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My boss and I were reviewing items in a bug fix list. One of the bugs was relatively low priority: the program is rarely used in the way that produces the bug, and there is a work around which avoids the bug in most use cases.

However, the boss upped this bug to top priority, claiming that it stops proper program execution. While technically true, my boss is the only person (out of hundreds of users) that I'm aware of who uses the program in this way. This has the effect of pushing bugs that have been reported by our customers to lower priority. I did protest the change, but the boss overrode me anyway.

While fixing the bug is something I plan to do, I'd like to ignore this increased priority until other bugs are fixed that were reported by our external user community and originally marked with a higher priority. How might I do such a thing without damaging my standing and relationship with the boss?

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio Nov 4 '16 at 15:42
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    I seem unclear about a part of the question. Can you clarify who the boss is in your situation? Is it you? Or is it your boss? Just by being sure on that point, the answer should be clear (as long as you have raised your concern, which is a part of your responsibilities). – user2338816 Nov 4 '16 at 19:32
  • It is like being right in a car accident but ending up in hospital. – copper.hat Nov 5 '16 at 4:30
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    It seems to me that you and your boss need to sit down and have a little discussion about whose job it is to prioritize the bugs and whose job it is to fix the bugs. Go do that now and let us know how it went. – dotancohen Nov 5 '16 at 15:53
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Just prioritize the boss's pet bug. I don't see this being a winning issue for you, so I would advise against fighting it unless the consequences are catastrophic. If it will take a year to fix this, during which time other critical flaws remain in the field, then yeah, I see your point. Keep fighting the issue a bit longer. Otherwise, just go with your boss's preferred priority.

Look at the big picture: you have a boss who is actually prioritizing bug fixes. Other people's bosses are telling them to add new features rather than fix bugs (just search questions here if you don't believe me), and they would love to have your problem.

Good workers do share their own opinion, but they also accept a final decision once it has been made. I do think it was ok to push back on the boss's stance initially, within reason. Within a healthy work environment, this sort of exchange is seen as a good thing. However, once the boss has made a decision, the best thing you can do is to accept it and get fully on board with the plan. This is true in all but the most exceptional circumstances.

I'd like to ignore this increased priority until other bugs are fixed...

You should definitely not secretly prioritize your work differently than your boss asked. That's just an all-around bad idea. While your concern for the application's success is admirable, this is the boss's call. Successfully working as part of a team means doing things you don't agree with from time to time.

If you think this is a systematic problem, propose a general solution. If bugs are being prioritized in an ad hoc way generally, with detrimental effect, you could try suggesting a systematic way of evaluating and prioritizing them (such as by number of users estimated to be affected, seriousness of the issue, and effort required to fix). Focus on the positive benefits of such a system, rather than any alleged problems in the way things were done in the past, and you may have a winning argument (If you already made a big deal about this request, though, you might want to wait a little while so it isn't fresh in your boss's memory).

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    +1 for raising your concerns and then following bosses orders. On top of that you can try to suggest a compromise that will minimize the impact on your other work. "I can start to work on this bug tomorrow because I need today to finish off this other issue which I'm in the middle of, would you be ok with that?" Even among high priority bugs there is a difference between prio drop-everything-to-fix-this-asap and prio fix-this-as-soon-as-reasonable i e finish your current task and get to the bug within a day or two. You just need to get your manager to agree that it's the second kind of bug. – Sumyrda Nov 3 '16 at 22:58
  • + 1 for mentioning the big picture and having a boss that actually cares about quality at all. – Jared Smith Nov 4 '16 at 12:13
  • Be sure your boss understands that dropping work is expensive, including in terms of lost productivity, stress and morale. In the best cases, when I get really into something I'm excited to come to work the next day to continue with it. If I have to stop working on that and do something else I really don't care about, I usually lose that excitement, and when I do get back to the original task I'm totally demotivated and don't work on with the same level of productivity (at least for a couple days). It's not on purpose or vindictive, just a natural emotional reaction. – gregmac Nov 4 '16 at 14:47
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    "Effort required to fix" should, ideally, not be a consideration when prioritizing bugs. If a bug has a particular severity and affects a particular estimated number or percentage of users, then whether it takes little effort or lots of effort to fix should have very little or outright no bearing on its importance. "Visual glitch" bugs that affect few users should not get priority over "breaks the software" bugs that affect the same number of users just because the latter is more difficult to fix. (I know that is somewhat of an exaggeration, but it's very easy to read what you wrote that way.) – a CVn Nov 5 '16 at 12:30
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    @Michael: I disagree: fixing 10 small bugs can easily have a greater impact than fixing one large bug. Bugs need to be prioritized to get the most impact from the work put into it. – Hurkyl Nov 5 '16 at 14:49
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These are the facts:

  • You've raised your opinion on the priority for your work
  • Your boss has decided otherwise, which is in their remit to do so
  • You planned to fix the bug sooner or later

All this points to you having to fix this bug first. If you are concerned that your priorities will be questioned later, ask for the re-prioritisation in writing.

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    +1 for the suggestion to get it in writing if you think there's a risk that it may come back to bite you later – mcottle Nov 4 '16 at 12:31
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Your boss has the authority to set priorities on your work. If he is wrong, he is accountable for that. Given these two factors, I'd say: defer to your boss, go with the flow and fix the boss's bug.

