Communicating with your development team correctly is the first, middle and last step to effective troubleshooting of your site, application or project.There is little more frustrating or disruptive to your day-to-day marketing and business operations than an unexpected bug, glitch, or break on your website. They can be frantic (and costly) fire drills. Thankfully, Tom Cruise has some words of wisdom. Hang with me, here.

The movie Jerry Maguire may be a little long in tooth by now, but there’s no arguing that it will live on as Tom Cruise’s most quotable film (sorry, Top Gun). His most meme-tastic line is spoken when an earnest Jerry Maguire beseeches Cuba Gooding Jr’s, Rod Tidwell to, “Help me, help you.” It’s the very line that one of my trusted development partners gave to me after resolving a particularly urgent problem with a mobile app for which I was the Product Manager.

We had generated several promo codes to give away in-app content for a big holiday campaign, and emailed the codes out to over a half million customers. About two hours after the codes went out, customers were starting to report that they weren’t working. Worse, a few had left negative reviews online because of the faulty codes.

OMG. This is a bit of a calamity, right?!

I grabbed my iPad, tested the promo code, confirmed the error, and immediately fired off an email to our development partner, “The promo codes aren’t working! Customers are emailing us, please help!” 

Over the next 45 minutes, a flurry of emails fired back and forth as our development partner worked feverishly to find and squash the bug. Tell me if this exchange sounds familiar… 

Agency: We’ll look into this right away- what error message are you receiving?

Me: It’s just indicating that it’s an “Invalid Code”.

Agency: Are all of the codes not working, or just the one you’ve reported?

Me: I just tested all of the codes, it looks like one of the three isn’t working… the other two are.

Agency: We can’t reproduce the error with the faulty code- we’re using an Android tablet. What device are you using?

Me: I’m on an iPad Air 2, and I just tested the code my iPhone 5- it’s also not working.

Me (Again): I just tested on my coworkers Android, and it worked, did you fix it?

Agency: We did just fix it, but it was specific to iOS. There was a character error on the promo code in the backend, and we’ve corrected the problem. It’s working now!

Me: It is, thank you!

After the issue was resolved, I had a good call with our partner, and that’s when they asked me to, “help me, help them” when future bugs pop up. How? By taking a few important steps to test and document the problem before reporting it:

  1. Give your dev partner a quick heads up. If the problem is critical and needs immediate attention, shoot your contact a quick note, or open up a ticket, and let them know you’re working quickly to get them more details. It may not be enough info for them to fix the problem, but it will help them get their team lined up and ready to triage the bug.
  2. Try reproducing the problem on multiple devices, and in multiple browsers. Can you reproduce the error consistently, across devices and on multiple browsers? If you disconnect your mobile device from wireless, can you reproduce it outside of your wireless network?
  3. Document the use case and take screen shots. If the problem is consistent across devices and browsers, document the steps you’re taking to generate the error so that your digital partner can accurately reproduce the error. If you can, include annotated screen shots (I prefer Skitch to document use cases).
  4. Send all relevant files. If there are data files or media assets involved, send those along for your partner to take a look at, up front.
  5. Document the correct use case. When you send along the error details, also outline what the correct user case should be, so that they know what they’re working towards.
  6. Outline the urgency. Of course any diligent dev partner will work to solve the problem as quickly as they can, but if it’s not something that absolutely must be fixed immediately, let them know what their drop dead “must fix” day/time is, so that they can prioritize the work.
At first glance, these steps may seem like a lot to fix a bug. But they’re steps that will always need to be taken for a resolution. Providing this information up front will almost always save a significant amount of time in back and forth communication, and ultimately get your site up and optimized faster.