Why Expensive Bugs Are Cheap to Fix

by Curtis Poe

It's the bane of many a programmer. The bug is reported, users are complaining, but management says "it's too expensive to fix". The basic idea is pretty simple. Customers running OS X start complaining that your software keeps crashing whenever they access certain features. Management sits down and figures out that they're losing $1,000 a year because of this. They then get an estimate of how long it will take to fix and they hear 20 hours. However, that doesn't include the overhead of project management, testing, delivery, etc. They do the math, and realize it will cost them about $9,000 to solve this problem, or 9 years to recoup their investment. That's $9,000 they can't spend elsewhere. If "elsewhere" is likely to generate more revenue, then they're losing a heck of a lot more than $9,000, so they figure it's not worth the money to fix.

Now right off the bat, this argument has merit and it should not be dismissed lightly. If you have limited resources you have to sit down and figure out how much money is in the piggy bank. However, while it often has merit, it's also often wrong. There's one area which this ad hoc analysis doesn't consider: people. When you forget about people, your results will be wrong. So now that you know how "too expensive to fix" works. Let's see why it's so often wrong. The problems lie in three main areas.

  • Broken windows
  • Employee morale
  • Fast food restaurants


2006-08-17 12:52:30
Just open-source it and tell the customers to fix the bugs themselves. :)
2006-08-18 11:10:59
Amen Amen Amen.
Excellent article. Now if only we could get this to senior management EVERYWHERE.
Mishkin Berteig
2006-09-06 09:36:29
This is an excellent analysis. I haven't seen anyone apply this type of careful thinking to the quality problem before. I've always felt this way, but my own efforts to articulate this haven't been nearly as clear (http://www.agileadvice.com/archives/2006/08/quality_is_not.html). Thanks for the great article.
2006-09-11 09:43:58
You make some excellent and quite valid points here, but I was especially interested in your observations regarding employee morale, a pet topic of mine. I am always interested in what destroys such morale and what boosts it.