When it comes to software development, one of the most important goals is to create a product that is bug-free… or at least as bug-free as possible.
We all know software bugs can cause a range of issues, from minor annoyances to major disruptions and even security vulnerabilities.
Bugs mean more development work and more time re-testing, and if the system is very buggy - it can impact the relationships with your clients.
But not every bug is the same. To create software that is as bug-free as possible, it's important to first understand where bugs are most likely to occur and how to prevent them.
There are three main places where bugs can happen in software:
- Bugs in requirements
- Bugs in understanding the requirements
- Bugs in code
Each type of bug arises differently and requires a different method of mitigation.
Let’s jump into each of these in more detail.
Bugs in your requirements 🐞
These are issues that arise when the requirements for a software project are either incorrect or incomplete.
An example is your client asking for an automated text message to be sent to them when a user upgrades their account, but this feature was either missed or forgotten during the scoping and confirmation phases. So it never became part of the requirements.
The main reasons requirements bugs arise:
- Poor communication between the client and yourself
- Ineffective documentation/requirements-gathering practises
- Ineffective client confirmation/requirements sign-off
To avoid requirements bugs, ensure you have great communication from the start.
Spend a lot of time deeply discussing the problem and the possible solutions (a project workshop is a perfect place for this), and ensure you are documenting all the outcomes.
I would take a lot of notes, but also do audio recordings of all workshops. The audio is integral as if you are both facilitating the workshop and trying to remember all the discussions and outcomes - this is a monumental task!
After your requirements gathering sessions, go back over your notes right away and flesh them out whilst the conversations are still clear in your head. If you need to, revisit the audio recordings, and then do another round of fleshing out the notes.
I would then create user stories, user personas, and user journeys from all this information - and would use a tool such as Userdoc to centralise it all.
Ask questions right away, confirm everything you need, and then add the answers back into your requirements. The longer you leave this process, the greater chance you miss small details.
Gathering the requirements is one part, but confirming the requirements is equally important.
Send your client a copy of the requirements (e.g. invite them to Userdoc - or send them a digital version), as often they might need some time to look through it all and prepare any questions
Then organise a session with your client where you take them through every requirement one by one, verbally discuss it, and get them to confirm if it seems correct and if anything is missing.
This may take a couple of hours or more, but in my experience, it’s an integral step in avoiding requirement bugs - and setting up the project with the best chance of success.
Bugs in understanding 🐛
These are issues that arise when the requirements for a software project are correct but are misunderstood during the implementation process.
An example is a requirement around “Sending notifications on account upgrade” originally being asked to be a text message by your client, but was not communicated correctly to the developers, so they assumed it was an email notification, so implemented it as such.
If you’re the one implementing the code then this is less likely to occur - as you’ve already gone through the process of avoiding requirements bugs, and you will know the system very well.
But if others are building or helping build the projects, this increases the chance of bugs around misunderstanding the requirements.
The main reasons misunderstanding bugs arise:
- Poor communication between you and your team
- Unclear or ambiguous task descriptions
- Lack of project management processes
To avoid misunderstanding bugs within your team, you need to solid handover process to ensure the project context ends up in your team's head.
Developers and designers are not expected to know every single requirement by heart, as they may not work on them all. But it’s still important to take them through the agreed requirements, so they can understand the larger goals, and be aware of what the end result will be.
If you skip this step and just assign people tasks without educating them on the broader system - then it’s more likely they have misunderstandings.
When breaking down the implementable project tasks, I recommend you link them back to the source of truth in the project requirements, instead of just re-writing them. These requirements are what the client agreed to, and what they should use for testing, so they should also be what the developers use for implementation. If you store your requirements in a manner where each one has a distinct URL (such as Userdoc, a page in Confluence, or Notion), then your assigned tasks can link directly to the specific page.
But no matter how hard you try, misunderstandings still occur - and that’s ok.
The best thing you can do is to catch them early, and a great way (if you're a programmer) is to always do peer code reviews. Before a task can be deemed “complete”, ensure that the code matches the requirements, as besides educating the coders and giving them detailed requirements, the next line of defence in ensuring they have implemented it as planned is the code itself.
Bugs in your code 🪲
These are issues that arise when the requirements are correct and understood correctly, but there is an issue with the implementation of the code.
An example is a requirement around “Sending notifications on account upgrade”. The developer correctly implements the feature to send a text message to the client when a user upgrades their account, however, they make the mistake of also sending a text message on all account status changes, including when the account is downgraded (which was not what the client wanted).
The main reasons code bugs arise:
- Basic coding/logic errors
- Lack of attention to detail
- Lack of personal testing
To prevent code bugs, it's important to have a solid coding process in place, including good personal testing practices, automated testing, peer testing, and peer code reviews.
Basic coding and logic errors can be caught by code linters, but also doubled checked in your code pipeline - so enforcing a team-wide standard of tooling can catch a lot of these low-hanging bugs.
I have a high standard when it comes to development bugs. I’m certainly not “bug-free”, but I’ve spent a long time working on my own testing and debugging practices, and I teach my team to apply the same thoroughness.
Make high-quality code something your whole team strives for, and importantly, holds each other accountable for.
Preventing bugs in software requires a combination of thorough requirements understanding, clear communication among team members, and a solid coding process.
By focusing on these areas, software development teams can work towards creating a product that is as bug-free as possible.
But, having said all that - it's important to remember that no software is ever completely bug-free, and it's inevitable that some issues will arise even with the best prevention measures in place. That's why it's important to have a tight process for identifying and fixing bugs as they arise so that any issues can be addressed quickly and efficiently - without wasting too much time, and costing too much money.