Blog Customer FeedbackBug vs feature: What's the difference and which to prioritize?

Bug vs feature: What's the difference and which to prioritize?

Struggling to decide what to fix or build next? In this post, we'll tackle the common product dilemma: is it a bug or a feature, and which should you prioritize? Tag along for practical strategies and case studies to drive your product forward effectively!

Customer Feedback
Last updated on
Illustration for the blog about the differences between bugs and features.

Figuring out the difference between a bug and a feature isn't always that straightforward.

But sometimes, a bug report can lead to a great feature idea.

Spotting these feature opportunities can save development costs and make your users feel heard.

In this post, we'll learn how to tell bugs apart from features, find feature ideas in bugs, and prioritize them effectively.

Letโ€™s get to it! ๐Ÿ‘‡


Bug vs feature: the difference

A bug is an unintended error that causes problems. A feature is a planned functionality that improves the software.

Bugs can disrupt the user experience under specific conditions, while features should enhance it.

The key differences between bugs and features.
Bugs vs Features.

But in reality, the line between bugs and features isn't always so clear.

Real-world scenarios often blur these distinctions, making it challenging for product managers to navigate user feedback:

  1. Design decisions mistaken as bugs: Sometimes, what users report as a bug is actually an intentional design decision. For example, a productivity app might limit the number of active tasks in the daily list to encourage focus. Users accustomed to unlimited tasks could see this as a bug, when in fact it's a conscious design decision from the product team.
  2. Differences in user interpretation: Different users might define features and bugs differently. People - especially those not tech-savvy - often mistake any undesired behavior as a "bug" even if it's just a feature they don't understand. When Instagram first switched from a chronological to an algorithmic feed, many users first thought the disordered posts were a bug.
  3. Undocumented improvements: Sometimes, developers roll out minor updates or features without documenting them. Users unaware of these might encounter new functionality and mistake it for a bug. This also shows the importance of maintaining a changelog to keep users informed.
  4. Unintended benefits from bugs: In some cases, what starts as a bug may be embraced by users as a beneficial feature. There are many famous examples of that, so lets take a look at couple. ๐Ÿ‘‡ 

Case studies: how to turn bugs into features

1. The accidental birth of the pull-to-refresh gesture

Illustration of the pull-to-refresh gesture.
Pull-to-refresh in an app.

One of the most iconic examples of turning a bug into a feature comes from the development of the Pull-to-Refresh gesture, now common in most mobile apps.

Loren Bricher, the founder of Tweetie (3rd party Twitter client) was tweaking the scrolling function.

He noticed that when users scrolled beyond the top of their feed, the content would bounce slightly. Instead of viewing this as a bug to be fixed, he saw potential.

This marked the birth of the Pull-to-Refresh feature.

By intentionally over-scrolling, users could now refresh the content of their feed. This not only fixed the "bug" but also improved the user experience.

The feature was quickly recognized for its utility and user-friendliness, being adopted by numerous apps, ultimately leading to Twitter's acquisition of Tweetie.

1. The story of Gmail's Priority Inbox

Gmail\s Priority Inbox setting.
Gmail's Priority Inbox setting.

Another example of a bug turned into a feature is the creation of Gmail's Priority Inbox.

Google engineers noticed an unusual behavior in their email sorting algorithms.

Instead of sorting emails by date, a bug caused emails to be ranked based on how users interacted with them - emails that were opened, replied to, or otherwise engaged with were unintentionally pushed to the top of the inbox.

Rather than dismissing it as a bug to be fixed, the Gmail team saw that this bug effectively mimicked people's intuitive process to prioritize their mail - paying more attention to messages from important contacts and topics of high interest.

This led to the development and launch of Gmail's Priority Inbox in 2010.

It now automatically sorts emails into categories based on their perceived importance to the user, learning and adapting over time-based on the user's actions. This drastically improved users' productivity and reduced the time spent sifting through less important messages.


Bug vs feature: how to prioritize

Prioritizing between fixing bugs and shipping new features can seem hard, especially if your feedback boards are full of feature requests.

However, it's actually quite simple. Bugs and feature requests boil down to one thing - missing functionality.

Start by asking yourself:

1. What impacts users more?

If a bug significantly disrupts the user experience, it's important to fix this first.

However, there are times when a new feature could bring more value. For example, if it would address a critical gap or has been highly requested by users.

2. How much effort do they need?

A small bug that's hard to fix can often wait compared to a feature requested by your largest customers.

Use prioritization frameworks and voting boards to easily evaluate the effort and impact of different ideas.

There are many different bug-tracking tools to help you with this and speed up the process.

2. What aligns with the product strategy?

You can't build every feature your users want - you must strike a balance between their needs and your own strategic vision.

If the feature helps you towards a strategic objective, like entering a new market or attracting a specific user segment, it could be more crucial.


Cheat code to prioritize bugs and features

A simple feedback software can help you a lot in this process.

Here's how we use our own tool to effectively collect and prioritize bugs & feature requests.

First, it automatically categorizes incoming requests into their respective categories using AI. We can immediately see if it's a bug or a feature without any manual labeling.

Featurebase's automatic AI board suggestion feature.
User's request is automatically categorized with AI (Featurebase)

Users can also vote on others' requests and discuss their thoughts in the comments. The amount of votes on an idea is the first indicator of its potential impact.

But the game-changer is the ability to link customer revenue to their requests.

We can see exactly how much money is behind each idea. It helps us:

  1. Prioritize feature requests from paying customers
  2. Prioritize features with the largest revenue contribution
Illustration of sorting feedback by uvpoter revenue contribution in Featurebase.
Sorting feature requests & bug reports by upvoters' revenue contribution.

Yet, not all features can be evaluated purely on their potential revenue impact. You also want to consider the effort of implementing them.

For that, we use our built-in value/effort framework to rank ideas based on their effort and potential upside.

This helps us efficiently visualize everything on a simple matrix and stay focused even with large volumes of feedback.

Featurebase's value/effort matrix illustration.
Featurebase's value/effort prioritization matrix feature.

Conclusion

To wrap up, distinguishing bugs and features isn't always straightforward. Real-world situations tend to blur these lines, with bugs often serving as the seed for new feature ideas.

When prioritizing bugs and features, weigh the value they bring against the effort they require.

Tools like Featurebase streamline this process, allowing you to prioritize ideas based on user votes, prioritization frameworks, and monetary value.

Start collecting & prioritizing feedback with Featurebase for free โ†’