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Troubleshooting Tips: User Error

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A great rule to follow in troubleshooting is to always assume user error until that is fully ruled out. This will save a great deal of time for everyone... especially the user. I learned this primarily back when I was a sysadmin/workgroup manager where I discovered that 99% of my work involved training/education (and retraining/reeducation of the end user.


The classic case resulted in me coming up with sayings such as "99% of the time it's a connection" because even if you were to ask 'are you sure it is plugged in?" you'd get an affirmative response only to arrive later and find a wire unplugged because they had moved their computer to the other side of the room.


The ratio of user error to bug probably follows more closely to (that is to say... follows the probability of) the Pareto Principle which follows the 20/80 rule.

So, roughly 80% of the time 20% (of the errors) will belong to the user and 20% of the time 80% will belong to the user.

Note that in the first case, that of the trivial many, most of those errors that are there wont ever be used... in fact they won't be discovered at all because those areas will be so seldom used... while those in the critical few arena will result from errors (settings and misunderstandings) that belong to the user.


Note that it is generally not wise to tell these little factoids to the user. They are entirely too frustrated to appreciate the advice.

But, yes, as unpopular as it sounds, most errors are not bugs but can be traced back to the user.

In bug hunting we are looking for repeatable errors that can be (easily) reproduced.


This is not to say that user error isn't a valuable thing... it is... and these errors need to be documented so they can be effectively communicated.

If any given user error is produced often enough then it may be best to update the user interface to streamline or effect a change in that usage.

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