate correctly in isolation. 

Unit tests are typically performed before integration and acceptance testing, serving as a safety net to catch defects early in the development cycle. 

By thoroughly testing individual code components, you minimize the risk of those errors propagating to later stages.

All in all, by proactively addressing potential issues and focusing on prevention, you can significantly reduce the number of defects that make it into production.

Tools for efficient defect management

In today’s development landscape, effective defect management heavily relies on the tools you choose. 

The right software solutions can streamline processes, enhance collaboration, and provide valuable insights into the health of your projects.

The most widely used tools for simplifying defect management are project management and bug/defect tracking software, with some popular options shown below.

an illustration with project management and bug tracking tools
Source: Shake

Let’s take a closer look at Jira, a popular project management tool used widely for defect management. 

Jira helps organize and handle defects throughout their lifecycle. 

It allows for detailed reporting and categorization, assignment to specific team members, and provides a bird’s-eye view of progress through features like Kanban boards.

jira kanban board screenshot
Source: Atlassian

This enables stakeholders and project managers to easily track the status of each defect, monitor the team’s workload, and identify any bottlenecks in the resolution process.

However, these types of tools become even more powerful when integrated with specialized bug reporting systems like Shake

While not a defect tracker itself, Shake automatically generates detailed defect reports, gathering over 70 metrics of data

These comprehensive reports are then seamlessly sent directly to your chosen issue tracking system.

This integration saves valuable time and ensures that developers receive the critical information they need to diagnose and resolve defects efficiently.

Finally, we have to mention another category of essential tools for defect management—test management software, such as TestRail.

testrail tool screenshot
Source: Testrail

These types of tools enable teams to organize test cases, track test execution progress, and link defects directly to test results. 

This integration helps trace the origins of defects, identify patterns, and ultimately improve the quality of your testing processes.

So, by harnessing the power of project management, bug reporting, and test management tools, you create a robust defect management ecosystem that streamlines the entire process.

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Defect metrics you need to track

Finally, let’s turn our attention to metrics. 

Throughout the defect management process, individual defects are diligently tracked to monitor their progress and ensure timely resolution. 

However, higher-level metrics are essential to gaining a holistic understanding of your defect management efforts, assessing their effectiveness, and driving continuous improvement.

Here are some key metrics that can illuminate the health of your defect management process.

an illustration of defect metrics to track
Source: Shake

One fundamental metric is the average defect resolution time also known as the Mean Time To Repair (MTTR). 

This tells you, on average, how long it takes your team to resolve defects once they’ve been discovered.

A high MTTR might indicate bottlenecks in your process or a lack of resources, while a decreasing MTTR signals improving efficiency. 

For example, if your MTTR is trending upwards, it might be time to investigate why it’s taking longer to fix defects and explore potential solutions to streamline the process.

Another critical metric to track is defect severity.

If the number of high-severity defects is increasing, you’ll need to take swift action to pinpoint the root cause and mitigate any significant impact on your product. 

Conversely, a decreasing percentage of high-severity defects, as shown in the image below, might indicate that your development and testing practices are improving.

a screenshot showing a decreasing percentage of high-severity defects
Source: Performance Objectives

The last essential metric we’ll cover is open versus closed defects. 

This metric simply tracks the number of defects currently open, compared to those that have been successfully resolved.

It is usually represented with a graph like the one shown below.

open vs closed defects graph
Source: Shake

This seemingly simple metric can offer valuable insights into your team’s workload and the overall health of your defect management process. 

For instance, a sudden plateau in closed defects, like the one depicted in the image above, could indicate a resource bottleneck where your team isn’t able to keep up with the incoming rate of new issues. 

Alternatively, it could suggest that a recent code change has introduced a series of related defects that need immediate attention.

In any case, tracking these and other relevant defect metrics empowers your team to make informed decisions, identify areas for improvement, and ultimately deliver a more reliable and high-quality product.

Conclusion 

And there you have it, a comprehensive overview of defect management. 

We’ve defined defects and their management, as well as explored the aims of this practice, encompassing not just fixing current issues, but also preventing future ones. 

We’ve also discussed tools to make defect management easier and metrics to track your progress.

With this knowledge, you’re equipped to build a robust defect management process that will improve your software quality and streamline your development workflow. 

So, take what you’ve learned and put it into practice, and watch as your software reaches new levels of reliability.

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