Friday, 25 June 2010

Testers are the bearers of Bad News

I read an interesting blog by James Christine yesterday (24-06-2010) ( in which organizations which promote a positive/good news culture could be doing themselves harm by trying to encourage people not to report any bad news and how dangerous this is. I loved the alternative take on this and it got me thinking about a blog post I intended to do about how testers are perceived as the bearers of bad news and how we could change this perception. The article by James has spurred me to put the blog together.

I have an amateur interest in psychology and human behaviour and as such I am fascinated by reading articles in which as a person we can learn to adjust our outward persona to help benefit ourselves and those around us. For example Beth Lane wrote an interesting article on perception checking:

From such a small article I learnt a lot about myself and how others may perceive me. I use many methods to ensure I can communicate with others to the best of my ability. I apply this to my job as a software tester (note homage to Michael Bolton here not a QA -

I try to have a good working relationship with software engineers/developers/programmers (still struggling with what these highly talented people want to be known as) since most of the time I go and speak to them it is to say something is not working or it has crashed.

I had an eureka moment one day and took a step back to see why the relationship between the testing team and the software development teams were fragile and highly strained. I put myself in the shoes of the development team and how they perceived the testing team I asked the team how they felt about the testers and the responses I received all seemed to have a common ground.

‘I get a feeling of here we go again whenever a testers phones or comes to see me’

‘I dread it when a tester comes to see me’

‘They are always complaining that something does not work’

‘They only phone me when something goes wrong’

It got me wondering about how as testers we could improve this critical relationship and form a much better relationship. I thought that if everyday the same people are visiting/phoning me and giving me bad news I would soon develop a negative perception of those people.

So what can be done to change this?

I decided to try something a little different – someone once said from small acorns mighty oaks grow. I decided that instead of phoning or visiting the software development team when I had a problem I found the time to go and visit and ask how their weekend was or how the family is or what they thought of such and such in the news just a general chit-chat. One important thing I made sure I never did was to start to talk about general things and then say ‘Oh by the way … such and such does not work’ I cannot emphasize enough NOT to do this. My reasoning behind this was to build up a relationship and stop the feeling of dread when I turned up that something was wrong again.

The effect of this was amazing, the development team soon started to say hey have you seen this we are working on and start to talk with a passion about what they were working on. From a testing viewpoint this is valuable knowledge gathering. The attitude of the development team changed, when I did contact the team with a problem or something was wrong they would listen, emphasize and take a real interest in the problem rather than just dismiss it. The relationship between the teams improved tremendously.

So to conclude as a tester you do not need to always be the bearer of bad news to the development team. Take an interest in them as a person, take an interest in their lives and what they enjoy, take the time to learn about the people you work with. The benefits could be outstanding.

A word of caution on this – it has to be genuine – you really do need to be interested when you are talking to people about their personal lives. Otherwise you will come across as being cynical and shallow. If this happens then I am afraid you will cause an even bigger resentment and maybe even hatred of you.


  1. I like to think that we are the bearer of insight, rather than just the bearer of bad news:

    But some seem to think testers are there to provide positive reinforcement to developers:

  2. I think its more often that testers are seen this way when they personally go to a dev and point to a functionality instead of going through a bug reporting tool. In the second case the dev tent to take it as a task to do not as a bad news always.
    But depends now. When personally talking for an issue good relations can develop and again bad news impression is not there.


  3. Thank you for the comments again they are very much appreciated.

    I like the way you say Testers provide insight Joe

    Looking at the dictionary definition:

    1. The capacity to discern the true nature of a situation; penetration.
    2. The act or outcome of grasping the inward or hidden nature of things or of perceiving in an intuitive manner.

    You could be partially correct. I have been in many situations as a testers in which I have a feeling that something is not quite right but the insight is provided by the developer by having an understanding of the nature of the application they developed.

    So the title might be a little incorrect but from my experiences time and time again the ONLY situation in which testers contact development is when there is a problem which after discussions with developers can annoy them and 'bug' them. My article is about building up good relationships not just about massaging egos but about treating others in a way in which you like to be treated. Also I should point out it works the other way as well, when developers start to talk to you a personal level and show an interest it is quite remarkable the amount of extra effort you will go to help them out.