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    defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    I'm writing a column on defect tracking best practices for Software Test and Performance magazine. (Sorry about the name. I know there really is no such thing as a best practice in programming.) I'm wondering if I might ask a few questions of folks here?

    As with previous columns, I'm looking for anecdotes, tales and stories. These tend to be more illumniating (or at least more interesting to read) than checklists and so on.

    I'm also curious how evolving trends in programming affect defect tracking. Specifically, what's been the impact of software as a service (SaaS) models? And what about agile programming? My guess would be both SaaS distribution models and agile programming styles de-emphasize the importance of big complex defect tracking tools and processes (since in the former, bugs/defects are dealt with as they're identified instead of waiting for the next big release; and in the latter, fewer bugs/defects are identified in the first place.) Is this accurate or am I way off base here? Maybe you guys can save me from taking a dumb approach to the column, too.

    I'll be writing the weekend of 5/13, so next Friday (5/12) is my deadline for responses.

    Thanks in advance.
    Geoff Koch
    Freelance technical writer, journalist
    Lansing, MI
    AIM: geoffinmichigan
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    MSN: geoffarnoldkoch

  2. #2
    Moderator JakeBrake's Avatar
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Geoff,

    What happened to the below article?

    http://www.qaforums.com/ultimatebb.p...c;f=2;t=002079

  3. #3
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Geoff,
    The practices that comes to my mind enabled by defect tracking systems are:
    1) Defect Management/Prioritizing; search for severity/priority; red my http://www.testingreflections.com/node/view/3040 etc.
    2) Building defect metrics, doing "process improvement" based on the metrics, etc... my skepticism and practices read on http://www.testingreflections.com/node/view/3055

    Regarding "trends in programming affect defect tracking"? Do you mean that trends in development have something to do with defect TRACKING best practices - how could the tracking be affected? Or you imply that "Agile", SaaS" or any other abbreviation reduce or even eliminate number of open defects to be tracked?
    ?:the art of a constructive conflict perceived as a destructive diagnose.
    Ainars

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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    I'm with Ainars on this one. Changes in programming practices and methodologies don't really have an effect on defect tracking systems and methods. The purpose of the system is the same, and the same sort of information is needed to make the same sorts of decisions.

    I'll throw a bone out here. I won't call it a best practice, but I will call it a "gotcha" waiting to bite the unaware. Don't confuse the defect attributes "severity" and "priority". They are NOT synonomous. They track entirely different parameters, for entirely different reasons. If you need an example, let me know. Newbies (and some not so newbies) sometimes think that these two parameters are actually the same thing. In reality, they are not even related.

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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    One thing I noticed in your preview appears to be the premise that Agile/SaaS eliminates (or minimizes) the need for defect tracking. I don't think that's true. The time to repair may be shorter, the "scheduling" overhead may be reduced but the importance of tracking issues does not disappear.

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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Thanks, guys. JakeBrake, that article is in the can and we'll be out in the June issue of the magazine. I'm seem to be off base in my Agile/SaaS theory. Just roughly speaking, I thought if the big picture trend is that we're moving to a "see defect, fix defect" approach, that the need for big repositories that track and sort defects might diminished, at least over time. (ie, If the list is short and defects are dealt with promptly, can't you just use a spreadsheet?) But I think I'm just flat out wrong in this idea as I can't anyone to support it.

    The severity/priority distinction is good to know. Darrel, could you say just a little more about that?

    And one thing peripherally related here that I'm personally curious about and may or not be fodder for the column. When I worked at my last employer (a big chip company) as a tech writer for the developer Web site, we actually used a defect tracking tool (Merant's CVS Tracker, I think) to manage the flow of content to the site. Writers and editors would input content into the tool, the Web team would pull content out to do layout and publishing, project managers would run reports to find the total backlog of articles. We'd all gripe about it. Eventually, after I'd been there for several months and I too was griping about it, one of my co-workers said something like "no wonder it sucks. It was designed as a defect tracking tool, not to do Web content management." I was surprised and honestly had never really considered where the tool came from that we were all forced to use. Anyway, I'm curious if any of you are aware of defect tracking tools being used for non-defect tracking purposes? Were we just way out in left field or do other organizations do the same thing?

    Thanks,
    Geoff Koch
    Freelance technical writer, journalist
    Lansing, MI
    AIM: geoffinmichigan
    Yahoo: geoff_pdx
    MSN: geoffarnoldkoch

  7. #7
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Hi Geoff. Some follow-up to your last post.

