Friday, 11 May 2012

The Importance of Worth

I am going to start this article with a reflection of when we were children.

I want you to imagine that day in school when you was a very young child and you produced your first ever painting.  You took all day to produce it, making careful use of colour and getting exactly how you wanted it to look.  At the end of the day you took your painting home to show your parents.  You were so excited and full of joy and expectations of what your parents would say about all the hard work you had done.  You ran into the living room with your painting in your hand and shouted out “Look Look, what I have done today”.  Your parents come over and take great interest in what you have produced, commenting about how clever you are and how wonderful you are.  They say how proud they are of you and they place your artwork on the fridge in the kitchen where everyone can see it.

Now if you have recalled this scene in your mind and many of you will do so.  How are you feeling?  Did the thought make you happy?  Did you feel pride in what you did?  Are you smiling at this thought?

So now let us zoom toward to present date…

You spend days/weeks/months (Cross out which is applicable) creating test scripts based upon assumptions, writing them up in whatever test case management system you have been told to use.  You put all your effort and thinking into being creative creating these step by step instructions for ‘testing’ the system.

After you have done this you then get ready to start testing using the work you have spent so long creating.  Once you start testing you realise that most of what you have already done upfront, all that effort is not going to be used.   So all these test scripts which you sweated over creating and completing in step by step precise detail, get ignored, never see the light of day, the labour of your work, forgotten and not commented on.

How often when we are told we must follow a scripted testing approach does this happen?  If we are honest it does happen a lot, I know to me in the past over half the scripts I created never got reviewed or used.  Half of the work I did was just forgotten about and left to gather dust in the test case repository.  I should make it clear that I am not against test scripting and that with the correct context they have value but indiscriminatingly forcing people to do something without experiencing it is in my opinion is such a stupid and pointless exercise.

Let us step back to our story from earlier.

Now imagine as a child you rush home to your parents with your painting in hand and once at home your parents take your painting and without saying a word lock it in a drawer and carry on with what they were doing.  How would you feel now?  Place yourself into the mind of your child self and imagine how would you feel?  Upset?  Sad?  Hurt?  Worthless?

So why when we do something as creative as testing do we do this?  We create so much in the way of test scripts but never get the chance to be proud of what we have done, what we have achieved.  We lock it away never to be used again, never to be talked about.  Is it any wonder that so many testers feel sad, unhappy and worthless in what we are being asked to do.  It is a key aspect of human nature that we want to show people what we have done, what we feel proud about, we need feedback to know that the tasks we are performing are worthwhile.  We need confirmation that we are valuable, needed and wanted.  If we continue to carry on with this path of insisting on doing pointless and useless tasks in which we then ignore or and just throw it away then we deserve to feel the way we do.

There are alternatives, using the exploratory testing approach can help prevent this waste; based upon only doing what is necessary at that time, using context.  Session based testing can make sure feedback on what you are doing becomes a key element of the testing approach.

Let us start to feel that we are important to software development and that testers are a worthy addition to this.

Some useful reading:

Session Based Test Management

What is Exploratory Testing 

Exploratory Testing Resources

Principles of Context Driven


  1. Very good point (setting aside the fact I was rubbish at art and never had anything I wanted to show my parents). The focus on unnecessary documentation, rather than the underlying reality, is distracting, demoralising and ultimately dehumanising.
    Last year I went on a rant about this at a conference when I was speaking to Fiona Charles. She developed the idea into a great talk at STPCon in the US in the autumn.

    James Christie

  2. Hi, John!

    I did first two years of my testing career only test case based testing. I wrote tests and then used the scripts to test, when I got the product. I had no idea what the product was about as I just read the requirements and wrote cases based on that. It never occurred me that I need to know the system I was testing, I was there to verify that the requirements are in line with the product. It never was and most of my tests were failed. The test case was then discarded as the implementation required a new case.

    This went on for too long. I felt incompetent as a test designer, but the problem was that there were a group of people that were struggling with the same issue: the requirements analysts, the business people, the system designers, the programmers, the architects. The documentation was so vague that we had no chance to succeed. When I "had had enough" I started doing real testing and just presented a generic test case list to the managers. I then tested the product using exploratory methods and reported what really went on in the product, and what it was supposed to do.

    Almost two years wasted in doing something that had no value to the product. But I needed to do that so that I was able to find a more valuable way to test. Now I know that and I will continue doing it.

    There is no testing without exploring!

    BR, Peksi