Neuma White Paper:
Integrated Problem Tracking
The CM+ product provides a full management environment for
designers, managers, and other staff involved in a development project. Problem
Tracking is one of the applications within the CM+. The CM+ product also
includes tools for Project Management, Activity Tracking, Document Management,
Requirements Traceability, Change Control, Build Management and Configuration
Management. CM+ provides a major step forward in running the processes required
for any project attempting to meet today's demanding quality standards.
2. Why Track Problems?
Problem tracking is the process of handling problems
reported against your product hardware, software, processes or documentation
from first identification through to the problem closure. CM+ automates this
process so that:
- You won't miss fixing a problem because all problem reports are permanently
recorded in the STS™ repository.
- You won't waste time trying to solve problems that someone else has already
You can record workarounds for problems that won't be fixed
right away, so you can still alleviate your customers' difficulties and so that
support staff are aware of workarounds.
- You always know the current status of each problem and who is responsible
for moving the problem to the next state.
- You can measure the quality of your products and processes objectively, so
that the program manager will know when the product is ready to release.
- You can identify and categorize the root causes of problems so that you can
improve the development process to remove the causes.
- From the volume of problems and the average time taken to fix problems in
your shop, you can get accurate resource requirements for planning future
releases and products.
Problem tracking is an important communication mechanism
which can replace much of the electronic mail and the many phone calls and
meetings generally required for problem status reporting. Through problem
tracking and reporting, both internal and external customers can be kept aware
of the status of problems they have originated.
In addition to the benefits of recording, tracking and
assigning problems, CM+ has comprehensive statistics reporting functions.
- Tables: You can generate tables of problem statistics, in text or GUI
format. As an example, you may want to look at a table of problem status vs.
problem priority. When you use a GUI table, you can zoom in to show the problem
records underlying the summary number (record count, effort total or otherwise)
in each table cell.
- Graphs: All tabular summaries are also available as graphs. Two graphs
commonly accessed through buttons in the STS™ GUI are the arrival and fix
- Gantt: You can use gantt charts to graphically display problem history. A
common operation is to display, using the gantt charts, the life-cycle of
- Ad-hoc reports and queries: Create browse panels and/or listings of
problems meeting criteria you specify in varying levels of detail. Or integrate
with a word processor
Neuma's Fundamental Rules of Problem Tracking
Neuma recommends that the following rules be enforced to
help ensure successful problem management.
- All problems must be tracked in the system. "A problem is not a problem
unless it has been entered into the problem tracking system." There must be a
single, reliable source for all problem data.
- Universal access to problem data is just as important as universal access
to problem origination. The entire project team must have access to all problem
- Screening of problems will always be necessary to ensure proper routing of
the problem report and proper interpretation of the data fields. It is
recommended that a Problem Review Board be established to help review problem
data. This may be a single person in a small project, or may involve
representatives from several areas of a large project. The role of a Problem
Review Board becomes most critical when new releases are in field trial or are
being shipped to the initial set of customers.
- Problem tracking must be integrated with other parts of the development
process to maximize its benefits and to help ensure the timeliness and accuracy
of the data. A clear flow of responsibility must exist for each problem from
the point of its origination until it is closed, that is, accepted by the
originator as being resolved.
- The user interface must be configured so that designers, testers and
managers alike may look at standard report summaries with the push of a
3. The Problem Tracking Process
The key to successful problem tracking is a well-defined
process. Problem tracking involves the following major areas for which detailed
process documentation is highly recommended. These are covered briefly in the
- Problem reports collection
- Problem classification
- Problem awareness
- Problem resolution
- Problem feedback
- Quality assessment
4. Problem Reports Collection
Problem reports will come from many sources. Some will come
from the product and process development teams. Some will come from internal or
external verification teams. Some will come from customers. It is essential
that everyone who encounters problems with your products or processes have
adequate means of reporting problems. The problem collection mechanism must be
such that problems do not fall through the cracks. It must also allow for
special procedures for identifying urgent problems.
5. Problem Classification
Problems need to be classified in several ways and perhaps
in several stages. Classification is generally done by assigning values to
various attributes of a problem report. Typical classifications would
- Identification of product versus customer (e.g. configuration)
- Identification of area of responsibility, by product, owner or
- Prioritization of the problem.
- Identification of platforms, product versions, etc.
6. Problem Awareness
It is essential that the development team is aware of
outstanding problems and their urgency so that it can address problems in
proper order. This involves ensuring there are proper resources to handle all
problem reports. The reporting feature of problem tracking allows both
high-level and detailed reports, selected and sorted based on the attributes of
the problems. Reports may appear as text listings, numeric summaries, graphical
summaries or interactive query displays (using the graphical user
The key properties of problem reporting are that it be fast,
flexible, easy and interactive. Outside of these boundaries, managers tend to
delegate report production with the result that it has none of these qualities.
