Way way back in 2003, Bret Pettichord first published a paper on schools of software testing. The paper was controversial. Some people found it helpful to identify different schools of thought, for the purpose of understanding ways in which reasonable people might disagree reasonably. Others found even the mention of disagreements within the field to be distasteful and divisive. Some people identified with particular schools. Others, sometimes indignantly, refused to be pigeonholed. Yet it’s clear that in any field of endeavour, including testing, there are always communities of thought and practice. Sometimes those communities are isolated; sometimes there are trading zones between them.
No matter how one might label the communities, two broad categories were apparent to me at this year’s EuroSTAR conference. One group seems to focus on testing in terms of confirmation, verification, validation, quality assurance; getting the right answers to prescribed questions; checking. This group’s approach includes a strong focus on artifacts—requirement documents, detailed test plans, and scripted test cases. This group (let’s call it the Traditionalists) also seems to focus on processes and tools, on negotiated contracts, and on following plans—items on the right side of the Agile Manifesto. I don’t claim membership in the Agile School. Although though I greatly admire the principles in the Manifesto, for me, the first thing to look at is the project’s context, and to proceed accordingly. The Traditionalistas, as I see it, emphasize the Agile Manifesto’s “things on the right”. Probably they do so with the desire to dispel variability, subjectivity, and unpredictability from testing. I try to be empathetic towards those who advocate the things on the right, since those aren’t unreasonable things to want; it’s just unreasonable, in my view, to believe they’re the more important things in the complex, messy, human, and constantly changing world of software development.
The other, significantly smaller—and, in general, younger—group that I observed at EuroSTAR sees testing as questioning, exploration, discovery, investigation, and learning—and quality assistance. Let’s call that group the Vanguard. The Vanguard realizes that getting the right answers is important, but asking the right questions is more important—and recognizing that today’s “right questions” today are probably different from yesterday’s “right questions” is more important still. In broad strokes, the Vanguard prefers
|experience reports||over||“best practice” talks|
|hands-on exercises||over||PowerPoint presentations|
|tools for investigation||over||tools for confirmation|
|sitting in a circle||over||classroom format|
|finding things out||over||hearing the answer|
And, as in the Agile Manifesto, they recognize value in the things on the right, but they value the things on the left more.
The Vanguardistas are eager to participate in testing exercises, and to exchange testing skills by example and by dialog. The Vanguard raises some difficulties for traditional trainers and presenters, because the Vanguard tends to want to ask questions and challenge authority—and as a trainer and presenter, I think that’s great. Many of the Vanguardistas participate in or organize Weekend Testing sessions. Almost all of them are on Twitter. They want to revive and reinvent testing as a sophisticated art that requires vigourous critical thinking. They’re indefatigably curious and engaged, and they’re becoming recognized as leaders in their community and in the testing craft.
One hallmark of the Vanguard at EuroSTAR was that they gravitated towards doing testing in the Test Lab, once again run by James Lyndsay (@workroomprds on Twitter) and Bart Knaack (@Btknaack on Twitter) after their impressive success at EuroSTAR last year. This year, 180 people visited the Test Lab. Though probably a minority, that’s a significant percentage of the overall attendees, and is all the more remarkable because, for space reasons, the Test Lab was quite a distance away from most of the presentations. This year there were more applications to test, more sharply focused vendor presentations, specific guidance for those who needed it, and lots of pairing and sharing. For me, one of the more memorable events was a relatively impromptu exploratory testing management roundtable, facilitated by James, with more than 20 people attending—remarkable because the event wasn’t noted specifically as a scheduled part of the conference programme; it was set up in the Test Lab, advertised by word of mouth, and fundamentally collaborative. The roundtable was one of those things that put the confer back in conference.
Of many high points of the roundtable conversation, the big one for me was the group’s recognition that testers don’t need to be domain experts from the outset of a testing assignment. Instead, testers can partner with domain experts in review and hands-on testing sessions, and in that collaboration get some excellent testing work done immediately. An exploratory testing cycle—test design, test execution, test result interpretation, learning, debriefing—drives rapid and highly effective learning about the domain. As Rob Sabourin (more on Rob later) articulated it: “Here’s a beautiful charter for a test session: Sit with a customer/user and ask ‘What gets in the way of you doing your work?'”
James and Bart were assisted this year by the Test Lab apprentices, Henrik Emilsson (@henrikemilsson on Twitter) and Martin Jansson (@martin_jansson on Twitter). At EuroSTAR 2011, management of the Test Lab will pass to Henrik and Martin. It’s in good hands. Henrik and Martin are members of a blogging cabal called thoughts from the test eye, which has been producing incisive, thoughtful reflections on testing since February 2008. An outstanding example is a blog post announcing their own list of software quality characteristics, in which they build on one of the pillars of James Bach‘s Heuristic Test Strategy Model. But that’s just one example. Read the back issues and put the new ones in your feed reader.
Another member of the test eye collaborative is Rikard Edgren. Rikard was one of the conference chairs of EuroSTAR this year. He seems to have found a way to violate some fundamental law of physics by being everywhere at the same time; whenever I turned around, he was there with an expression on his face that reflected his keen observational skill and his sly humour. I’ve been lucky to have many interesting chats with him, not only this year but in years previous.
More on EuroSTAR 2010 tomorrow.
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