Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not Everything's a Nail

"He who is good with a hammer tends to think everything is a nail." -- Abraham Maslow

I've been to a lot of holiday parties lately, and when geeks party, well, apparently we talk about software development process!* It's been really interesting getting people together who come from various schools of thought. The party attendees have ranged from a SCRUM zealot to an XP believer, to someone who thinks waterfall processes in general have gotten an unfairly bad rap.

That got me to thinking. When thinking about each process from a test perspective**, none of the software processes I'm aware of adequately address every problem and every situation.
  • SCRUM: This one really doesn't address the timing of test very well. Whether you have QA on the team or as a separate team, test tends to get squished in at the end of iterations or (worse) leak beyond iterations.
  • XP: There is a dogma here that manual testing is universally bad because it's not repeatable, can't be run constantly by anyone, etc. I'm comforted to see this changing in the XP community, and the value of manual testing for usability and as a first step of acceptance coming in. This community really seems to be starting to address the problem and trying to figure out how to effectively harness the power of human testers (rather than just coded tests).
  • RUP:  This tends to emphasize pre-defined tests at the expense of exploratory testing. There is also a tendency to wait to start testing until later in the project than I'm a fan of.
  • No Defined Process: This one is catch as catch can for every phase of the process, not just test. It mostly doesn't scale beyond a very few people who are very closely aligned in their goals.
All those risks in all those processes are why I believe that pragmatism will trump dogmatic adherence to process every time. No hammer I know of can turn all problems into nails, and I'd rather solve problems than wield a hammer.

In the end, my company doesn't succeed because we follow any software development process. My company succeeds because we give our customers what they want.

*Disclaimer: I swear, we're not normally a dull bunch! And yes, we talk about other things, too, at least some of the time.
** I think about most things from a test perspective. I'm not a developer or a product manager or a sales person, and I wouldn't presume to understand fully how these various processes apply to them. I can make guesses, but I'm most knowledgeable in the area of software testing. Just FYI.

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