Monday, February 21, 2011

Categorizing Bug Severity

One of the imponderables when using a bug tracking system such as Bugzilla is how to assign "severity" to a particular defect entry. It is instinctive to assign severity based on how dramatic the outcome is. So in that sort of system an LED that sometimes doesn't blink might be "medium" and "low" and a system crash might be "critical."  BUT, that's usually not the best way to look at severity.

Instead defect severity should be based on how urgent it is to get fixed for the business environment your product lives in. To use the above example, what if the non-blinking LED causes 1000 field support visits calls because people think the device isn't working properly (perhaps it is a cable modem and "blinking" means "I'm working properly")?  What if the system crash is likely to happen to only one out of every 100,000 customers, and happens in a situation in which the customer is very likely just to cycle power to clear the problem without any big deal?  In that situation the first defect might be "critical" and the second might only be "medium" severity.

So when you are thinking about assigning issue severity, consider the business context and not just how the defect feels to a tester or developer at a test bench. The general idea is that defect severity should correspond to value to the business of fixing the defect, and not how embarrassing it might be to the developers. (You can read more about good practices for defect tracking in chapter 24 of my book.)

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