Monday 22 July 2013

Celebrating good testing

A couple of weeks ago one of the testers in my team sent a mail around regarding a feature that he'd been looking at. The email related to the behaviour of that feature (a physical data purge for legal compliance) and the compression algorithms in the system. The content, presentation and plain existence of this mail struck me as demonstrating what software testing is, or should be, about. I thought this was worth celebrating and decided to share this great work.

I quickly realised that it was not apparent to me how to go about doing this. Unlike some other departments, I didn't have any standard channels to use to highlight and share excellent testing work. The problem got me thinking, and ultimately prompted this brief post: why do we find it so hard to celebrate good testing?

A shining example

As described in his email, the tester had examined a new feature of the software and the workings of it.
  • He'd established that the inconsistencies in support and state pre and post use of the feature posed a risk to the compression algorithms of the system - a great demonstration of insight and understanding the system.
  • He'd then drawn up a truth table of all possible compression options, both supported and prototype and tried each of these in turn - showing a methodical approach where it was required and also pragmatism in accepting that 'non-standard' options for internal use exist and ensuring these were factored in.
  • He had identified not only some functional issues but also some potential knock on considerations based on an understanding of how the reporting was being utilised by the business.
  • He'd not just raised a bug but had circulated a mail summarising the issue - using appropriate communication given the potential impact of his discoveries.
All in all a demonstration of some of the qualities that I think contribute to excellent testing.

Hiding our light

When our sales team records a success, they usually mail around the news to the whole company. This gives an opportunity for everyone to share in the success of the company, but also for the hard work of the individuals involved to be recognised. Whilst I'm certainly not averse to this sharing of success, I do think some areas of organisations and departments are better at it than others.
I think that testing teams and testers are particularly poor at celebrating their successes. I'm not suggesting that test teams start high fiving and ringing a bell in the office every time they find a bug, however I do wonder whether we undersell ourselves as compared to other roles and departments.

I believe that one of the main reasons for the lack of team self promotion in testing is that our successes can be interpreted as the failure of others. Shouting about all of the bugs we've found could be seen as highlighting the failure of BAs to cover everything in the specification, for example, or of the programmers to ensure appropriate robust logic. Do we therefore feel guilty about celebrating our successes?

This makes no sense. Testing is there for a reason. With a positive team attitude there is no reason why we can't celebrate great testing as much as coding new features or even making a sale. We can appreciate great goalkeeping such as Gordon Banks save against Pele in 1970 without feeling the need to criticise the defending players for forcing him to making the save. Like Pele, some bugs are very hard to stop, and require great skill to tackle. This skill should be recognised.

A Sign of Appreciation

In this case I decided not to mail the whole company. Instead I emailed the SVP in charge of Research and Development and informed him of the excellent testing that had been demonstrated, and he responded in total agreement. I was really pleased when the tester in question was singled out in last week's all company meeting and received a bottle of champagne to recognise his excellent individual contribution to the success of the company.

The event got me thinking about the issue of celebrating testing in a more general sense and ideas to address it. Whilst I don't expect to be able to initiate that level of response for every good piece of testing, there are other ways that I thought of to highlight good work. Other things that I considered were:
  • On a smaller scale day to day level, we can celebrate great testing through individual mentions in meetings such as team meetings or standups
  • We can highlight excellent testing in review activities, such as sprint end retrospectives. I certainly plan to raise the case above in our end of sprint retrospective meeting as an example of great work, the like of which should be encouraged.
  • Creating a periodical newsletter of testing improvements and achievements. This would take some discipline and skill to make it interesting to the rest of the company, however I think having confidence in the testing of the system is something that would be welcome in the wider business.

Open ended

I'm not great at celebrating my own successes, many testers I've met are similar. I find that conferences and meetups allow us to discuss our testing in a like minded appreciative community which makes it easier to celebrate good testing without the inhibitions of guilt. Within our own organisations, however, my experience is that testers find if much harder to publicise our achievements, and when we do the audience is not always enthusiastic. Even in an organisation with as positive an attitude to testing as mine suffers from classic misconceptions which can limit appreciation of our work (a senior exec used the term 'bottleneck' just recently in a conversation with me on testing improvements).

So this post comes to an end more as a question than anything else. How do we celebrate and publicise good testing, not just to those that want to hear such as you reading this post, but others with less of an interest within our own organisations ? I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Anonymous said...

Nice Post. I agree lot of times Testing Successes are not celebrated the way they should be!

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