03 Sep 2013

Severity vs Priority – Get Triaging

  • Testing

This topic is frequently discussed in blogs, with a great many variations on what is right and wrong, the pitfalls, and assumptions.

In brief, the severity of a defect is extremely hard to identify unless the cause of the symptom has been fully explored and implications considered on a wider level.  Severity is very subjective; for who is the symptom severe?  How frequently? What are the risks to data, security, reputation etc.?  How can severity be fully determined by looking at a symptom?  A severe symptom may require a very easy low risk fix, or a minor looking symptom may actually be masking an extremely damaging cause that has dire consequences elsewhere.

Priority is simply identifying which defects should be fixed or investigated in which order, but according to whose needs? 

The key issue is the Triage process.

A tester or developer may raise the defect on a tracking system and assign what they believe to be appropriate values for both severity and priority.  This is in reality open to natural biases of the person raising the defect.  A developer may view the severity of a defect very differently to that of a tester, and the customer may see it entirely different again.

It is standard practice for the person raising the defect to make assumptions about severity and priority and assign what they deem to be appropriate values.  However, this should only ever be a starting point.  Triage processes are crucial in ensuring that a balanced view is taken from a QA, development and project management perspectives, and the customer of course where appropriate.

There is little point is using these features of defect logging tools half heartedly.   I have seen so many cases where projects see the Triage process as a pain, taking valuable resources away from other tasks, leaving the severity and priorities assigned as meaningless attributes.

There are so many variables to consider with Severity and Priority that one person’s perspective is inadequate.  Yet for a project to recognise the impact of defects and to organise their resolution is essential in successful delivery.  Triage processes and procedures must be set up, stuck to and fully utilised to ensure focus and resources are most effective.

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