Neuma's philosophy ensures that managers can have ready access to exactly the
data they need, when they need it, even during a meeting. It is recommended
that each manager and designer have a single button that may be selected to
identify unresolved problems for which the person has the responsibility.
7. Problem Resolution
Problems must be resolved as they arise. Often this will
mean a simple customer configuration change. Sometimes, the problem will be one
in which the product needs, for example, a software or documentation change. At
other times, the resolution will take the form of a workaround.
The keys to problem resolution are:
- assigning responsibility for the problem
- ensuring an easy way to reassign "responsibility" and to track such
- establishing an accurate priority
- having an effective problem resolution team
Typically, design team members will only look at problems
assigned to them. Then they will address the problems, in order of
When a designer fixes a problem, CM+ will automatically mark
the problem fixed, supplying a timestamp and traceability to the update by
which it has been resolved.
8. Problem Feedback
An important part of problem tracking is ensuring that those
who originate problems receive notification when the problems are fixed.
Typically, this is done as part of a release and is included with the release
notes. With CM+, the production of these release notes can be automated.
Problem feedback is also required in other forms. For example, you can
configure CM+ so that high or emergency problem reports are sent by email to
the originator (including customers) when the fix is ready to be installed or
even when the problem cause and/or workaround has been identified. Internal
verification teams require timely information so that the flawed functionality
can be re-tested before the product is released.
CM+ serves as a communications medium for problem reports
for all users. Report generation and electronic mail may be used to facilitate
the feedback process for staff who, for any reason, are not CM+ users.
9. Quality Assessment
Problem tracking allows a team to measure the quality of its
product and processes. This is often in the form of "number of defects per
interval of time". CM+ can produce such reports as problem arrival and fix
rates for a product or product area. CM+ reporting summaries may be used to
identify the number of problems against various other attributes, and the
identification of quality for the various parts of the architecture or for the
Typically, information which helps to identify the root
cause of a problem is associated with each problem so that the development
process itself may be improved by analysis of the problems, with a result of
fewer problems occurring. For example, analysis may reveal that more problems
occur when certain areas of the software are modified or when software is
modified using certain tools. Correction of the design or of the tool set could
help reduce such problems.
10. Defining the Problem Tracking Process in Neuma
Neuma knows that every company has its own terminology and
its own problem handling process, so CM+ has been designed to be completely
configurable, from the set of attributes that need to be tracked, right down to
the names of the states and the priorities. You can also tailor the input
screens to include the fields necessary for your project or for particular
You can also customize the graphical user interface to
include the menus and buttons you need to automate your problem tracking
process. You can even capture and enforce your process, allowing you to work
productively with your QA department. You can:
- choose your state names and allowable transitions
- display your process flow chart on your screen or printer
- decide whether or not to enforce the process
The key to a successful problem tracking application is a
well-defined process. The problem tracking process indicates how a problem is
to move through the development team. It also identifies the attributes of a
problem report in a clear, unambiguous manner. For example, is a problem's
priority an indication of a customer's view or of a project view of the
The overall process is indicated by a status flow diagram
which indicates the various states of a problem report, the responsibility at
each state, and the actions which cause transitions from one state to another.
The process defined in this section reflect Neuma's recommendations for a
typical software development project. This may be modified as necessary for the
particular needs of your own project.
11. Problem Status
The accompanying status flow diagram, generated by Neuma
PT based on the process configuration, indicates a typical flow for problem
reports in a software project. The diagram reflects the following problem
orig: The problem has been originated. Either the problem is
automatically assigned to an owner on origination, or this assignment is done
separately by a problem control team.
open: Work has begun on fixing the problem. This transition
often occurs automatically when the problem number is referenced by a software
update which is to fix the problem.
reopen: A problem which was previously thought to have been
successfully addressed (fixed) was found to be persistent or incorrectly
resolved. Often, there is no distinction made between "open" and "reopen"
in the subsequent handling of the problem.
answer: An answer has been provided which is intended as the
final response by the owner of the problem.
submit: The resolution was provided through an update to the
product. The update has been submitted to the system. This state typically
occurs when a software update is submitted. The update identifier is usually
appended to the problem report description.
sitest: The problem has been integrated into a system build.
Depending on specific process methodology, this status may or may not indicate
that the integration team has verified the problem fix. It generally should. In
any event, the problem is ready for verification testing.
svtest: The verification testing has passed the problem
successfully. There should be a specific test case written to address each
problem and the test case identifier should be specified when the tester marks
the problem as verified.
closed: The originator has verified that the problem has
been addressed as initially expected. Often this is done by an agent of the
originator, such as the customer representative.
