Where I Have Changed

The Ministry of Testing Bloggers Club suggested that I write a post based on “In testing, I have changed my mind about ________”. As this blog dates back to 2012 with consistent (220) articles about testing, and my career in the field dates back to 2002 – it seems a 20-year experience should give me a few things. Testing is still not dead – and it’s still about the context (lower-case context, not CDT).

It’s not about: Testers being the only ones doing Testing

yeah, not so much these days. Testing is an act that any role can do in context. It’s about the testing – not so much the testers. And I have realized that even classic test management tasks can be done by someone else. Testing is not owned by the testers – it might be stewarded/facilitated by us, but it’s performed by a team member (who could be a tester).

It’s not about: Perfect Requirements

After decades in IT, it’s clear that even requirements are never perfect. When we look closer we see the business requirements can vary from a profound idea to a rudimentary feature of the system under test. Even in regulated industries requirements can be both about a specific configuration in a SaaS system or a loose idea of a relevant dashboard. Sometimes a requirement can be by design of an underlying commodity product – there doesn’t need to be a test case for everything.

The more rigor you add to the requirements management – the more fragile it becomes. It’s key to understand the risks and bets of the person paying for your solution. – in that lies the true borders of the delivery. Much can go informally along if it aligns with stakeholder values.

It’s not about: Defects

Back in the day defects needed to be accounted for, tracked, and distributed. Besides testing documents – defects were the only tangible delivery of the testers. The defects needed to be raised and closed. I recently wrote a guideline that stated that only observations that couldn’t be fixed within a day should be raised to the project manager for shared handling. In that context fixing things is within the same team. If it’s for another team to fix, defects are simply something communicated between the teams (check team topologies for team interactions). Sure you can still find a blocker or a P1 – what matters is how fast you can fix things.

It’s not about: Month-Long Testing Phases

The more time there is from idea to implementation – the more the requirement risks not addressing an up-to-date business objective. Timing is key. Some tools provide epics and user stories – but the structure is often misused to be a simple work aggregation – and not goal aligned.

The counter-intuitive trick is not to add formality, and more time between releases – but less. Less time between feedback between idea and implementation, and less time between implementation and test. Less time between the various forms of feedback adds to better results faster.

It still happens, I’m sure, that a business needs a month-long testing phase before a release; having a range of business staff to participate in testing the latest release of the enterprise ERP or CRM. More often the testing phase is one sprint behind the development activity. I have pondered this a lot.

At best testing is an integrated activity in the team and in the sprint. But if testing is a more separate activity – it can be both agile and context-relevant. So I have changed my mind about this anti-pattern.

It’s ok for testing to be in the next sprint –

if that adds consistency and less stress to the team*

* Seperate boards needed. Your Mileage Will Vary

Tester Aided in Two-Digit Million Dollar Deal

Yes indeed. It has happened for me in the last couple of months. While my role is not tester anymore (but advisor in testing) – it just wouldn’t make the headline as click-baity. Sorry for that, though it does help to prove the point that testing specialists can be a part of bids and tender teams. A testing mindset is needed even before there is an “system development life cycle”.

The Dealing

In the context of bids and tenders the testing activities are mostly about technical writing around how the testing will happen when the dealing’s done. It’s not so much about finding issues – but more about a coherent analytic viewpoint. The customer of the deal often set up “requirements” that the supplier must answer and is scored against:

  • Elaborate on a test strategy
  • Elaborate on the suggested test process
  • Describe relevant testing documents – don’t overdo them!
  • Describe testing types and environments in use
  • Describe test tools and approach to automation

If you don’t reply to all “requirements” you get a sub-par score, so being able to find information in the organization is key. The contractor uploads the final documents to the customer and the content is evaluated. The evaluation is usually a balanced scoring between the individual reply documents and the price point. Often price wins, even if the scoring of the (testing) documents where at 100% score.

More and more often I see outsourcing contracts that requests 10-15 test phases. It looks like someone has simply thrown the book at it, and not considered if it is an infrastructure project, a software development project or COTS implementation or – what on earth, they actually want to learn from the testing.

So how do you go about to be in on deals like this? – business context and a seat at the table seems key.

Business Context

First of all you need to be part of a company that cater to this size of deals. The deals I have been involved recently have mostly been about national IT solutions for public and semi-public organisations. The national government rarely have their own IT divisions but hire outsourcing companies to develop new solutions, maintain existing solutions along with hosting and cloud journeys. The more you add into the deal the larger the sums rack up. And similar if it’s a eight year contract for full IT operations, devices/laptops, support and application management services – the deal sum easily ends around the ballpark amount in the headline.

