The Pointy Cog in the Wheel


Ten years ago I was in software testing, and we looked into test process improvement by the guidelines of the Test Maturity Model (of 1998). Sometimes we tried to add more process and structure, insisting that unit test was documented prior to integration test start or that the lead developers participated in the reviews of the test strategy (gosh). Often it happened that our quick wins was not in line with the “maturity” of the rest of the delivery organisation.

Here is the picture we sometimes drew to understand: If you have a wheel, that has to be round to deliver systems to the business, and each group is a cog. Then the best thing is for the cogs to be equal length. If the testing cog is too long / too “mature”, the wheel doesn’t run around, but bumps into testing. If a cog is too short, the wheel may run, but the next cog catch the drift of the previous one.


Sometimes it was truly, that testing picked up where the application teams had failed to integrate and communicate. We could spend weeks of snow-plowing with one integration defect stopping all progress, just to find yet another bridge to cross in the enterprise delivery landscape.

Sometimes management added metrics – like the number of testcases to pass pr. day (linear progress) or a real couch to have the project manager to sit on, until we found yet another problem to have resolved among the many teams. But pouring more process descriptions, more contract interpretations or rigor into the testing never fixed the real problem – that the cogs of the delivery wheel needed to grown across teams – not driven by the need from management to control testing (because testing picked up the tap in the end).

ISO 29119 may be a vocabulary and a guideline, and at best a body of knowledge. But the thing is that if organisations try to fix their delivery process by adding more rigor, ceremony and borrowed vocabulary the testing activities will yet again be the odd cog in the wheel. I don’t see any ISO standard for management, for leadership, for a standard development methodology or ISO standard for how to solve unknown problems. And testing is about finding the unknown and inform the stakeholders.

Learn the context – and provide information to the business within that frame.

A commercial body of Knowledge

What I know of the ISO29119 is that specifies specific numerated techniques, documents and document content. I know this from their website, where I can read that it will cost me $1000 to buy “the book” (club discounts available) – the body of knowledge.

It’s a collective work written by a number of people in the industry, and have been years in the making. Some of the people work in consulting and provide training in the framework, some of the companies sponsoring the work provide consulting in implementation of the framework. Companies can have an audit for a certificate too. That will require a large investment as the organisation have to (norminative) conform to plenty of “shall”.

But besides that it’s a closed book (and it’s not even on Amazon). To me the 29119 is misguided from the beginning, it should be a book – a commercial body of knowledge, like TMAP or like ITIL. Something that you could buy into or not. Not something in any respect labelled as a international standard.

  • It seems it requires either a range of documents and lot of tailoring
  • It seems to be some what “dated” in the addressing ways of testing being added in recent years
  • It seems to claim that it has consensus in the industry
  • It seems that some people have tried to participate , but failed
  • It seems that some people did not want to participate on principle, even if invited
  • It seems to claim that it is a silver bullet, a one size fits all

I cannot evaluate the implications for my customers asking about compliance without elaboration – on the details of 29119, and on the customers objectives. What is the business driver for complying with said framework? Which is actually what I was looking for – what helps the (customer) business making a business?

I doubt that someone else’s delivery framework can provide you with the DNA, the unique value proposition, of the specific context that is needed – for you! #ImLookingAtYou. If we blindly comply with the framework what is the driver besides cost and commodity. If the driver is something else, then start right there. Start with how testing and artefacts implements the strategy, values and decisions that you have. Start with “innovative“, “quality of life“, “coherent” – how does that relate to your testing.

See also

Acceptance is more than what can be measured

A typical acceptance criteria is that a specific percentage of test cases passed and/or a specific number of critical defects unresolved. Yet the expressions have to be recognized as a way of the stakeholder to express the level of expected confidence. In other words “what are you OK with?” How can we help you gain confidence in the solution? What trends should we look for?

I have experienced situations where the solution was delivered, even though the criteria where not met. The so-called Go-NoGo meeting, was usually a Go-Go, and jokingly called so. I have also experienced that the business deferred a fix for a critical defect in production. That even if a planned release fulfilled the elaborate acceptance criteria – the delivery was cancelled. It was a major enterprise release that was technically to spec – yet because of other business risks, it was postponed.

 As a tester you may experience this where all the automatic Factory Acceptance tests (FAT) pass, but the system still fails to react. I had to text “FAT failed” to someone recently, but it auto-corrected to “FART failed“. Indeed if all the requirements pass and but the system fails to deliver – it is a fart.

The challenge is that not everything that can be measured counts, and not everything that counts can measured. 

And that’s not even considering that 100% testcases passed is a metric that makes no sense. Quality is not only the amount of specific attributes, as ISO/IEEE standards may lead you to measure, but a relationship “something that matters – to someone who matters – at sometime“. If you only look at the measurable – you miss half of the story.

The business needs

  • fit for purpose (requirements) and fit for use (business context) [ITIL v3]
  • to solve a business problem – ff the problem isn’t solved, the product doesn’t work. (Even of all the tests are green). [Ben Simo]
  • information from testing to aid in making business decisions

2012-12-09 12.14.32