Five ways to make testing more positive
Occasionally over the years I have got distracted from my love of testing, by the fact testing can be seen in a negative light. It can be seen as a bottleneck in the development process, which can delay releases and end up with the tester arguing about everything. I have even focused on the negative side myself. Testing is still not always accepted as of parallel importance to development, and there is still code being thrown over walls at times. I feel it is part of the role of the test engineer to help organisations believe in testing and see how it can benefit a company. To do this the company needs to experience the power of testing and see it as positive and constructive. This will highlight testing can be used to build quality and as an integral building block in shaping products. This article offers ways that the test engineer can help to portray the role in a positive light.
Here are some ways to try and improve the perception of testing and your role as a test engineer:
1. Try to be involved from the start
Our job as testers is not to find bugs, it is to build in quality from the start and hope there are then fewer bugs to find. Try to be involved from the start. As soon as a story is defined by the product or a feature is suggested then help to validate that an idea has merit rather than highlighting all the reasons it might not work. That is not to say don’t identify areas that need investigation but be constructive.
An example would be, “We are going to build a bridge out of marshmallows”. The temptation here might be to laugh especially if you are an engineering company, however as testers we should be trying to establish the purpose of the bridge itself. Is it for decorating a cake or for a 10 tonne truck to drive across?
2. Work with developers
Work with developers to identify areas to test when you are breaking down how something will be implemented. Collaborate on ways to approach the testing to as it may be easier to test things at a unit or integration level. Working with the developers you can identify how to test something and any additional access points you might need to do those tests e.g. an internal command line argument, a way to configure a base state in an application etc. Working with others helps them to identify areas that they need to test or at least consider whilst developing. When you are breaking down a story into tasks, try to get people to elaborate around the task, for example, what areas in the product will it touch upon. Try and get them to explain their vision to you as this often highlights assumptions, and can reduce ambiguity and help establish a concrete concensus amongst the team. At Red Gate, once we have accepted a story, our developers and testers do a joint code planning session where we talk through the low level implementation and produce architecture or state diagrams to visualise the implementation and highlight both the test and code tasks that are needed.
3. Focus on quality
Help to create team focus on quality and user experience by running focused team exploratory testing sessions, where the whole team is put into pairs and then tries to use the product to achieve a particular goal. For example on the Deployment Manager team, we ran a session where our goal was to ‘Explore the creation and deployment of database packages in Deployment Manager. During the sessions the pairs are asked to note down (on post-its) any issues, surprises (good and bad), any questions and lastly any ideas. We normally allow 30 minutes for the activity and at the end of this time we report on our findings. This feedback is later grouped into areas and actions to be taken are identified. This is similar to a bug hunt but with more focus. It’s a great way to share the product knowledge across the team and helps to get the team working more closely together.
4. Find the root cause
If you do find an issue, investigate it to find the root cause of the issue. It’s often a one-to-many relationship from cause to symptoms, so a issue repository full of root causes is going to be much smaller than one full of symptoms. Then explain the issue to others giving all the information they need to understand the issue and to be able to reproduce it easily. Also identify any possible ramifications of the issue as they might not be aware of them. Don’t forget to show the information visually for the full effect if applicable.
5. Keep all communication constructive and positive
Try to keep all communication constructive and positive. Try to convey information to others by selling them your idea and try to avoid destructive trigger words e.g. show stopper, epic failure. Trigger words can sometimes make people tense or react without listening to the actual content of the conversation. Let’s say you have realised your product only uses colour to differentiate between successful and failed tasks. We need to avoid saying “Our product is useless for people with Red-Green colour blindness”, instead say something along the lines of “Our product only identifies success and failure by the use of colour, for someone with colour blindness there is no way to determine which is which. Would we be able to identify it in another way to, for example using symbols like a tick and a cross?”. The second version is longer but it identifies the current situation, why it is a problem and offers a possible solution. I often forget that people do not always have the same context as me, but try to set the scene to others as you see it then identify why something is of particular concern to you. This will help them be able to see it from your perspective.