Friday, 3 December 2010

The Human Element

I attended the Eurostar Testing Conference ( in Copenhagen, Denmark this year and met a large group of very interesting people. A few highlights for me were:

Meeting the Cartoon tester ( in person, a friendly unassuming guy with a quick sense of humour.

The other highlight was amount of ‘real life’ examples of exploratory testing and session based testing management. One of the best things I took away was from Carsten Feilberg’s talk on Session-Based Testing in Practice ( in which he reframed the wording of SBTM to Managing Testing Based upon Sessions. It was a why did we not think of that before!!!!

One of the keynotes was by Stewart Reid on “When Passion Obscures The Facts: The Case for Evidence-Based Testing” in which he looked at what testing could learn from Evidence Based Medicine ( . During the presentation I thought I could see many flaws in the argument he was trying to put together but could not quite work out what it was. One thing I have found out since and one point that Stewart did appear to miss was the work of the GRADE Working Group which is a newer system (and appearing to gain ground). The principles here are based upon Extrapolations (

To quote from Wikipedia:

Extrapolations" are where data is used in a situation which has potentially clinically important differences than the original study situation. Thus, the quality of evidence to support a clinical decision is a combination of the quality of research data and the clinical 'directness' of the data.

Interestingly the data gather for extrapolation are more based upon human experience rather than just a set of numbers. Is it just me or is this like running a set of known tests then exploring afterwards? See my previous post on Hybrid testing (

So why have I called the title of this blog post “The Human Element”?
I was having a conversation with my wife(Tracy) after the conference since she is a retired theatre nurse and understand the medical arena very well and she came up with a wonderful phrase. It is all well and good having all these numbers and statistics but you cannot ignore the human element. She gave an example of this in which a nurse working in Intensive Care has a lot of machinery (with installed software) at her disposal however none of this equipment can tell her if the patient is feeling happy or sad or is uncomfortable.

Tracy said the problem is no machines have a soul they do not care how the patient is feeling, the machine could be saying everything is ok but the nurse and their compassion knows and understands how the patient is. I asked my wife to have a talk with Stewart and some other testers including Lynn Mckee (

This provided a wonderful insight to me in that we as testers forget that there are lots of people who we should be using as oracles for when we test a system we should not be forgetting about the human element.

During her conversation Stewart started to mention the use of statistics as evidence and for making healthcare decisions (Cochrane Library - and Tracy said that to get to the point of making a decision still requires the GP to ask questions and to explore all possibilities. At the end of the day it is just statistics said Tracy and it does not help in a situation in which a perfectly healthy 20 year old is prescribed a drug for a problem and then dies due to an undetected heart problem. No amount of journals, evidence can account for this, since it is on a personal level between the patient and the medical expert.

The final conversation I remember Tracy having was with Lynn and a few other and it is very useful for testers when they come up against the problem of ‘It should do this.’
Tracy talked about Dr Spock and the book about the development of children ( and that at certain age’s children should be doing this and that. This book causes major worries in parents when their child does not meet the timescales within the book for talking, sitting up, walking etc. Tracy then made a point which caused a great amount of laughter. “People seem to forget that babies have not read the book – they will develop at their own pace”

I found this a wonderful piece of insight, we seem to forget that everyone is different and if we apply this to software and the development of software we start to realise that every piece of software is different and that we need to explore the software and play with it to get the full potential out of the software.

To conclude this post I would like to say a big thank you to my wife Tracy for her encouragement and support in what I do and for giving us testers a lesson in remembering about the human element in what we do.


  1. nice one....


  2. Steve,

    Great post! I loved meeting your wife Tracy and I think she said it best with "You can never remove the Human Element." She shared her analogy of a Dr. solely using a computer's statistical analysis to provide a diagnosis meanwhile the patient is clearly exhibiting different symptoms. She emphasized the irrefutable value of the Dr. using their eyes, ears, touch, etc to assess the patient and then in combination using the computer's data as an extension of the human analysis. Her words were in perfect alignment with Michael Bolton's references to testers being "extrasensory" organs for their stakeholders. (

    We went on to discuss many more aspects of the Software Industry and in particular automation. She was a breath of fresh air with her matter of fact, no nonsense perspective recognizing the tremendous power of the sapient mind. She emphatically stated more than once that "Humans will never be replaced by computers".

    Food for thought. Rob Sabourin once presented at CAST 2009 with his wife who funny enough is also a nurse. I think the software industry would benefit from a dose of Tracy's perspective on the need for sapience.

    I look forward to reading more of your blog and seeing you again in 2011!


  3. Great to read, John,

    I agree with Lynn that Tracy did bring a lot to our discussions. It should be obvious to all that we can never rule out/leave out the human element. It is also obvious that we need to be reminded about this every so often.

    It was great meeting up with you in Copenhagen and I hope our paths will cross again. I picked up some ideas from you that I will put to use in my own way.