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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Working with external teams for getting them to resolve their defects

When we do our planning for the next release of the software, we normally consider a number of risks, seeking to define a risk database that tabulates various known issues that could cause problems to the schedule and the smooth progress of the project. One lesser known risk that sometimes does not make it to the list of known risks relates to defects with people who are outside the core development team. For example, you may have a component that is being used in the product, and there is a defect against that component. Such defects have a higher risk than defects that are with the core team, even if the defect is of the same severity. There are many reasons for these defects having a higher risk. Some of these are:
- The outside team may not follow the same schedule or the priority as the product team.
- In fact, supporting the product team may be a lower priority for the component team, since they may have been given a task of providing support to other teams. This can happen a lot in organizations where there are a number of teams, and a strategic product will get much more support. For example, if the MS Access team and the MS Office team report defects in a component used by both teams, who do you think will get the priority support. In such cases, there will need to be more discussions, escalations, and other such measures before there is support granted.
- There is a much higher degree of coordination and communication needed when interaction with a developer who is outside the core development team
- The same defect may be treated as expected behavior by another team that is using the same component. You may be having a doubt about why a defect can be treated as a feature, but in some cases, a particular workflow behavior may be seen as a defect by one team, and desired behavior by another team. In such cases, the situation may be such that the defect may never be fixed.
- When the defect is with a component that is an open source component similar, there is no guarantee that such a defect may be fixed.

Given some of these reasons above, defects with developers who are outside the core development team are a much higher risk than most teams tend to visualize. We once had a hair raising case where the component we were integrating had a defect, but somehow the developer working on it was not able to replicate the defect. This was close to an important pre-release milestone, and we needed to get some fixing done on this defect, but this back and forth discussion and coordination at a remote location meant that it took around 2 weeks to get the defect fixed and a new component integrated, and this was a big problem for us.
What do you do when you have such dependencies on extended teams ? Well, you can never really get away from the defects, but atleast have processes setup to reduce the time period and coordination cost for these defects. What should you do ?
- Have an understanding with the remote team about the level of testing at their end. If necessary, send them test cases and ask them to provide completed test cases before they provide the component. This helps in reducing the chances of defects passing through their end.
- Setup a process where they can received updated copies of your software so that they can test with such latest software
- Ensure that the external team totally understands your defect management system and processes and they have been provided permissions for the software.
- Have a protocol with them about exchanging information with them about defects and if there are queries on these defects
- Have a regular meeting with them, this help in ensuring that any issues from either end are resolved quickly
- Ensure that any serious defects are communicated to them at a higher priority. This also includes defects that need to be fixed on priority.
- Define an escalation matrix with them, so that if there are cases where you are dis-satisfied or need quick action, what is the process to follow.

All of these will not mean that you will not have external dependencies on defects with external team members, but the problems associated with these defects will be reduced.

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