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How to Create Bulletproof Tickets

bpaulino0 profile image Bruno Paulino ・7 min read

It's Monday morning, you just had your first coffee in front of the computer and you open your project management app to start planning your week with your team. You start reading your backlog of tasks and then you see a ticket with the title:

[BUG] Button doesn't respond

You open the ticket and for your astonishment, the description is empty, there are no screenshots, no urls, nada. You can only see that this ticket was created by Joe. You immediately start to think "Ho dear Joe, what did you see? on which page did you see this button? Which button specifically doesn't respond? Was it happening constantly, was it intermittent, was it you who found this issue? Can you reproduce?" So many questions you want to ask Joe, but so little time.

If you have never had a similar situation like I mentioned before while working on a project with multiple people, you can consider yourself the luckiest person on the planet. The truth is, you have to put a good deal of thought and time into creating a great ticket. Reporting a bug or defining a requirement well is a kind of art.

Whenever you are in a position of reporting something in written form, in this case creating a ticket, you have to put yourself in the shoes of the other person that will read and work on it.

Why is creating good tickets so important?

At first sight, it seems like a time consuming task, and to be completely honest, it does take time to create a good ticket. But what we often miss is the time we save by avoiding roundtrips of questions that could have been answered during the ticket creation in the first place. Here are some reasons why creating a meaningful ticket is important:

  • It saves time: People don't have to run around to gather the information that is already there.
  • More understanding: A well written ticket helps to give more understanding about the problem that might be hard to track down.
  • Solid solutions: The more you understand the problem, the better and more reliable the solution will be. And the understanding usually starts by reading the ticket.
  • Less frustration: Once the context is well detailed and understood, the people that will work on the problem will have less ambiguous questions to ask which will reduce the cognitive load while reasoning about a solution.

You might be thinking "Okay Bruno, but how the heck do I know whether a ticket is good or not?". I'm Glad you asked and this is a super valid question by the way. After dealing with hundreds of tickets along the years, I have got an interesting method that I want to share with you in the next section.

The Method

There is zero scientific evidence to back me up here, but what I noticed was that I could use some small principles to have a well defined method to create good tickets. So based on what we have seen up until this point, here are the steps we can take to create good tickets:

  • Set the stage: Explain the context and the impact the problem has.
  • How to reproduce: If the ticket is related to a bug, here you provide detailed information on how to recreate the problem in a consistent way.
  • Offer Solutions: If you are able to, offer potential solutions for the problem you just found.

In the following sections, I will construct a fictional ticket (but based on real world examples of web projects) so you can have a decent example on how you could apply those steps.

Set the stage

Let's imagine you have just found a bug on the website from the company you work with. Now you need to report the problem and hopefully someone will fix it as quickly as possible. How do you start explaining the problem to someone that you might not even know?

To start things off, you need to give as much information as possible about the context of the bug. And what do I mean by context? Here the important thing is to explain in detail what you expect in a normal case and what the bug introduces. But don't be too verbose on it otherwise you leave a lot of room for ambiguity. Here is an example:

With the introduction of the new product versions, we changed the URLs our customers see on our public website. This causes several problems with external tools that rely on the previous URLs (e.g. Marketing Campaigns).

The basic premises of existing product URLs are:

  • The customer must have a stable URL for any published product
  • It should never change for the same product in the eyes of the customer
  • With an immutable URL none of our marketing campaigns running on our Ad platforms would stop working.

In the example above, we have given a good overview of the problem and also a good reason for the problem to be solved. This is a good starting point for a discussion about the ticket and also helps to prioritize it during planning.

How to Reproduce

Now that we have set up a good context by explaining the problem in detail and why it is important to fix it, it's time to write down the steps to reproduce it. In software development, debugging can be a challenging task and the more clues you have, the easier it gets to find and fix the problem.
One part of the puzzle is to consistently reproduce the problem in a safe environment so it can be monitored, tracked down and fixed. For that to happen, you usually have to define a set of steps that lead to the problem you found. Here is an example following our fictional problem above:

To reproduce the problem, please follow the steps below:

  • Open an existing product in the admin interface
  • Open the product preview and write down the current URL
  • Go back to the admin interface and update the product reference for a new version of the same product
  • save the changes
  • Open the product preview again on the website
  • Compare the new URL with the previous URL you saved

The comparison will result in an URL mismatch.

With the clear steps mentioned above, anyone who gets assigned to work on this ticket will quickly manage to verify the problem and test it as many times as they need.

Sometimes you won't be able to have a consistent way of reproducing the problem and that is fine too, but try to find as many reproducible steps as possible. This will save a good chunk of time for the development team which leads to a faster bug-fix being deployed.

Offer Solutions

The cherry on top, if you have more understanding of the systems you are reporting the bug, is to offer potential solutions for the problem you just found. Developers like challenges, but nobody has infinite time and at the end of the day, we have to produce value for the business, so the quicker a problem can be solved, the better.

in some cases, you might even know exactly what the problem is and how to fix it, so don't spare words into giving a more detailed and technical suggestion at this stage. Here is how I would suggest a solution for our fictional URL problem we have been creating:

It looks like this problem happens at the e-commerce platform level. Since this is a third-party application which we don't have access to the source code, we have to fix this problem on another layer of our system.

A potential solution could be to set rules on our reverse proxy so we keep accepting requests from old URLs and map them to the new ones.
In the meantime, I will also report this problem to our e-commerce provider.

It is clear that in the example above, the author has a deeper understanding of what is happening in the internal systems and that is a big advantage. But if you don't have this level of insight, you can still provide good feedback on how to solve the problem. Any potential solution should be considered, especially if that is coming from someone that understands the problem.

Wrapping up

I have been following those principles for a long time and it actually became quite natural for me while creating a ticket, but I understand that it takes time to build up this understanding.

Sometimes your ticket will still leave room for questions and clarifications, and that is fine too. As long as your ticket was well prepared, even those follow-up questions will be more meaningful and complete, leading to less frustration and a more fluid communication path with your team.

I believe by now you have the superpowers to create bulletproof tickets πŸ¦ΈπŸΌβ€β™€οΈ. Here is the complete ticket we created during this blogpost:

Subject

Product URL breaks after updating product version reference.

Problem

With the introduction of the new Product versions, we changed the URLs our customers see on our public website. This causes several problems with external tools that rely on the previous URLs (e.g. Marketing Campaigns).

The basic premises of existing product URLs are:

  • The customer must have a stable URL for any published product
  • It should never change for the same product in the eyes of the customer
  • With an immutable URL none of our marketing campaigns running on our Ad platforms would stop working.

How to Reproduce

To reproduce the problem, please follow the steps below:

  • Open an existing product in the admin interface
  • Open the product preview and write down the current URL
  • Go back to the admin interface and update the product reference for a new model
  • Save the changes
  • Open the product preview on the website
  • Compare the new URL with the previous URL you saved

The comparison will result in an URL mismatch.

Potential Solution

It looks like this problem happens at the e-commerce platform level. Since this is a third-party application which we don't have access to the source code, we have to fix this problem on another layer of our system.

A potential solution could be to set rules on our reverse proxy so we keep accepting requests from old URLs and map them to the new ones.
In the meantime, I will also report this problem to our e-commerce provider.

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