Blog: Adam Smith on Scripted Testing

While reading Tim Harford’s excellent book on economics, The Logic of Life, I found this quote from Adam Smith:

“The man whose whole life is spent on performing a few simple operations … has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He … generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become.”

This is why it’s important, I think, to drop the idea that it’s a good idea to guide (or just as bad, to train) a tester with a thick book of specific steps to follow. We don’t teach people to drive that way. People don’t learn much when they’re disengaged with the decisions about their processes and their learning.

Instead, guide testers with coaching, mentoring, collaboration, and concise documentation of coverage, oracles, risks, and test ideas. Give testers authentic problems to solve. Encourage them to explore, to invent, to adapt, and to act on their learning. Be flexible as they learn to report on their discoveries, and encourage multiple modes of communication. Evaluate them by direct observation, personal supervision, and rapid feedback. Challenge them to explain, defend, and justify their decisions. When you believe those decisions are something less than optimal, suggest better alternatives rather than dwelling on failures. Reward testers with trust and responsibility for increasingly challenging work. It’s a virtuous cycle.

If you need something to perform simple operations that don’t foster understanding or invention, by all means had those operations over to a machine—but only if you’re sure that they’re worth doing at all.

Want to know more? Learn about upcoming Rapid Software Testing classes here.

2 responses to “Adam Smith on Scripted Testing”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I totally agree with Adam’s views on scripted testing. I think the trend to break away from test scripts where it makes sense and embrace exploratory testing is becoming a more common practice in software testing. This is a trend I’m happy to see take hold.

  2. Michael says:

    Hi, Anonymous…

    Thanks for the comment.

    Note that these aren’t Adam Smith’s views on scripted testing per se. For those seeking his blog on testing, I should point out that the Adam Smith in question was an economist from the 18th century (I’ve put in a link).

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