It’s probably different where you live and where you work. You might work on a consumer facing app that is paid pr subscription or perhaps in a team that develop a specific business-to-business product. And that’s cool – context matters. But I know even product houses have to go out and close deals with their business customers ever so often.

A Seat at the Table

Being part of bid and tender teams can be a key role for individual contributors in the staff levels. Staff levels are the senior and principal testing roles – that do not have management responsibilities. The term comes from the book “Staff Engineer: Leadership beyond the management track by Will Larson” and well as from “The Staff Engineer’s Path by Tanya Reilly“. The former book has some excellent chapters on getting a seat at the table and staying relevant there.

While having the role does not guarantee you a seat in the bid teams, neither is a staff role a prerequisite to be in. What matters most is probably management’s willingness to step out and let the experts in on the details. This could also be work that was done by heads of testing and managers of testing. Though as manager you should really focus on servant leadership and let your testing pro’s aid in closing the deal.

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What About Expected Results?

TL;DR: We should know better than to require expected results in test case steps.

Welcome to 2022 – where old wisdom surfaces yet again. Recently I considered expected results in test cases. It seems the topic is still relevant – I wrote about it in “The Expected” back in 2015.

As always we have to backup a bit and consider: What purpose does the detailed steps have to our stakeholders. How visible is the value provided? We have to start from their viewpoint – not build a chain of reasoning up from our own wishful thinking.

Currently I’m working on a project for payments of benefits. We have daily CI/CD and loads of classic manual testing. The key message from the stakeholders is that they expect things to be tested and evaluated. They generally trust us and collaborate with us on the work, so there is not so much discussion on the details as in other projects. Yet the discussion of expected results did come up in our internal dialog: What is the reasoning behind expected results on the test case steps – besides coming from an old book.

Testing is a performance

One of the usual arguments is that it enables hard-over from person to another. While handover can be relevant to consider if the team members changes often. It seems to me just to create redundant information based on requirements and other oracles. I mean where does it it end, why should we add every project information into the test cases and into the test plan. Stop it already.

Let the test cases be evaluated by the person performing the test – to see the whole picture. And not get biased by expected results. I want the persons performing the tests to use their brain and based on the oracles available evaluate the system under test. Also if everything can be planned – why would there be a need for retakes of movie scenes? It turns out even simple instructions are not possible:

Exact Instructions Challenge – THIS is why my kids hate me. | Josh Darnit

Let people do what they are best at

Let’s have testing being a balanced approach, where people evaluate and scripts confirm.

When the confirmation can be determined by an algorithm or by assertions towards an oracle we can code a test for it – and test it continuously. Adding as much automation as (practically) possible, aids the delivery in multiple ways. It aids to build regression testing and help us test that things not only worked once somewhere, but that it works again and again.

On the other hand when there’s no algorithm or explicit oracle in the form of specifications, acceptance criteria or similar authority we can only do a subjective evaluation: at that point in time – given the information available. do not neglect the wisdom of subject matter experts testing.

And in the later situation expected results hinder the exploration of whether the system under test fulfills not on the explicit requirements but also the implicit. We really should know better.

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#270 – But what if we can’t release often?

With digital solutions there is a ongoing urge to release often. A quest for feature toggles and continuous deliveries of new features and fixes. Automation of tedious tasks do help to drive consistent deliveries and aids in driving high-performing teams. There is good research to support that.

Recently I have worked on a solution, where the system had only to work for a month each year – and be closed down the other months. Some solutions I have similarly looked at, have years between being active. We can’t wait to ship features in the next release – the system has to be at 100% features that specific month.

Examples of business situations and domains:

  • Performances, like Eurovision
  • Sport events, like the Olympics
  • Elections
  • Black friday, Christmas shopping?

How do you test when you can only perform the act once – and if it fails it will have serious consequences? You practise and rehearse until it becomes safely repeatable. You have stage-moms and support teams to train with you.

Let’s look at the ultimate example: rock-climbing with no rope. How do you test for climbing up Yosemite’s El Capitan 3000 feet / 900 meters?

