Bug severity: how to manage bugs more efficiently in 2023

Bug severity: how to manage bugs more efficiently in 2023
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Bug severity is the impact a bug or defect has on software development or functionality. And despite testing efforts, many critical bugs and defects end up in production.
According to a recent study, buggy software costs U.S. companies $2.08 trillion. So finding, understanding, and addressing user-facing bugs that negatively impact functionality, usability, and UX is of the essence. The problem is, they’re not always the easiest things to find, let alone assign severities.
For this reason, many SaaS teams are turning to bug resolution platforms like Bugpilot for a little help. Bugpilot assists with bug severities by including all the information you'll need to assess the impact of bugs and prioritize resolution.

What is bug severity?

Bug severity measures the extent a bug or defect has on software development or functionality when used. The assigned severity level depends on how much it impacts user interaction with the software.
By evaluating bug severity, you can effectively prioritize and gain a clear understanding of how these defects influence your software, ultimately contributing to more efficient bug management and improved overall product quality.

Bug severity vs bug priority

Bug severity refers to the measure of how serious or critical a software defect is. It assesses the impact of a bug on the software's functionality, user experience, and overall performance. Severity categorizes bugs into different levels, such as critical, major, minor, or trivial, based on their impact. It primarily addresses the technical aspect of a bug.
On the other hand, bug priority determines the order in which bugs should be fixed. It focuses on business or project-related factors and considers the significance of a bug in the current development context. Priority levels may include high, medium, or low, reflecting the urgency of addressing a bug.

Examples of bug severity

These are the severity levels with examples of how bugs or defects are generally categorized.

Severity 1: Critical

A critical bug hinders the performance of essential functionality, preventing users from using the system. For example, Microsoft would probably feel quite nervous if all their users could not sign into their 365 accounts. Or if there were problems with the "reset password" feature, preventing users from resetting their passwords successfully.
In addition, there may not be a workaround available. All severity 1 (S1) bugs need to be addressed as a priority!

Severity 2: Major

A major bug will cause large areas of the system to fail and cause functionality to stop behaving as expected. For example, if the Microsoft 365 service stopped validating the user's credentials and allowed access when details were incorrect. This would be a serious security threat, classified as an S2, and should be fixed asap.

Severity 3: Minor

Minor bugs or defects have a small impact on the system functionality. In other words, it happens when the software exhibits unexpected behavior. For instance, a user may find that their selected text is changed to the wrong shade whenever they choose a particular font color in Word. While this could be an annoyance, it doesn’t significantly impact the user experience. It’s a bug that should be fixed, but it won’t take priority if there are more serious issues that already exist.

Severity 4: Low

S4s are usually cosmetic and should not prevent your users from doing something. Examples include overlapping text, misaligned page elements, or links pointing to the wrong page. Low bugs are typically parked and can be addressed in a future release.

Severity 5: Cosmetic

Cosmetic bugs are purely visual or presentational issues that do not affect functionality, performance, or security. They are primarily related to aesthetics and have minimal to no risks. For example, in graphic design software, a cosmetic bug may involve a slightly misaligned icon on the toolbar, which does not hinder the user's ability to create or edit designs.

How is bug severity determined?

First, identify how often the bug occurs. For instance, a minor bug can cause significant interference to the UX if the problem is seen frequently in the backend. With the bug replicated, you can decide its severity and how urgently it needs fixing. This is known as bug priority.

Bug priority

The priority is how quickly the bug needs to be resolved. The typical bug priority levels are:
  • Low: These bugs can be parked until later.
  • High: These need to be addressed ASAP! At this point, the software is not fit for purpose.
Although bug severity and priority are often confused and used interchangeably, they differ. Remember, the severity measures the impact on the user, while the priority is how soon the bug needs to be fixed. So not all S1s will be a priority. Here are some examples of how priorities work.

High-severity, high-priority

A critical severity and high-priority bug are when key functionality is affected, meaning users will face difficulty using your software.
Example: Cross-browser testing found when accessing Zoom from Chrome, joining and leaving meetings is successful. However, the "join meeting" feature has disappeared when signing in from a Microsoft Edge browser.

