Yesterday we shipped our first product, a bug tracking package called FogBUGZ. I’ve noticed that lots of development teams have bug tracking software, but many of them just don’t use it.
There are a lot of subtle sociology and group-dynamics issues that explain why some software is univerally used, and other software languishes on the shelf. Microsoft’s internal bug tracking tool, RAID, is used universally by developers throughout the company. (FogBUGZ works a lot like RAID, but it’s web-based instead of client-server). But lots of companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on overengineered “defects management” tools which nobody ever uses.
And the reason for the difference comes down to small issues of usability and sociology.
For example, usability theory holds that if you make a task 10% easier, you double the number of people that can accomplish it. I’ve always felt that if you can make it 10% easier to fill in a bug report, you’ll get twice as many bug reports. (When I removed two questions from the Joel On Software signup page, the rate of new signups went up dramatically). Over the three years in which I’ve been developing and tweaking FogBUGZ, I’ve resisted dozens of requests for new fields, because I’ve learned that the more fields you have to fill out, the less likely you are to use the bug database to report a bug, and the more likely you are to work around the system by sending email or making a post-it note.
And in sociology, it’s vital to remember that change is hard. It’s difficult to get people to learn new habits and new ways of working, and it’s impossible to inflict a new style of working on an existing group of developers all at once. So we designed FogBUGZ to be viral. One person on any team – a manager, tester, or developer, can start using it, and pretty soon it will spread to the whole development team. It can start with a single developer, who starts using it as a “to do” list. Then it spreads slowly: maybe the first developer assigns an item on the to do list to a friend. Then the two of them decide to tell the testing team not to report bugs via email, but to use the bug tracking tool instead. Rapidly, it spreads to the whole development organization, and pretty soon, developers get disgruntled that they can’t enter a bug for the office manager to get more Mountain Dew.
FogBUGZ reflects our attention to usability and sociology, not just technological “gee whiz” gadgetry. Try it out! We’ve got a demo online where you can set up your own private bug database to play with for free. And let me know how you like it.
Google Just Rocks.
They are beta testing a new navigation bar — an add-in for Internet Explorer that’s really, really cool. It’s the first thing I’ve seen that justifies the screen real estate. (And I’m not just saying that because I own Google stock!)