Seeing failure or looking for success

Unless we believe that testing is to find defects

You see what you are looking for. This old maxim applies equally well to testing. You can design tests which show that a system behaves as expected for specific inputs, if that is what you want to see. If you don't want to look actively for defects you will not design tests for this purpose. You leave out tests that would find problems; problems that could be infuriating after a product or service goes live.

Which many testers do not believe

Why do we test? At Acutest, we have put this question to testers, and other project professionals, in hundreds of workshops and the answers where mapped to more than 25 different categories, including the jokey response: “because we are paid to”.

When we collected all the suggested answers from the workshop and asked the participants to vote for the single best reason why testing takes place, a typical group of ten people voted for five different reasons, showing a consistent lack of consensus amongst teams about why they test. Three other things stood out from this exercise:

  • The most popular answer was the category: “Ensure that the software or product meets specified requirements”
  • Other popular categories were “Improving quality” and “Building confidence/ reputation”
  • Only about 10 per cent chose “to find bugs” (or find defects)


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Why do we test?

Our customers will find defects before we do

Our experience shows that finding defects matters most. If your testing approach does not have the primary objective of finding bugs, then your testing is going to miss important defects. It will cost more. The result might be a lot of time-consuming happy-path testing, after which your customers and stakeholders see problems in production.

And given that only one person in ten thinks finding defects is the primary reason for testing, many smaller test teams will have no one who thinks it is top priority. These projects are even more prone to overrun; to exceed budget and to be a pain for your support team. Bugs that need fixing will continually creep out of the woodwork.

In any change initiative there will be many people looking only for measures of success. This needs to be complemented by looking for the causes of failure in the change and removing them. And testers are ideally placed to provide this service and actively seek out failure at the earliest opportunity. Not because they relish failure, but because they want the change to succeed.

When testers share the goal of finding defects, you can do more work with fewer people. They will design and execute tests aimed at finding problems. You will see reliable releases, fewer problems in production and reduced rework.

If you want to know more about our testing improvement services, the information we collected in running helping organisations improve QA and testing, or the lessons we've learnt at Acutest from these initiatives, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

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