3 criteria to prioritize bugs

Because it’s impossible to anticipate every possible situation, bugs are unavoidable. No one likes bugs and we all want them to be fixed as soon as possible. The issue is that it’s not the only thing we expect from a product. We also want new features, support, communication, and the rest. In this situation, it’s important for a product to balance between all those demands. The priority of a bug is hard to evaluate because it tends to be subjective. From the perspective of the user facing a bug, it’s the most important one that needs to be fixed. From a developer’s perspective, perhaps it’s a feature they like and/or built so they want to fix it quickly too. In this situation, it’s primordial to take a step back and think about it from a neutral point of view.

The first criterion that often comes to mind is frequency. The bugs that are occurring the most need to be fixed first. After all, they’re probably the ones affecting most people in the most common situation. While it’s definitely a useful indicator, frequency alone is not enough. There are bugs that prevent a certain usage but have a simple workaround. They’re annoying but they don’t prevent your users from using the product. Obviously, they’re less important than bugs that crash the whole application.

As a second criterion, you should consider “annoyance”. The idea here is to evaluate how annoying the bug is. There are a few questions you can answer to do so: Is there a workaround? If so, how simple and natural is it? And if not, how bad are the consequences of the bug? For example, losing a user’s work is critical and has no workaround, at least from their end. On the other hand, it’s probably ok if the keyboard shortcut to print the page doesn’t work but you can still print it through the browser menu.

Frequency and annoyance are already two great criteria. The last thing missing in this equation is value. A product is the result of all its features combined but some of those are more valuable than the others. They’re the features the product sells, showcases on its homepage and what makes it different from its competitors. If you need to decide between fixing a nice-to-have and a feature that truly makes your users love your product, I guess you know what to do.

Frequency, annoyance, and value. They’re the three criteria to keep in mind when evaluating the importance of a bug. The point of those criteria is not to dismiss bugs report completely. It’s just an easier and less subjective way to decide which bug to fix first.