What is Issue tracking?

As any team supporting a product knows, issues will be encountered during its development and once it shipped as well, it requires the ability to manage issues throughout the lifecycle of a project and throughout the life of the resulting product. 

It doesn’t matter if the team is building and providing a car, an item of clothing, a computing product or software release, getting the product launched, managing customer needs and improvements is a critical aspect of long-term product management and customer satisfaction. 

Once a product is shipped, not only planned improvements need to be managed, but issues customers report when using the product also need to be considered. Issue tracking software makes it possible to track and manage issues that arise throughout a product’s lifecycle, from its initial design and implementation through iterative releases, particularly important to organizations using agile processes to build and maintain products.  

Issue tracking software help teams record reported issues, their due dates for resolution and their assignment to individuals, making issue management far easier to incorporate into overall project management.

Typical features found in issue tracking software include:

Issue tracking software provides a system of record for all issues, enabling teams to investigate the issue; provide initial support to a customer; determine if the issue is known, global and whether it can be duplicated. As part of this process, they also enable the provider to respond to the customer once investigation (and possibly mitigation) is planned or completed.  

By having all issues logged into a single system of record, issue tracking software:

Issue tracking software can be embedded into a project or release management system or a stand-alone, desk product. When the issue tracking software is embedded into the project management process and with project and/or release management tools, they provide a highly effective way to manage issues related to defects as part of the release management process by embedding the work alongside requirements, other defects and enhancement are slated into releases based on their priority. Embedding issue tracking software in agile project management tools enables release planning to be responsive to customers by including their issues for resolution and managing them along with general release features. 

Issue tracking software vs Bug tracking software

While an issue might ultimately be caused by a defect or bug, issue tracking software focuses more on recording and resolving customer-reported issues along with issues reported by team members. These will not always be defect-related. Typical non-defect related issues could include:

All issues are important, and while simple customer-facing issues like the ones listed are to be expected, they provide the ability to trend issues by their nature leading to improvements in documentation, on-line knowledge and training videos, and product design. 

In addition to issues not being the same as defects, another core difference between issue tracking software and defect management software is thus a customer-facing aspect of issue management when compared to defect management:  there could be multiple reports of an issue ultimately linked to a single defect or fix. 

The following points summarize some of the differences between issue tracking software and defect tracking software:
Issue tracking software
Bug tracking software

Record issues for each customer reporting a problem or seeking assistance for an issue

Record issues against a particular feature or unit of code that is not working properly

Enable prioritization based on impact and criticality of the feature

Restricted to code issues or product defects 

Track all contacts, including questions about product use, cost, support, installation, etc., not just the issues encountered

Prioritized and slated for release based on the product impact

Leverage an integrated workflow designed to follow the issue to completion

Includes issues found in development and testing cycles, as well as customer-reported issues related to product defects

Customer-satisfaction focused

Targeted for use in projects and product development workflows, not customer-facing activities

With these differences in mind, the tools used to manage them will be designed to fulfill different outcomes. Issue tracking software is focused on enabling teams to properly support customers first, resolving as many issues during the initial contact as possible. Every issue will be logged, managed through completion. Those that are caused by known defects can be resolved using an instruction set provided to customer service agents. Once an issue is identified as a defect, it can be logged in the defect tracking tool and managed through the defect management process used by the project team. 

When the issue tracking software is part of a product line that includes an agile project management tool, the ability to relate a number of issues to a single defect and easily manage them is enhanced through easy integration, as inclusion of a defect in a release, completion of the release and other release-related activities can provide updates to the original issues and help teams manage these issues.

The difference in focus is a key area that impacts how issue tracking software is used vs. defect management software. Issue tracking software is designed to support customer service activities, so issues will frequently be resolved by providing user support (answering questions, providing instructions) or by providing a workaround for an issue they are experiencing. These workarounds are part of known-error management: a defect is known and slated for resolution, but until it is resolved there are a few steps that mitigate its impact. Effective organizations will document these, enabling many issues to be resolved immediately, even though a defect is still open for the defect or bug that is causing the issue. Issue tracking software will also be used to trend issues and identify defects and other causes of repetitive calls. 

The value of an issue tracking software to an organization

Spreadsheets and post-it notes are an ineffective way to manage issues. In any customer-focused organization, the number of issues associated with a project or a product becomes difficult to manage via spreadsheets, which require intensive manual effort to use for this purpose. They are not collaborative in nature, they don’t enable the people assigned to work an issue to integrate them into other activities, allowing issues to “fall through the cracks,” and negatively impacting customer service. A robust issue tracking software that is integrated into service management and/or agile release management tool provides automated assignment, a single place to view all tasks across all types of work performed, and the use of planning or Kanban boards to stay organized and collaborate with others.

Issue tracking software provides teams with the ability to:

At the end of the day, since issues are reported by customers or product consumers (even for internally used products) issue tracking software ensures the right focus is placed on resolution and that customer satisfaction remains a primary focus of the project team, throughout the lifecycle of a particular project or product. 

The ability to trend issues documented over time is an added benefit of issue tracking software. Trend reporting can be used to create opportunities for improving the product, whether the issue is a defect or how a product is used. This capability enables teams to communicate effectively with customers about the issue and to improve documentation and training materials in addition to continually improving the product itself.

6 factors to consider while buying an issue tracking software

Ability to categorize & prioritize issues

Issue tracking software needs to provide the ability to log an issue along with the customer’s contact information, categorize it for filtering and reporting, and then prioritize it.

Ability to group related issues

When there are multiple contacts for the same issue, the product should enable teams to group them and manage them as a unit; as a single project task or a single defect, then manage them until completion.

Integration of tools 

When an issue tracking software is embedded into a project/release management tool, it makes it far easier to manage their resolution and to track the impact of defects.

Reporting, dashboards, and analytics

The ability to produce metrics about issues themselves, their cause, recurrence, and their current status is an important part of an issue tracking software. 

Visualization and collaboration capabilities

Agile processes rely on the ability to see a holistic view of work to be done and collaborate on it, so another distinguishing factor for an issue tracking system is the availability of planning or Kanban boards. 

Organizational needs

Evaluating issue tracking systems should always be done with needs in mind. Organizations should look at the scale of the project/release management efforts underway and the number of people involved in them. 

Essential features of an issue tracking software 

Kanban boards

Collaboration and visualization ultimately make it easier to see issues that are related to one another and group them for research. By working collaboratively, defects may be spotted more quickly, enabling the team to log them and prioritize them, then resolve them more rapidly.

freshrelease kanban board

In-built bug tracker

Issues don’t stand on their own, they are part of an overall project or product lifecycle. For this reason, tools that include bug tracking systems and agile project management capabilities can be extremely beneficial. It’s the easiest way to ensure the work needed to address customer issues is integrated with overarching tasks associated with the product’s lifecycle and part of any/all improvement projects.

freshrelease bug tracker

Advanced Analytics

There are two aspects of analytics to consider, the first being the ability to see or report on open issues, their age, and status; the other being the ability to use data collected to support the use of predictive analytics. Predictive analytics can help customer service representatives know when they are logging an issue that is already a known error with a workaround, but they can also help the project team spot repetitive reports of an issue indicative of a potential defect, decreasing the time it takes to identify and address such issues.


freshrelease analytics dashboard