High-severity, low-priority

A critical severity and low-priority bug is when the problem is significant but can be fixed later, as it doesn’t impact many users.
Example: Cross-browser testing found all Zoom functionality works as expected in the Microsoft Edge browser. However, when accessed from some legacy browsers, meeting information is scrambled and misaligns page elements.

Low severity, high priority

A low-severity and high-priority bug is when the problem should be addressed immediately but has a low impact on the user.
Example: Cross-browser testing of the latest Zoom release found that some icons and buttons were misaligned and looked terrible. Although the functionality isn't affected, the bug needs to be addressed quickly before the release date as it affects the UX.

Low-severity, low-priority

A low-severity and low-priority bug is usually cosmetic, and it's not considered a real issue regarding functionality. Therefore, it doesn't need to be fixed straight away.
Example: Testing found Zoom has some incorrect font colors.

Why is bug severity important?

Severity is a crucial component in bug reports, providing a clear indication of the impact or criticality of a reported issue within a software project. Meanwhile, bug reports serve as a communication tool between testers and developers, and including the severity level helps prioritize and address bugs efficiently.
Here are some of the benefits of including severity in bug reports:
  • It indicates how serious the problem is. The bug severities and priorities are required as they highlight the level at which users are impacted and how quickly problems should be looked at.
  • Prioritized resolution helps minimize high-severity bugs from reaching production. End users do not report bugs. If one of your new user's first experiences with your software is poor due to bugs, or they're unable to do something, they could stop using your product altogether.
  • It's an easy method that everyone understands. Everyone on the team can understand bug and defect severities and priorities. This system eradicates misunderstandings and presumptions regarding the impact.
  • High-severity bugs can significantly affect the user experience, potentially leading to user dissatisfaction or abandonment of the software. Identifying and addressing these issues promptly is vital for retaining users.
  • By categorizing bugs by severity, quality assurance teams can focus their testing efforts on critical and high-severity areas, ensuring that the most significant issues are identified early in the development process. This proactive approach can lead to higher software quality.
  • It streamlines the bug-fixing process by ensuring that development efforts are focused on resolving the most critical problems first.

Risks of focusing on bug severity

Bug severity is a well-established metric used to categorize and prioritize issues. However, as with any approach, there are risks associated with overemphasizing bug severity.
Here are some of the potential pitfalls and drawbacks of fixating on bug severity. Check them out below:

Disregarding user preferences

One of the most significant risks of overemphasizing bug severity is the potential to neglect the priorities of end-users. Bug severity often hinges on technical aspects and internal criteria, which might not align with the issues that users consider most critical. By solely prioritizing high-severity bugs, you may inadvertently sideline user-reported concerns, leading to dissatisfaction and reduced user engagement.

Overlooking hidden issues

Relying heavily on bug severity metrics can lead to the oversight of subtle, yet impactful bugs that might not rank as high in severity. Some bugs, while seemingly low in severity, can have far-reaching consequences and compound over time. Overlooking these hidden bugs can result in long-term issues that are more challenging and costly to address later.

Ignoring business impact

Bug severity doesn't always equate to the business impact. Some low-severity bugs may have a disproportionate effect on user retention, customer satisfaction, or revenue generation. Focusing solely on severity can lead to neglecting bugs that may have a substantial business impact.

Insufficient resource allocation

Overemphasizing bug severity can lead to an inefficient allocation of resources. Resources are often concentrated on high-severity bugs, leaving insufficient attention and manpower for other critical aspects of development, such as feature improvements, innovation, or proactive quality assurance testing.

Destroying team morale

A focus on bug severity can be demoralizing for the development team. Constantly prioritizing and fixing high-severity bugs can lead to burnout and frustration among team members. It may also stifle their creativity and motivation, as they become solely focused on addressing issues rather than driving innovation.

Alternative Approaches to Bug Severity

In the world of software development, bug severity has been the go-to metric for addressing issues. However, as the software practice evolves, there are different methods to try. Let’s check out the other methods:

Bug priority

Bug priority involves assessing and categorizing bugs based on their immediate impact on the project’s progression. It allows for the classification of bugs as high, medium, or low priority, focusing on their urgency for resolution.
High-prioritized bugs require immediate attention, while low-priority ones may not be critical to the project’s current stage.
When to use bug priority:
Use bug priority when you need to address issues promptly, regardless of their technical severity. It’s most important when you want to ensure the project’s functionality and meet deadlines by concentrating on the most critical and time-sensitive bugs.

