Blog Startup Journey

Why Bug Reports and Feature Requests Don’t Overwhelm Us Anymore

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We were getting crushed under the weight of incoming tasks. Here’s how we turned a firehose into two simple, efficient systems…

It was bad.

Really bad.

And the more we grew, the worse it got.

There will always be some level of chaos involved in running a startup, but we were hitting a point where the chaos was deeply hurting Groove.

Every day, customers would send us bug reports and feature requests by the dozen.

And while we had tools (practically living inside of Pivotal Tracker), we didn’t have systems, and so the tools were nothing more than a place to house the chaos, rather than organize it.

We would pluck tasks — based on snap judgment calls, mostly — for the developers from the master list, and spend our days battling against the ever-growing tide of incoming work.

We were spending far too much time dealing with workflow issues, and if we ever wanted to crawl out of that hole, we had to get real about managing incoming requests and reports.

So a couple of months ago, that’s what we did.

And the change has been massive.

We don’t feel overwhelmed by our backlog.

We’re not constantly scrambling to catch up.

And our development team isn’t left wondering how to prioritize and tackle tasks anymore.

All it took was a couple of days spent building systems to organize and manage the chaos.

The First System: Bug Reports

As a software company, bugs are the bane of our team’s existence.

They piss off our customers, they frustrate us, and they cost us a lot of money.

And while we’ll always have to deal with fixing bugs, thoughtlessly dumping incoming bug reports into Pivotal Tracker was crushing us.

We needed a better workflow to help us spend more time fixing the bugs that matter most, and less time figuring out what bugs we should tackle next.

After exploring a number of options and testing different approaches, the best solution was a simple and obvious one: prioritize at the front end when the bug comes in, rather than at the back end when the team is figuring out what to work on next.

Here’s the system we built to do that:

Bug reports system

With this simple system developers are never left wondering what to do next and bugs are addressed in a straightforward, organized flow.

This workflow has singlehandedly saved our team more than ten hours per week on managing bug reports.

The Second System: Feature Requests

Like any other growing SaaS business, we get a lot of feature requests.

Some of them will never get made, some of them need to be considered carefully, and some of them are no-brainers for developing.

Regardless, all of them need to be organized and acted on, even if that action is an email letting our customer know that we can’t build a particular feature.

Just like with bug reports, managing feature requests was much easier a few hundred customers ago.

And just like with bug reports, we found that building a system to handle incoming requests has saved us huge amounts of time and money.

Here’s how we deal with feature requests:

Feature requests system

Just like with bug reports, the key here is to act on each request immediately, even if that action is to file the request into a bucket.

Our weekly and monthly roadmapping meetings keep this flow moving, and we always know what we’re working on next.

How to Apply These Systems to Your Business

While the two processes have a few differences, the key factors that make them work are the same:

  1. Every incoming task is prioritized the day it arrives, rather than “tossed on the pile.”
  2. There’s a single gatekeeper who’s responsible for that initial prioritization decision.
  3. There’s a “bucket” for every conceivable task; nothing gets stranded in no-man’s land.
  4. There’s a single, central place where we can keep track of everything. We always know who’s accountable for what.

That’s really it. While we use Trello and Pivotal Tracker, we’ve learned that the tools matter far less than the systems.

If you’re not already doing it, I hope you’ll give these systems a try. If you’re like us, it’ll save you time, money and a whole lot of unnecessary work.

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From “aha” to “oh shit”, we’re sharing everything on our journey to $10M in annual revenue. We’re learning a lot and so will you.

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About the Author

Alex Turnbull is the CEO & Founder of Groove (simple helpdesk software for small businesses) who loves to build startups and surf.

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