Rob Kraft's Software Development Blog

Software Development Insights

Programmer’s Dilemma – Should you fix bugs before adding new features?

Posted by robkraft on June 19, 2020

The Scenario:

The purchase order web app worked very well for the first four departments that used it, but when the art department tried to use it they experienced some problems.  A few features, printing and file uploads, did not work.  The art department liked the app despite the problems, but they felt they could be more productive if all the features worked for them.


Developers determined that differences in the way the Safari browser behaved on touch tablets caused the issues.  The other departments used the Chrome browser on desktop PCs.  The two developers estimated that it would take them a month to rewrite to app to work on Safari also.  However, the two developers had several new projects queued up to work on.

Should the developers fix the first app to work on Safari before starting work on the new projects?

Let me provide you some additional information for consideration.

The developers have six new projects queued up, each will take them about one month to complete, and each is each estimated to save the company $50,000 per month when completed.  Fixing the bugs in the first app to work better on Safari will make the art department more productive and save the company about $5,000 per month.


Based on this information, you could reasonably conclude that the return on investment of completing the new projects is higher than fixing the problems on the first project.  Therefore the developers should complete the next six projects before considering fixing the first project.


But let me provide you even more information to consider.

What if the knowledge gained and the frameworks created fixing the first project could be re-used across the next six projects guaranteeing that all projects work on both Chrome and Safari?  And what if the next six projects are public facing and therefore likely to be used by people using IPhones with Safari browsers via a touch interface?  The developers might be able to create the future apps more quickly and with higher quality.


Additional information may make decisions more difficult, but these are examples of the challenging decisions we face in software development.  Many variables contribute to our decision and most variables can’t easily be measured in dollars and cents.


I once attended a meeting with several customers of our software application.  We had a list of projects we could work on.  Some projects were for adding new features and others for fixing problems.  I’ll never forget what one business owner said, after another business owner had just argued that some of the problems in the software were costing them money and needed to be fixed first.  He said:

“I think of my company like a bucket with holes.  It has water, in the form money, pouring into it from the spigot, but it leaking.  We can spend time fixing the holes, or we can run the water faster.  Which way will get the bucket full the fastest?”

More succinctly, “Which course of action provides the most value?”.  That is the question we should be asking ourselves with every decision, every day.

Side note:

Shouldn’t we always fix bugs before adding new features?  Some development teams follow this philosophy but each team should decide for themselves if that is the right philosophy for them.  Fixing bugs before starting new features is more valuable for features that have not yet been released than when addressing bugs after they have been released.

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