Risk-Based Approach

The risk-based approach evaluates bugs based on their potential impact and the likelihood of occurrence. It prioritizes bug-fixing by considering both the consequences of bugs and their likelihood to surface.
When to use a risk-based approach:
Use this method when you need to assess and mitigate risks associated with various software components or features. It’s particularly useful and effective during project planning and testing phases to allocate resources efficiently and manage potential risks.

User impact analysis

User impact analysis focuses on prioritizing bugs according to their impact on the end-user experience. It assesses how a bug affects user satisfaction and engagement. With this approach, you can ensure that you can resolve bugs promptly, even if their technical severity is relatively low.
When to use user impact analysis:
Choose this approach when the user experience is a top priority, and customer satisfaction is critical as it helps maintain a positive user experience by addressing issues that matter most to users, enhancing the overall quality of your software.

Functional area priority

Functional area priority organizes bug-fixing efforts based on specific functional areas or modules within the software. It allows for systematic bug resolution within distinct modules or components, particularly beneficial in complex software projects with multiple interconnected parts.
When to use functional area priority:
Choose functional area priority when your software project comprises multiple interconnected components or modules. This approach ensures that you address bugs within specific functional areas systematically, maintaining the integrity of critical functionalities while resolving issues in a structured manner.

How to use Bugpilot for instant bug resolution

Bugpilot is an AI-powered bug resolution software. It helps save you money by speeding up the bug resolution process. Here's how Bugpilot helps SaaS teams understand, prioritize, and ultimately speed up the fix time of user-facing bugs.

Understand the bug quicker

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Get the bug information you'll need to understand, recreate, prioritize, and fix issues quicker. Bugpilot removes the need to chase users for screenshots and sometimes receive inaccurate and unclear information. The other automated troubleshooting details Bugpilot offers include standard bug reports, visual proof, and network requests.
In addition, integrations with Jira, Slack, Notion, and over 100 apps make collaboration and workflow processes easier.

Easier and detailed bug reporting

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The 1-click bug reporting widget allows users to report problems with accurate information. It creates a thorough technical bug report, including bug description, session recording, and all the other techie details you'll need for an actionable bug ticket.
Your users will be able to make their report as detailed as possible by highlighting areas on the screen and including notes of what they were trying to do and what happened.

Find hidden bugs

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Did you know that 96% of bugs go unreported by users?
Not that we rely on users to report bugs, but through their consistent use of the system, hidden bugs and defects are found. Users not reporting issues could be down to a whole host of reasons. Bugpilot encourages more users to raise problems by making it easier to submit tickets. You'll have a higher chance of fixing unknown problems before they become significant issues in production.
If a first-time user of your product has a poor user experience, they could be put off your software altogether. And if this happens frequently, it could dent your brand's credibility and bottom line. So having your users on board with flagging issues is a must.

Boost productivity

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Bugpilot AI assistance helps to increase productivity by providing the following assistance for code fixes:
  • logical errors, stack traces, and source-map support
  • error descriptions and likely root cause
  • production-ready code fixes to add to your code

Ready to take your bug resolution to the next level?

Bug severity is the extent to which a bug or defect impacts software development or functionality. Bugs and defects are assigned severities and priorities. Priorities rank the urgency with which a bug should be fixed. Does it need to be fixed now, or can it be added to a future release? A critical bug renders the software unsuitable, while a minor inconvenience, like a cosmetic fault, may be raised as low severity.
Bugpilot understands the importance of getting bugs fixed quickly, and our bug resolution software helps you get a precise understanding of bugs and their impact on the user. Head to Bugpilot today to sign up and start your 14-day free trial.

Get automatic notifications when coding errors occur, failed network requests happen, or users rage-click. Bugpilot provides you with user session replay and all the technical info needed to reproduce and fix bugs quickly.

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