Stop us if you’ve heard this before. A user reports a bug in your deployed software, and it must be fixed – like, now. So, your team hotfixes the issue as quickly as possible. All good, right? Not exactly. While the occasional hotfix is okay, if your team is constantly relying on hotfixes to remedy bugs and issues, you do so at the expense of the future health of your software. In this post, we’ll identify four reasons why you should rethink a hotfix-first approach and share our best practices for kicking the hotfix habit.
Four Ways Hotfixes Damage the Long-Term Viability of Your Software
When issues arise, both your end-users and executive sponsors expect a remedy as quickly as possible. There is intense pressure for an “immediate fix,” and soon, hotfixes become an automatic reflex to addressing any issue because they hits on this primary concern of immediacy.
- Button not working? Hotfix it.
- Notification not notifying? Hotfix it.
- Image not loading on an outdated device? Hotfix it.
An occasional hotfix is okay, but there are several challenges to relying solely on hotfixes to address known issues. Namely:
Challenge 1: You Stop Prioritizing Issues
In a constant hotfix culture, every issue gets a hotfix. Whether an issue affects two or 200,000 customers, it gets added to the hotfix list and pulls your team away from working on features and benefits that improve the lifetime viability of your software.
Challenge 2: You Unintentionally Break Other Parts of Your Software
Hotfixes are all about speed. The goal is to get a remedy to market as quickly as possible. But if you aren’t paying attention to how your software systems interconnect with each other, you could unintentionally break another area of your software with a speedy hotfix – which requires another hotfix.
Challenge 3: You Don’t Address (or Document) the Root Cause
Hotfixes address symptoms. They don’t cure the underlying issue. This means an issue can resurface again and again – each time requiring a hotfix and pulling your team’s attention away from addressing new problems or creating a more valuable product.
Even worse, hotfixes often aren’t accompanied by much documentation (speed is the name of the game after all). As time passes between hotfixes or hotfixes are layered on top of each other, it can be challenging to remember which hotfix was for which bug or how a previous hotfix may be causing a current issue.
Challenge 4: You No Longer Recognize Your Source Code
Dropping one hotfix on top of another (on top of another) can turn your source code into a jumbled mess. Not only does this make any documentation you have in place outdated as your source code becomes unrecognizable, it also makes it extremely challenging for new team members to support your software.
It’s time to make a change.
3 Ways to Break the Hotfix Habit
As we said earlier, a little hotfix here and there can be good for your customers (and your DevOps team), but, as with any habit, moderation is key. A little goes a long way, and too much of a hotfix “fix” can turn your software into a ticking time bomb of future problems.
Here are three best practices for kicking your hotfix habit:
1. Decide to Make a (Cultural) Change
The first step in breaking the hotfix habit is to understand what your culture of constant hotfixes might be costing you:
- Are you missing deadlines for software updates because your team is spending too much time on hotfixes?
- Are you investing too many dollars in costly patches instead of investing in improving an underlying system?
- Are your customer reviews tanking due to too many random bugs and patching issues?
By understanding the opportunity cost of an always-on hotfix mentality, you can begin to formulate a plan to move away from an over-reliance on hotfixes. Even more important, you can communicate tangible reasons for why you are making the change and get your team on board with a new way of managing issues.
2. Develop a Standardized CI/CD Process (and Document It)
Hotfixes aren’t the only way to remedy issues. With a bit of foresight, you can head off the need for constant hotfixes by implementing continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) systems within your organization.
A standardized CI/CD process can help make it easier for your team to identify, prioritize, and triage current and potential issues. It also empowers your team to better document your resolutions – which makes troubleshooting the root cause of future bugs easier and more effective.
3. Plan, Staff, and Fund for the Entire Lifecycle of the Software Product
Software is rarely “finished.” It continuously needs to be monitored and supported throughout its life cycle to avoid and address bugs and other issues. Even if your software is launched bug-free, your team will still need to work on the software to ensure that it adapts to meet any changing requirements (such as a new integration with a third-party API).
The best way to avoid constant hotfixes is to take care of these potential issues before they become customer-interfering bugs. Ensure that you have a team in place (and that your team has the budget and resources they need to do their job) to support your software over its lifetime.
Drop the Fire Drills
If your team spends more time implementing immediate fixes than they do working on improving your software’s long-term value, it’s time to kick the hotfix habit. With a little bit of forward planning, mindful resourcing, the adoption of a new culture of CI/CD, and improved documentation, you can keep your team focused on the initiatives that will push your business forward.
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