Photo by Tobias Aeppli on Pexels.com

The accomplishment is more preparation than performance. Honnold climbed El Capitan roughly 50 times in the decade before his free soloing of the rock formation on July 3, 2017. While he is famous for the ridiculously fast 3-hour, 56-minute ascent, 99% of Honnold’s time on the wall was spent roped up, practicing the route. Knowing where and how to move was the culmination of hundreds of hours on that granite in advance.

The Seven Lessons From ‘Free Solo’ On Working Without A Rope

Besides the scaling of the IT infrastructure for peak load – the test strategy has to consider the fact that the event itself will be a one-off, where there show must go on – and there’s no fallback, only fall forward.

There’s a huge difference between continuously delivering web features every day in a business to consumer setting, as compared to one-off projects of migration legacy platforms. This is why my approach to creating situational aware test plans starts with looking at delivery speed:

One-offQuarterlyWeeklySo often you dont notice
A scale of delivery speed

In one of the projects I looked had we had extensive user rehearsals and dress rehearsals. Well, they are called something more IT fancy. But at the end of the day it was about training to make the performance muscle knowledge in the people performing the event. Much like the training Honnold did.

Lastly, my experience is that you get more organizational traction by aligning with goals rather than risks and issues. It’s a behavioral trick simply to talk about the thing you want to give attention. And at the end of the day the CEO wants to talk about goals rather than risks. She rather wants a successful performance with a few flaws that an delay due to bruised hands (and egos) during waxing on and waxing off.

#264 – Create Situational Aware Test Plans

From the endless discussions on the proper content and contexts of a test plan, it’s apparently still needed – but what goes in it? Let’s create situational aware test plans inspired by Wardley Mapping.

ISTQB template-based test plan documents are in my personal opinion no longer industry best practice. First of all it’s bloatware. While they intend to be a springboard into considering what is relevant we have ended up with 8 page templates – where every single of the 20 topics are required information. While it looks dazzling – it’s like frosting puffed with empty calories.

What most people delivering effectively software are using is 1) modern test automation and 2) modern test case management tools to lead and manage the test activities. And there is clear research on what 24 factors correlates to high-performing teams. It seems to me the templates have been frozen stale since 2012 – and are hindering us more than helping.

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Imagine That Things Can Be Different

One of the key skills of a knowledge worker – and testing people are knowledge workers – is to imagine that things can be different. I have written previously how to recruit for curiosity – and contributed to the book of “21st-century skills for testers“. But apparently I have missed to highlight the key skill of imagining that things can be different.

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Explore, Code and Business

There are plenty of contexts where testing happens that doesn’t formally involve testers, or formally involve a testing phase. Still contexts like those have testing as an implicit activity.

We are neglecting the business know-how when all we talk about wrt. smarter testing is either the practices of exploration or of coding. Let’s bring in smarter testing for the business and coding sides too.

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Further reading for Contest NYC 2019

Materials used for the talk and workshop at Contest NYC 2019:

One page test plan

Wardley Maps


Test management / Test Coach

Subject Matter Experts

Practical tips:

The subject matter expert in LEGO knows the bigger pieces left goes into the model.
The subject matter expert in LEGO knows the bigger pieces left goes into the model.

A Ratio between Tests

During one of my recent projects I was considering the ratio between the checks and the tests – that is the ratio between those tests, that are primarily simple binary confirmations, and those tests that are more tacit questions. This blog is about my considerations on the idea/experiment/model.

First I observed, that we have a range of different items in our requirements – some of them are [actual copy of the current specification]:

Binary Confirmations

  • It must be possible to add a customer ticket reference
  • It must be possible to copy the ticket number

Tacit Questions

  • You must be able to navigate displayed lists easily
  • It must be easy to compare work log and audit log

You could argue that they need refinement, more testability and less “easy“. But this is what we have to work with for now. Even if we had all the time in the world (we don’t) – we would not be able to write all of the requirements in a perfect form (if such a form exists).

As the system under test is a commercial standard system, some of the requirements are even given as “Out of the Box”, we will probably not even be testing those explicitly. Our coverage criteria is not ALL OF THEM.

Ordering the tests

It is a deliberate experiment from my side to divide the requirements (and hence the tests) into the piles of Closed and Open Questions. Perhaps there is even three piles – Rapid Software Testing has: human checking, machine checking and human/machine checking , Wardley has Pioneers, Settlers and Town Planners. Perhaps the Rule of Three applies here too.. perhaps it’s an continuum … let’s see.

Perhaps it’s a continuum

As part of the requirement workshops I will label the requirements and align with the stakeholders to get the expectations right – with the help of a few friends. This a context/project based “operationalization“.

