Bugs are Not Bugs

By Tobias Mayer (Agile Thinking) and Margaret Motamed

It’s easy to think of bugs as bad. It’s easy to see bugs as creepy crawly things to get rid of, things to panic about, things to fix at all costs, things that get in the way of “real product work” … Yet, with this perspective we deny ourselves a holistic view of the systems we are creating.  Instead of bemoaning the amount of bugs we have, try this way of thinking instead:

There are no bugs, there are only requests for product development and improvement.

In Scrum, a product backlog for a given product is a list of all the things we think we need to do or would like to do to make our product better. Some of these things don’t exist yet, others exist in simple form and can be improved upon, extended, and expanded upon. Many other stories on the backlog represent things  that exist, yet don’t yet function as we would like them to—and there are many reasons for this. Errors in the code is only one of many potential reason for a bug, and it is far from the most common.  Think of all the bugs that you’ve been asked to address recently, how many represent usability enhancements? Changes to work with a new OEM engine? Changes to address a new application or OS requirement? Requests for spec clarification? 

Handling bugs separately from new product development will always create a split focus. Which is more important, the new feature list or the bug list? Make one list—the backlog. Add everything to that list and prioritize accordingly. If requests come in that are so urgent they have to be done immediately, then shorten your sprints to accommodate the organization’s time frame. Avoid having unplanned interruptions, except in the most exceptional cases.

This way, the most important work gets done, in a timely and sustainable fashion. Developers will regain control of their workloads and the self-organization principle will kick in, with all its power, allowing the teams to become more engaged and to create great products that satisfy customer needs.

Bugs are not bugs, they are simply requests for improvement. Treat them with the same reverence.


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