Talking About Testing

Have you ever said “I’ll just have a play with the software….”?

As testers we are generally really bad at explaining what we do and the value it brings. In fact we are usually pretty rubbish.

This makes stakeholders take us less seriously, and can affect career prospects, position within the team, or even a job itself. Outsourcing what is perceived to be low skilled work is tempting, especially when times get tough.

We then complain that we are not being taken seriously, and we feel ignored, undervalued and sad.

And so we retreat into our bubbles and the whole thing repeats itself.

So How Can We Change This?

We can get better at explaining what we do and the value we bring as testers.

Keith Klain sums it up nicely here

What is Testing?

“Testing is the infinite process of comparing the invisible to the ambiguous so as to avoid the unthinkable happening to the anonymous”

James Bach

A great definition but not one that lands well with non-testers in my experience. It’s like when myself and Dan Ashby tried to get a company to stop saying ‘manual testing’ and instead say ‘sapient testing’. It made perfect sense but it just didn’t land. People didn’t see it as important. They didn’t see a need to change because we were trying to take a leap that was too large, from what they thought was correct language to what we thought was correct language.

When I’m explaining testing I prefer to start by asking “Do you care about quality?” The usual answer is “of course”, in which case I can then use the Weinberg/ Bach/ Bolton definition:

“Quality is value, to some person who matters”

“So what’s testing then?” they will ask.

Well.  “Testing helps us uncover risks to product quality. It’s about investigating software, in order to discover those risks, enabling others to make decisions about whether it’s suitable for release”.

We Need to Talk More Technically

But that is hard. Just see how complicated it is to explain the Heuristic Test Strategy Model in two minutes for example.

(OK – I know the whole point with this video is that it is impossible, which proves a point I think :))

What Value Do We Bring?

When explaining value, it’s all about the words we use, and the angle we take. It’s about the audience – don’t explain testing to a developer in the same way as you would to the CTO.

Again, Keith Klain nails it with this talk.

So, think very carefully about how you explain your testing. Perhaps, just perhaps, ‘playing with the software’ isn’t what you mean.

So – how do you talk about testing?

5 thoughts on “Talking About Testing”

  1. I tried – as James Bach put it once – explain what I do in “technical and specific language”, but just like with you, it didn’t stick. The programmers also don’t talk about the libraries and whatnot. No one really cared if I call a thing “branching and backtracking”.

    Although it might make sense to try to quickly jump to the point of it. Instead of “playing around” or the technical language (which might be even unknown to other testers at the org) we could say “identified variables and combined them in various and interesting ways”. What do you think?

    (James’ CAST 2014 keynote is really great on what we do, I think)

    1. Thanks for commenting Erik,

      I’ve found that talking somewhere between highly technical (i.e. sapient testing, etc) and ‘playing around’ works best. Context is important and considering the audience is key. It’s a difficult balance to strike.

      Agreed about James’ keynote – it’s awesome.

  2. So if we really do not care about metrics that much, why do so many managers at the junior to mid-level still sprout on about them quite so much? I am an ex developer, and am heavily involved in automation execution, so I’m right now feeling trapped career-wize between churning the metrics-sentric continuous integration wheel (which delivers a lot of value by left-shifting or early-discovery) and actually getting reliable verdicts and switching to coverage of new features that are not yet stable. I feel that spending more time aligning to the business goals and listening to the CFO will make me more valuable in the job market?

    1. Hi,

      Thanks for commenting. I think it’s usually because they give an illusion of control. But ultimately a company is usually there to make money, and so understanding the business better can only help.

      It’s contextual though. The message to give to a junior/ mid-level manager is very different from the CFO.

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