I wrote about this ratio on my blog post around the Test Automation Pyramid, as I will use the labels to automate the confirmations (and only the confirmations). The assumption is, that there are significantly more of the binary requirements tested by machine checking – and more human tested tacit questions. If we can get all the tedious tasks automated – that is the really the end goal.

Automate all the things that should be automated

Alan Page

Every project/context will have it’s own ratio, depending on a range of factors. Saying there should always be more of one type than the other would not hold. As the above project is the configuration and implementation of a standard commercial business software package (like SAP, SalesForce etc), my expectation is that most of the requirements are binary. Also considering that this project is heavy on the right hand side of the Wardley Map scale of evolution.

It’s a Reduction in Context

I am well aware that the two/three piles are an approximation / reduction. Especially when looking at the “binary” requirements and “only” testing these by confirmation. They could as easily be explored to find further unknown unknowns. If we prioritize to do so – it all about our choice of risk.

It is also an limitation as “perfect testing” should consist of both testing and checking. I factor this into the test strategy, by insisting that all of the requirements are tested both explicitly and implicitly. First of all most of our binary requirements are on the configuration and customization of the out-of-the-box software solution. So when the subject matter experts are performing the testing of the business flows, they are also evaluating the configuration and customization. And I do want them to spot when something is odd

The binary configuration is ok, but human know-how tells us otherwise.

Ultimately I want to use the experts to do the thinking and the machines to do the both the confirmations and the tedious tasks.

Expectations around Testing

I usually mention that the work I do as a test manager is more around managing the testing activity, than managing testing specialists. “Managing the testing activity” to me is about:

  • Identifying the expectations are around the testing activities
  • Facilitating the performance/execution of the testing activities
  • Administration and documentation of the testing activity
  • Make the people doing the testing self-reliant

… in Context

The project context is the most important frame: it is all about the projects
story, risk profile, culture, traditions, deadline, budget etc. I am as Context-driven as contexts allow, in the classical “Seven Basic Principles of the Context-Driven School” sense*.

As I am motivated by finding solutions and making them work** my drive is more along the lines of “accelerate the achievement of shippable quality” [Modern Testing Mission] than “finding the problems that threaten the value of the product” [Rapid Software Testing].

Focussing on achievements over problems seems to work for me in the contexts I’m in, regarding enterprise transition, infrastructure projects and the implementation of commercial standard systems.

Setting a Frame for Expectations

Finding the “test solution” (or test strategy) that fits the project context is the key activity to me. The rest of it, is mostly about implementation – that too can be quite interesting. I like that too, but plan first!

First of all we have to realize that the testing activities we choose are limited and affected by or context (and biases). We can never test everything and think of everything to test. Based on the context restrictions (time, space, money, etc) the project gives me, I make a reduction of the testing theories and principles into a definition along the lines of:

In a specific context – testing will be a finite activity, to investigate if the shared interpretations of the requirements are implemented – at some time, for some configuration, evaluated by someone (that we trust), where nothing odd happens.

A reduction of the testing activity

Let me be the first to say: It’s not theoretical perfect! But it’s practical and based on context. The reduction gives me an achievable goal-oriented focus. It helps me to iron out what the relation is between the thing under test and someone whom it matters to.

Ironing out the Expectations

If there is an underlying risk that things will change a lot, then we can argue for test automation to multiply the configurations and the number of “runs” we can complete. Not all IT projects are around software development, so test automation practices and tooling might not be in place.

We can ask Open Questions to explore the boundaries of the shared understanding. We can discuss: how much total test coverage is needed here? We can challenge the requests for the kitchen sink – but also direct the testing to what matters. I have found that it is better to slowly impact the projects with questions from within, as discussed on the Guilty Tester Podcast, than break down traditions up front. We can look into “who” is doing the investigation and how much we trust them.

To make the agreements around the reduction of the testing activity explicit I establish a “Test Plan” document. I would often prefer to do without, and have a mutual team agreement – or even a mind map. But I know the enterprise contexts, too well to know, that shared expectations are best written down (even though it being an imperfective as well).

It’s all about the context and the expectations, really.

The expectations where that we could snorkel…

*: Even “CDT” is a context/model, and thus is flawed. One of the flaws of the model is that all test approaches are equally valid (as long as it adds value to someone who matters) and thus that no approach is never better than any other. Not even CDT..

**: See: Innovation in Testing, Less Software more Testing.