How to tell when your bug reporting system is at its limits

August 10, 2008

There reaches a certain point in the life of many projects, especially open source projects, when your bug reporting system just doesn't work any more. By 'doesn't work' I don't mean that your systems fall over and the software stops working; I mean that the system stops doing any good and instead becomes the place where bug reports go to die. (Actual important bugs get reported and often tracked by different channels.)

So how can you tell if you've reached this point? Speaking from an outside perspective, I have a suggestion on the boundaries of when a bug reporting system is still useful:

  • when you are getting more bug reports than you can fix, your bug reporting system is pretty much done for. Although you can still extract some use from it, you should start thinking about what's next.

  • when you are getting more bug reports than you can even sort and triage, your bug reporting system is dead. Give up entirely.

If you are in the second situation, ideally you'll remove your bug reporting system entirely so that innocent people are not deluded into spending their time filing bug reports that no one is going to read. If you keep your bug reporting system running anyways merely to divert people's attention so that they don't bug the developers, well, I will just say that I would rather that you were honest about the whole situation.

To be fair, I think that a lot of projects that wind up in the second situation keep their bug reporting systems running out of inertia and the idea that they have to do something to enable bug reports, instead of any deliberate cynicism. The Sam Ruby entry that started me thinking about this issue suggests that projects should take a different view, and as you might have guessed, I agree with him.

Written on 10 August 2008.
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Last modified: Sun Aug 10 00:04:01 2008
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