Saturday, October 26, 2013

Test What Matters: 99 Ways Workshop #98

The Software Testing Club recently put out an eBook called "99 Things You Can Do to Become a Better Tester". Some of them are really general and vague. Some of them are remarkably specific.

My goal for the next few weeks is to take the "99 Things" book and see if I can put my own personal spin on each of them, and make a personal workshop out of each of the suggestions. 

Suggestion #98: Test what matters - Rosie Sherry

Ahhh, it all comes down to that, doesn't it? It's simple, elegant, really easy to understand, and yet, try as we might, it's so very hard to actually do (no, seriously, it is). See, what matters is tremendously subjective. Who are we talking about? Are we talking about our end users? Our management team? Our co-workers? Our shareholders? 

We'd love to believe that each and every one of those groups are aligned in purpose and intention, that they would all want the same things, and that what maters to one matters to all. Sadly, that's not true. Thus, to make sense of what matters, we first have to make a solid determination as to "who" matters.

Workshop #98: Get a feel for the five biggest customers that your organization wants to keep happy. Hint: they may not be end users of your product. Once you find them, get to the heart of the matter and discover what really matters to them (ask informally if you can't get direct answers from the one's who call the shots). Then structure your testing regimen to focus on what matters to those people (hint: they will not always be aligned).

A famous phrase that many of us have heard over the years is "Quality is value to someone who matters" (thank you Jerry Weinberg). Therefore, what matters is what we can identify that is important to the person or people that matter. Those people can shift, and they can have significantly different goals. Therefore, what should we do? Do we skip around from person to person and find out what matters most to them, and make sure that we deliver it to them? We could, but I would also hazard that it would make us look schizophrenic, and quite possibly untrustworthy. Quality is, indeed, "value to someone who matters" and the "who matters" part can be hard to pick out at times.

Therefore, rather than a fragmented and manic rush to figure out what is most valuable to any one person at any given time, I'd much prefer to go at it from another route, which is to provide information that will help those people that matter make the best decisions they can. I'm not there to "check off the list that makes my manager happy" or "work on the story that makes the director of development look good" or " deliver under cost or ahead of schedule so that we can maximize sales ahead of the upcoming holiday season". Those things are all valuable, and they are all, in their sphere, important. If I choose to chase any one of those, I will be doing a disservice to everyone else who matters. So what should we do?

It comes down to what I feel is the fundamental thing that testers do, and it's not find bugs, or prove that software is "fit for use". Instead, it's to provide information about the state of the product in ways that are meaningful, and to let those in other positions in the organization make the best decisions that they can based on what we have aggregated, analyzed and synthesized. In the end, the development team really doesn't care how many test cases I ran if I didn't find the issue that is most embarrassing to them. The CEO doesn't care that I was meticulous and covered multiple testing scenarios if, when they stand up and give the demo to customers, the program crashes. The customer doesn't care how many features were delivered if the one that they actually care about still doesn't work. 

We need to be more focused than that, and we need to contribute to more than just working in our predefined box and testing what we are told to test. If we are information providers, than we need to be bold and brave enough to provide information. Even when it isn't convenient. Even when it may embarrass some people. Even if it may mean we have to announce a delay. If we try to please all entities, we will end up pleasing none of them. If we are honest, and show integrity, we may still not make a whole lot of people happy, but we will do one thing for certain… we will be providing the key information for all parties to make the best decision possible. If we truly believe that is what matters, then that is what we need to deliver. That information, the kind that helps make an informed decision.

Bottom Line:

So much of what we do is laced with politics, cronyism, and what I often refer to as a "perverse reward system" that tends to honor the short term benefits over long term health. If we focus too much on the short term goals, we can win many battles, but ultimately lose the war. We can paint ourselves into a corner, and have no way to get out without causing a mess. Pick whatever metaphor you want to, but realize that what will please one person may royally irritate someone else. Quality works the same way, and playing sides will ultimately win you few friends. Instead, pledge to make the story, the whole story, the most important thing that you can deliver. By doing so, you can make sure that you are delivering something of real value, and value that will last. Ultimately, that is what really matters, so go forth and do likewise :).

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