Your boss upped the priority of his bug to top priority. This means everything you do - or don't do - with his bug has his managerial attention. So if you don't do anything, he'll find out very quickly and you'll be facing the muzak.

Whether you get away with what you want to do depends heavily on whether the boss and you have a good and strong relationship - in particular, how well he will take your act of insubordination.

It's like committing a premeditated murder: do it at your own risk, and don't do anything unless you're damn sure you'll get away with it.

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    Also like premeditated murder in that one should just not do it! – user30031 Nov 3 '16 at 17:04
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    @DoritoStyle As opposed to other forms of murder... – TylerH Nov 4 '16 at 14:51
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This can be rephrased as "Boss pushed his pet bug over your pet bug."

The problem here is that nobody really can see the whole picture. It's his job to have a bigger picture than yours, and you can't challenge this decision without sending "you suck at your job" message. Because prioritizing bugs is his job.

You claim that more users encounter your bug, but you don't know the value of the users. Not all users are created equal: one paying user reporting bug A is much more important that 100 free users reporting bug B. Software is not written for people who actually use it, it's written for people who pay for the development. So, if your boss knows that eg. CEO of your company complained about this bug, it's very wise of him to satisfy the CEO first rather than satisfy 100 users and have the project shut down by disappointed CEO.

  • "C-level" executives in this organization are so many levels above and geographically remote from us that your scenario is not worth considering. Also, the bug I was working on was entered by the boss' boss and reported to him by the user community. The boss' bug was found in some testing and has never been reported by a user. – GreenMatt Nov 4 '16 at 15:03
  • @GreenMatt I used "CEO" only as an example of someone with enough power to shut down the project or at least harm its funding. If you have your boss' boss support then I don't get your dilemma - just bring that (miss)prioritization to his attention. But the fact that you're still arguing that your outlook is better than your boss' means that you haven't understood the main point of my answer: it's not your job to evaluate "never been reported by a user", because it could have been reported by that hypothetical CEO to your boss in an angry phone call that left no traces in your bug tracker. – Agent_L Nov 4 '16 at 16:00
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    @GreenMatt Let me give you example from my life: The client pushed into complete overhaul of an quite old and successful app. I argued that drastic changes will alienate long-time users and they should be introduced gradually over many months. However, ultimately I've learned that client's marketing department wants to launch advertisement campaign around "brand new app". This was not a technical neither UX issue, was completely beyond my competence and I could have never seen it from my position. When you're in hierarchy, you have to have some trust in the top. Or look for another hierarchy. – Agent_L Nov 4 '16 at 16:11
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I agree with the other answers and would like to add one point: Make sure you have a written trail of raising your concerns. This is always possible. Even if your boss doesn't want to give you the assignment in written form, you can write him an email.

"As we discussed, I am now prioritizing bug X over my other assignments. I am however still of the opinion that this should not become a habit and would like to discuss with you possible approaches to lower the need for such emergency interventions in the future."

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    I can't recommend repeating your stance on this, and that it's in opposition to your manager's stance. Unless he's not paying attention at all, he'll see that this is a CYA ("covering your butt") maneuver, and won't think highly of it. Since he's made it clear what your priorities are (either in email or in the bug tracing system), simply proceed. – Bob Gilmore Nov 3 '16 at 23:59
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    That is one of the functions. Maybe the OP has actual ideas for the long run that are worth discussing even if right now he reacts to the emergency. The manager can override his concerns. He cannot override his concerns and still blame him for being a pushover in cased the concerns were valid. So yes, I would make sure to cover my butt. This is of course only necessary if there is no other written trace, it's not clear from his text if there is one. – user7019377 Nov 4 '16 at 0:07
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    This might make sense, if OP is genuinely worried that the bosses priorization is going to cause so many problems that someone will investigate. However, this is generally rare, so it sounds like "covering your butt by writing to your boss effectively, that you think he's wrong" is far riskier than "follow your bosses informed decision promptly and without any further drama, even if you think it is not the optimal prioritization". – hyde Nov 4 '16 at 5:38
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    When OP said that the boss "upped this bug to top priority," I assumed that the boss had actually changed bug priority in a bug tracking system, complete with user action logging. That was assuming a bit much, wasn't it? :-/ – Bob Gilmore Nov 4 '16 at 14:40
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    @BobGilmore: You're right, it was changed in our bug tracking system. While we had talked about increasing the priority of the bug in question, I was surprised it was moved to the top - on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 at the top, it had been moved to a 5 from 2, while I had been working on a 4, which was the highest priority in the system at the time. – GreenMatt Nov 4 '16 at 14:53
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Explain the consequences

Other answers already established that:

  • your boss decides the priority of this bug,
  • it's good when the team contributes to the decision making with their point of view; here it means that it's good to warn the boss that there might be not so much benefit in doing this task.

However, the problem with priorities is that it's difficult to say in absolute terms how important something is. But here's the good news: you don't have to! Compare the item to something else.

The tone I'd use while talking to your boss would be something like:

Hey, I noticed that you assigned a lot of priority to task X. I'm worried that the impact of this change might be very small and if we start working on it now, then tasks Y and Z will be delivered about 3 days later. Could you please confirm that it's more important than Y and Z and we should do it first?

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