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How to prioritize bugs while avoiding this classic mistake

It's been a little too long since you've run through sign up for your product. You remind yourself you should do this once a week. Anyway, time to do this. You get through the first few steps, all looking good. You get to the credit card form. Oh man, are you serious? All the labels are just a little misaligned. It looks like a mess. You go to open a bug. Oh there's one from a few weeks ago. It's labeled "P2", the lowest priority in the system. You cry a little bit inside.

This was an experience that we ran into pretty often in our previous lives leading the Growth team at Intercom. The problem was our priority system was defined by how "big" the broken thing was. Something like:

  • P0: major feature unusable
  • P1: minor feature unusable or major feature slightly unusable
  • P2: minor feature slightly unusable

You're gonna feel pretty dumb calling the labels on the credit card form a "major feature", let alone "unusable". A detail like this may not directly impact usability but screams the opposite of quality at a critical juncture in your relationship with a customer.

Prioritizing by time

Our fix was to change our prioritization system to be based off how long we're comfortable with a bug being live. We paired this with a dashboard that showed us overdue bugs, alongside open bugs. The new priorities:

  • P0: cannot be live, close immediately
  • P1: close within 1 week
  • P2: close within 1 month

My favorite thing about this system is how simple a framework it is for deciding the priority of a bug. Doesn't matter if it's just spacing or alignment or a major feature being broken, if you're not happy with it being open: P0.

We've successfully implemented this system twice: first in its original context, Growth, and then at Consider. For both these product areas attention to detail is crucial. You won't trust a new email client that's a little janky. Just like you won't trust a credit card form that's a little janky. If that applies to your product area, give it a try.