The bug triage process

by | Apr 5, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Bugs. That pain in the ass. Every development team is afraid of bugs. They can slow down your development process, derail your planning, ruin your release and make your game have a bunch of negative reviews because it shipped half-broken. That’s every studio’s nightmare. However, bugs are unavoidable. Games are such complex pieces of software and planning your project without taking into consideration how to handle them is a serious mistake. This is where bug triage comes into play.

What is bug triage?

The bug triage process is a crucial aspect of the game development lifecycle as it allows teams to analyze and classify detected bugs based on severity and prioritize them. Bug triage helps manage what might otherwise become an unmanageable backlog of bugs.

Fixing enough bugs can make a big difference between a game that is smooth and enjoyable versus one that is frustrating. Therefore, it is important to fix the right issues to successfully launch a game, and also ensure that the most critical ones detected in production are fixed and patched first.

Also, effective bug triage is a crucial process for ensuring that the development resources are utilized optimally. By establishing a coherent plan to address bugs by priority, it helps to optimize the time and effort spent on bug fixing, and allows your team to take care of them without stopping or delaying the normal development lifecycle.

How often do we need to conduct it?

The frequency of bug triage depends on the project’s size and complexity, and it should be conducted at various stages of the development process:

  • Regular bug triage should be conducted throughout development to identify and resolve any new bugs promptly.
  • After each development phase, bug triage should be conducted to ensure that bugs are identified and resolved before moving on to the next phase.
  • When the game is in production, the team has to react quickly to bugs reported by the players, specially focusing on those that can break the experience.

A good way to manage bugs is to fix blockers immediately and add other fixes as part of your normal sprint planning, making sure a time budget is allocated to take care of them and they don’t affect the long-term roadmap.

It is also a good habit to estimate the time needed to fix bugs. They take work, so it is important not to underestimate them. Some project management tools, such as HacknPlan, can help take estimates into account. The more experience the team gets estimating and planning bug fixing, the better they’ll become and the more accurate they will be.

The process

Usually, the process of handling bugs looks like this:

  • A bug is reported by a developer, QA engineer or player. The bug should be correctly registered in the backlog of the project management tool like HacknPlan.
  • After the bug is registered, the person or team in charge of the bug triage process should evaluate, reproduce and enrich the data associated with the bug report. Sometimes, the steps to reproduce the bug or the scenario in which this bug happened might not be completely clear; in this case, more information should be requested from the reporter of the bug, and some investigations might be performed in order to clearly define the bug and its scope.
  • Once the bug is clearly defined, a severity should be established depending on how important the bug is for the current state of the project. For instance, if the game is in production, a bug that prevents the player from advancing in the game, or game crashes, should have the highest severity. Also, they have to be sorted by priority, especially important when you have more than one bug of the same severity to tackle. In HacknPlan, you can track severity and priority by using the importance level field, and manually sorting the bug cards, respectively.
  • After that, the top priority bugs should be assigned to or picked up by developers. Normally, if the game is in production or the bug is blocking the progress of other team members, it can be taken care of from outside the normal development cycle (sprints, iterations…) or just added to the current cycle exceptionally. If the bug is not that critical, it will be added to the next or future iterations during the planning session, depending on its importance.
  • Once the bug is fixed, it will be added to the next build, release or patch of the game, depending on the phase the project is in.

Ideally, all bugs should be fixed, but since large projects tend to have numerous bugs during development, triage becomes essential if you want to complete your game or update on time and budget and release it in a stable state. You’ll need to find a compromise: nobody wants to release a broken game, but aiming for a 100% free of bugs game is not realistic either, as that look for perfection can kill a project when timing and budget is relevant. That’s why triage is important: by focusing on most critical bugs first and leaving the less important ones, you make sure you can release your game in a “good enough” state that aligns with your goals.

Not every bug is equally important, so having a clear and well defined process to determine what should be fixed next can save you a lot of headaches and get your team aligned. Rushing into fixing things without proper management of the time and resources could lead to poor performance, time mismanagement and a messy team communication.

Recommendations

Here are some recommendations to improve the bug triage process:

  • Define a transparent bug triage process: Establish a clear procedure to prioritize bugs, assign them, and track them until they are fixed. This will ensure that everyone knows their duties and responsibilities.
  • Recurring bug triage meetings: Hold regular bug triage meetings to quickly identify and resolve new bugs with relevant stakeholders, including the project manager, QA team, and development team. This way, everyone stays updated on the current status and backlog resulting from the meeting, ensuring that bugs are assigned and fixed.
  • Monitor and analyze bug triage data: You can gain insights into patterns and trends that can be addressed in future releases.
  • Training and support: Offer training and assistance to the development and QA teams to help them understand and utilize the bug triage process. This will lead to a better understanding of the process and better results.

Conclusion

Bugs, for better or worse, are a part of the everyday life of any game development team. However, how you address them and the process you follow to plan, organize, assign and fix bugs is what makes the difference.

If you are in the early stages of a new project, it is the best moment to establish the foundations of a good bug triage process that you and your team will follow during the lifecycle of your project.

On the other hand, if you are in the middle of a project and are suffering the consequences of not handling bugs appropriately… don’t worry! It’s never too late to review and improve your processes and come up with a better strategy to deal with these nasty bugs. Your players and your team will thank you!

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