Thursday, 25 April 2013

Time to start thinking, stupid......


Sometimes it feels like the world doesn't want to think any more. We make decisions for the sake of expediency, gaining satisfaction that there is a tick in the box, sometimes knowing that wrong tick has been placed in the wrong box. The person still asking 'Why' or saying 'Is there another way' in the corner at the end of a long meeting is seen as an inconvenience, blocking progress at best and plain annoying in the worst case.

As a tester, I often find myself at the heart of this deficit of thinking. Teams built with the wrong competencies for the job at hand, products sabotaged by blind fire decision making, compromises made to fit restraints which are beyond aspirational. So what can I, a lowly tester, do about this? I can change my behaviour, mind-set and make sure testing has a voice, that’s what I can do.

First, acknowledge and embrace your own stupidity. Ever felt like asking a stupid question but then stopped yourself and walked out of the room with no idea what happened? Stop doing that. Your confusion is most likely shared and you've just missed an opportunity to expose it. By not asking, you are even stupider when you leave the room than when you entered.

Second, stop being so accepting. Ever with your project team while decisions are made which made you think 'Really? We are going to do that?' Stayed quiet did you? Thought so. Stop doing that. Do not always retreat into your 'I'm only here as an information giver' persona. Testing is valuable, give it the respect it deserves and every so often apply a little thought to what testing gives to the functionality.

Third, talk to your tests.  Serious. Ask them why they need to exist. Ask them if they intend to be around for a while or will expire as soon as they have been executed. Ask them if they prove one thing, lots of things, or nothing at all. Ask who else cares about them. Look at them as group and ask if they are a balanced set of tests, or are they skewed in favour of a particular aspect of the functionality.

Fourth, remember the vision. It’s fairly common practice for projects/products to define a vision. This may put usability or aesthetics to the forefront, perhaps performance and scalability. It’s also pretty common to lose sight of this vision. So if usability is key then ask how does this functionality meet the vision and how does my testing approach show this goal has been met. To put it more succinctly, make sure you are testing the right product before testing it right.

Now that you are a stupid, annoying product visionary who speaks to test artifacts, you are ready to start being part of the solution rather than the problem. Like most habits, little and often is key. Learn short, sharp techniques for teasing out the real issue. 5 Why's for beginners, 6 Thinking Hats, the mighty 'Huh? Really? So?', why not have some fun. Its 5 minutes of your life, spent with your brain engaged. What’s the worst that could happen?

There are many testers out there, but not very many thinking testers. I've seen the phrase 'zombie tester' used recently, so unless you want to be a shambling, undead mess of a tester, it's time to get your thinking cap on. Eating the brains of others will not make you smarter.

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