Additional states often included in a problem flow process
accept: This state indicates that the owner has accepted the
problem as a valid problem and accepts responsibility to fix it. If a problem
is not accepted, a reply should be given and the problem status moved to the
defer: If a problem will remain unresolved for an indefinite
period of time, it should be moved to the "defer" state. In this state, the
owner indicates that no action is planned.
Within CM+ you may configure your problem tracking process
to include any of these state or your own project specific states.
12. Problem Priority
You can also configure CM+ to reflect your company's problem
prioritization scheme. You may have two or more separate processes to handle
problems of different priority. For example, an "emergency" problem may need
a streamlined, efficient process, and a problem which is really a "feature
request" may be better handled by the activity planning process.
Problem priority is often used to reflect a combination of
factors including the customer's view, the potential damage that may result,
and the required response time. Neuma recommends that priority be tracked in
one of two ways.
- The priority simply reflects the time by which a response is required.
- There is a second priority field which captures the original (originator's)
priority so that this information is never lost.
Note that the priority assigned when the problem is found
and entered is often very subjective and inaccurate. Neuma recommends a
symbolic assignment of priority with the following meanings:
inv: The priority is not yet known. The problem must be
investigated to determine if there are easy workarounds.
req: The "problem" is a feature enhancement request. It
will continue to be tracked until the request is tracked as part of a
low: The problem is of low priority. There will be no
specific planning as to when it will be resolved until the design team is ready
to address the problem. This typically identifies a problem which rarely
occurs, has minimal impact, or has a straightforward, unobtrusive
med: A medium priority problem is one requiring resolution
by the next major release of the product. Typically, some important
functionality is affected.
hi: The problem must be resolved by the next release of the
product. On occasion, specific sites may need some help in dealing with the
problem during the interim period.
emer: The problem needs immediate attention. Typically, a
one to three day response is required, with the response time dependent upon
the severity of the problem. An emergency problem will cause some vital
processes to come to a stand-still or to be severely limited.
13. Feature and Test Case References
Each problem report is a description of a defect in a
product or process. A defect is a deviation from the specification for the
product or process. Ideally, each problem report should refer to the part of
the specification which has not been met. In practice, specifications are often
loose or don't address many of the potential problem areas. In a well
integrated environment, problem reports can be used to help improve the
specification. The specification would normally be a decomposition of high
level specifications into a detailed set of features. These should be formally
tracked with test cases written for each feature.
14. Communication and Configurability
In a traditional development environment, a great deal of
emphasis is placed on the production and distribution of problem reports and on
the notification (e.g. by email) of the origination of new problems. In CM+,
the system itself becomes the communication medium and obviates much of the
need for reporting production and notification processes. At the same time,
rule and trigger design may be used to configure just the right level of
notification for your project.
Typically, problem reporting is set up so that the user can
access the reports most often required by pushing a button or by filling in a
dialog panel. The command structure underlying the GUI allows complete
tailoring of the GUI menu system to allow very specific or very general reports
at the click of a button or through customized dialog panels. It also allows
for a dynamic report production. Understanding the basics of the "show",
"table", "graph" and "gantt" commands and of the "sort" and selection
operators allows the user to produce reports using a single command.
15. Customer Tracking
You may need to supplement your problem tracking
functionality with customer tracking. CM+ may be easily extended to include a
customer and customer request tracking application.
16. A Client/Server Transaction-based system
CM+ is a client/server transaction-based system. This means
that it runs as a client/server system in which the client sends transactions
to the server. The server then updates the central repository and the changes
or additions become available to all other CM+ clients.
A transaction is a package of data update requests resulting
from command or GUI operation. When you "commit" a transaction, you send this
package to the server. If the server is temporarily unavailable, your
transactions are queued and processed when the server becomes available
Before you commit your transaction, you can cancel it at any
time, with no effect on the data at the server. Until you commit your
transaction, the server has no knowledge of it. CM+ will not allow you to exit
without warning you if you have a transaction in progress.
With the CM+ transaction-based client/server system:
- all changes to the system are registered as transactions, for full
traceability and automatic recovery in case of a system failure;
- the client session normally operates on a workstation different than the
one on which the repository and CM+ server reside; and
- there may be several clients concurrently updating the repository through
Information is exchanged between the client and the server
in order to complete a transaction. Information does not have to be exchanged
between the client and the server for query operations. In this respect, the
client is considered a "smart" client which may operate even while the CM+
server is temporarily disabled. This has the effect of distributing the query
load so that hundreds of clients may operate off a single server.
CM+ provides effective and affordable problem tracking
support to improve your processes and your communications. It plays a key role
in meeting all of your problem tracking needs. In addition, the problem
tracking application is supported over the internet using any Web browser,
improving access and availability.