Thursday, October 2, 2008

Complain, Then Educate

I've noticed that when we testers get together, there's kind of a lot of complaining.* And the complaints often go something like this:

"I'm a TESTER. Why don't they understand that my job is to provide information? It's not to find bugs! It's not even to validate the system! What does validate even mean? It's not like it's possible to prove the nonexistence of problems!"

First of all, it's great to have these kinds of discussions in the testing community. Second, it gets just a bit repetitive. I've been a tester for a number of years, and even when I came in, the voice of the community was pretty consistent that test wasn't about finding bugs. So why do we still talk about it?

The problem is that although we in the (enlightened, of course!) testing community understand for the most part what testing is and is not. Our job now is to educate people tangential to the testing community - testers who don't participate in thinking about the purpose and future of test, developers who haven't worked with a modern testing group, executives and sales people who think that they can outsource the finding of bugs and we just need some metrics for success. So let's talk education. How do people, and more importantly, how does a corporate entity, learn to value the things we value and learn to measure things that actually describe our success?

I make the following assertion:

Corporate and community learning occurs only when that learning provides value to the corporation or community.

So the trick is not "how do we teach people?", but "what value will changing their perceptions provide?" And how do we measure value to the community or corporation, or more precisely, how does the community or corporation measure value?
  • It must be concretely measurable. "80%" or "$15000" or "3x" is good. "Better" is not good.
  • It must be reinforced with the tools and terms you use. If you don't want to be thought of as a bug finder, don't bring in the "bug hunter" paraphernalia. And don't go into every meeting with the defect tracking system open. Go in with a reporting mechanism more like the business side of the house uses, whatever that is. Summaries are your friend.
  • It's your job to constantly portray the way you want to be seen. Don't be part of the problem.
We can educate our consumers - corporations and communities - but we have to use their language and fit within their framework. Trying to force wholesale change is going to result in us beating our heads against the wall. Create adaptation by causing change within the framework of current thinking. We'll get a lot farther that way.

* Complaining is definitely not limited to testers. Developers do it, dancers do it, nurses do it - I think we're all pretty much complainers.

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