Skip to main content

What if information isn't enough?

One of my aims for this year has been to attend/talk at what I will class for the purposes of this blog as 'non-testing' events, primarily to speak about what on earth testing is and how we can lampoon the myths and legends around it. It gets some really interesting reactions from professionals within other disciplines.

And usually those reactions (much like this particular blog), leave me with more questions than answers!


After speaking at a recent event, I was asked an interesting question by an attendee. This guy was great, he reinvented himself every few years into a new part of technology, his current focus, machine learning. His previous life, 'Big Data', more on that later. Anyway, he said (something like):

'I enjoyed your talk but I think testing as an information provider doesn't go far enough. If they aren't actionable insights, then what's the point?'

This is why I like 'non-testing' events, someone challenging a tenet than has been left underchallenged in the testing circles I float around in. So, I dug a little deeper asked what was behind that assertion:

'Well, what use is information without insight, the kind you can do something about. Its getting to the point where there is so much information, providing more doesn't cut it.'


On further, further investigation I found he was using the term 'actionable insight' in his previous context within the realm of 'Big Data.' For example, gathering data via Google Analytics on session durations and customer journeys. Lots of information, but without insight, probably of dubious usefulness, without analysis including other axis such as time.

There is an associated model for thinking on the subject of 'actionable insights' namely a pyramid. It is based on the Data Information Knowledge Wisdom Pyramid (7). We love our pyramids, other shaped models for thinking are available apparently. There is the odd cone in the literature too.

I also enjoyed the heuristics of an actionable insights with the Forbes article (3):

If the story of your testing includes elements of the above, it would likely end up quite compelling. It strikes me that an actionable insight is a fundamentally context driven entity, it takes into account the wider picture of the situation while being clear and specific. If my testing can gather insights which satisfy the above, I believe my stakeholders would be very satisfied indeed. Maybe you could argue that you are already producing insights of this calibre but you call it information. Good for you if you are.


What immediately set my testing sensibilities on edge from the conversation and subsequent investigation, was implying that testing would produce insights and imply that actions should be taken (1), which takes us into a grey area. After all what do we 'know' as testers? Only what we have observed, through our specific lenses and biases. The person who questioned me at my talk, believed that was a position of 'comfort but not of usefulness.' More food for thought.  

Moreover, those involved with testing are continuously asked:
'What would you do with this information you have found?' 
I've been asked this more times than I can remember. Maybe it is time that we should be considering 'actionable insights', if this question is going to persist, better chance of a coherent answer. Otherwise the information gleaned from testing might be just another information source drowning in an ever increasing pool of information, fed by a deepening well of data.

Moreoverover, it showed the real value of getting out into the development community, questions that make you question that which you have accepted for a long, long time.




  1. very nice and informative article! It has helped me to improved my understanding about the topic. Thank you for sharing it!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Testers Guide to Myths of Unit Testing

One area that testers might be able to enhance their contributions to software development teams is how we perceive and contribute to unit testing. I believe testers busting their own illusions about this aspect of building something good would bring us much closer to developers, and help us realise what other layers of testing can cover most effectively.

Also, I want to do a talk about it, so I figured I would test the premise, see if potential audiences were into it. I put this on Twitter:
Working on a talk about what testers might believe about unit #testing & how we interact with developers creating unit tests. Any challenges/additions for my list below? — Ash Winter (@northern_tester) December 19, 201730 replies with ideas tends to indicate that people might be into it. 
The ListI thought, as my final blog of 2017, I would provide a super useful list of the myths and legends we as testers might believe about unit testing:
That developer…

Why do Testers become Scrum Masters?

It was late and I was stuck on a train, so I pondered on the question of why do testers often (in my experience) become Scrum Masters. Its a very dear question to me, as its been a big part of my career journey In fact, I've been there and back again. Tester to supposed-to-be-testing-but-being-a-Scrum-Master to Scrum Master, back to Tester and very happy thank you.

I encapsulated my reasoning in the following:
Long train delay, decided to think about a thing. :) Why do testers (in my world anyway) often become Scrum Masters? — Ash Winter (@northern_tester) February 13, 2018The tweet got a lot of traction, and generated a couple of interesting threads which made me think.
Great list. Personally I think that as a scrum master I can add even more towards the goal of quality. — Christian Kram (@chr_kram) February 13, 2018 Perhaps part of the reason for the transition is a growing appreciation of where quality has its roots? If testing i…

Wheel of Testing Part 3 - Applications

I've only had to quit two jobs to finally find the time to finish this blog series. Winning at life. If you need reminders (like I did) check out Part 1 and Part 2 before reading on...

After the first two blogs regarding the Wheel of Testing, I was delighted to receive a few requests for the wheel itself, which got me thinking about applications of it, beyond what its original intent was, which I've explored in detail in part 1 of this series of intermittent blogs. Most models need a little air time to show their value, in software development we crank out models all the time, but I'm not sure how many get used. I am inspired by models such as the "Heuristic Test Strategy Model" by James Marcus Bach, as I have used it and seen the benefits it has brought for my clients, particularly the ability to ask questions. So, I wanted to create a model which has a number of use cases, both real and imagined:

Helping to unlocking a career in testing which may be stuck

It is no…