    Even though the trend in Agile is "see bug, fix bug", the need to track is still there. If you want to measure the effectiveness of QA, you need metrics. To get metrics, you need data. To get data, you need to track. That's pretty much it. The development methodology used has no impact on the need for data to track metrics.

    Another purpose of bug tracking systems is to serve as a knowledge base. I've lost track of the number of times that someone said "gee, I think I've seen that one before" and dug into the bug tracking database to see something that was fixed a year ago. At the least, if the bug was fixed a year ago and the fix is still in place, it eliminates one possible source of the new bug.

    It also serves as corporate memory. What if developer A did work and fixed bugs, but left the company? In that case, without a tracker, developer B will have no clue what bugs were seen and fixed, or how developer A did the fix.

    To comment on your experience with a bug tracker being used to manage web content, I feel that I need to point out something. Most defect trackers serve well in that capacity, but they are generally much more flexible than that. Take out the word "defect" and you are left what you really have - a tracking system. It can be used to track anything - defects, maintenance on your car, a to-do list, etc, etc. I have seen very few that are purpose built to track only defects and nothing else.

    To expand on the difference between severity and priority. Severity is a measure of the impact on the business or the application. Priority is an indication of when it needs to be fixed. On the surface, it would make sense that the high severity defects should also be high priority, but that doesn't always hold true.

    Here's a real life example, not made up. I worked on an order management system. There was a defect in the routine that did annual price increases. The routine was supposed to add a percentage to every price on the first of January. The system went live in April.

    The defect was rated as a severity level 1 (highest) - it absolutely prevented the company from doing price increases on January 1, which directly impacted the bottom line. However, since we discovered it in February before we went live, but after the prices for the year had been set, the priority was very low, because we had 10 months to fix it. We had other lower severity defects which directly impacted our ability to go live in April, so those got higher priority.

    As we got closer to December, the priority of the original Severity 1 defect for price increases got higher and higher, because the time-frame for needing the fix was imminent.

    We used priority only for tasking developers. Severity was something that was discussed with the stakeholders when we were assigning or reassigning priority.

    [ 05-09-2006, 04:42 AM: Message edited by: Darrel Damon ]

  8. #8
    Moderator Joe Strazzere's Avatar
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Originally posted by Geoff K. in Michigan:
    Anyway, I'm curious if any of you are aware of defect tracking tools being used for non-defect tracking purposes? Were we just way out in left field or do other organizations do the same thing?
    <font size="2" face="Verdana, Arial, Helvetica">I've never heard of anyone using a defect tracking tool for content management.

    I have, however, seen several instances where the defect tracking tool was used to capture Feature Requests, and Development Tasks, rather than just Bug Reports.

    For me, a defect tracking tool can often be used quite effectively as a workflow tool for all of engineering.

    Some of these tools provide specific support for tracking Requirements and Test Cases as well as Issue Report.
    Joe Strazzere
    Visit my website: AllThingsQuality.com to learn more about quality, testing, and QA!

  9. #9
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Hi Geoff,

    The trend I am seeing is that the flexibility built into defect tracking systems means they are being used for more than just tracking defects.

    As Darrel says, they've become knowledge bases that hold the history of a project, they often document changes that, for a variety of reasons, don't make it back to original specs. By recording peoples comments and the history of a defect/issue they often provide a greater depth of information than specification documents.

    I think they're also becoming project management tools too. We use our defect management system to also manage development. The phase of the project is broken into tasks, and these tasks are recorded in the defect tracking system. They are then tracked through the system as they get specified, developed, released and tested, giving you a full history of the project phase and allowing you to see exactly what's being delivered in each build.

    Unfortunately the theory is better than the practice as business people tend to revert to word documents and other systems to record their wishes, but in theory our defect tracking system could record all this.
    Everywhere's within walking distance if you have enough time.

  10. #10
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    Re: defect tracking question by STP Mag columnist

    Note that in Darrel's example that there is an implied reassessment of priority. When does that happen? Not often enough in my experience. A regular review of priority is critical to ensure that the right issues are being fixed.

    Using a tracking tool for content management isn't the big win - it's using source code control systems to manage content that is the big win. In your case Merant's PVCS Tracker is/was integrated with PVCS and that was used to release the differences/changes to the site. (or at least it should have been or it wasn't a good way of doing it!). It takes a little bit sometimes to convince people that content is simply "code" and SCM systems are quite good at managing it.

    The first time you go to the web server and type "CVS update" and see tripwire push it to all the other servers (after having tested the same files on a beta server) really is amazing to see.

 

 
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