YAGNI

Context

At the time of this blog post my family and me are on holiday in Iceland. Since we are not that often in Iceland we, amongst visiting relatives and friends, use the time to look into administrative and regulatory stuff that is easier to do in Iceland than from abroad.

Syslumen

One of the things necessary is to renew my wifes passport. For which you actually need to physically go to the Civil Registry, or in icelandic ´Syslumen´. The process of renewal is (boringly) straightforward. At the office you get a number, wait, identify yourself and pay for your renewal, get a form, wait, identify yourself again, hand over the form and update your data (including new digital photo and fingerprint), sign and wait for a couple of weeks to pick up your passport at the Civil Registry.

Except

Since we´re only on holiday in Iceland a couple of weeks of waiting is not a real option. So to amend this my wife investigated and proposed the solution to sent the new passport to the consulate in our country. An option, once validated by the team lead, that was acceptable to the civil clerk. And thus the proper check box was looked for and found.

Into the process

After filling in the personal details instead of the offices address the address of the consulate was needed. The page itself did not offer any listing. The help page wasn´t really helpful either as it only pointed towards a government listing at another department. After some searching the consulate in Amsterdam and its address was found and the data could be entered. So everything was entered and the OK could be clicked. Nothing happened. Looking over the page the clerk found:

Færðu inn lögboðnar reit (Please enter mandatory data) next to a field asking for Póstnúmer (Zip code) that had been left empty as it had also been empty on the government listing. So what to do? My wife and the clerks colleague suggested to google it. And so she did. The zip code was entered and again the OK was clicked. The intranet page jumped back to the entry page and everything looked okay. But the clerk rightfully noted that the usual confirmation message was not shown and checked my wifes file. To her, and my wifes surprise no data was added, meaning the whole 20 minute worth of data was absent.

The process repeated itself a few times and eventually another colleague noted that the zip code contained letters. Something not used in Iceland itself. Why not leave those out of the field and move them somewhere else, say in front of Amsterdam. Now when clicking OK the confirmation appeared and a check showed that the file now contained all the data.

YAGNI

Even with only a couple of thousand Icelanders living abroad chances that they live in one of the eight countries (e.g. Canada, Great-Britain) using alpha numeric characters is realistic especially since many more countries use the country abbreviation in front of their zip code. So when my wife returned to tell about her plight she commented: Clearly neither the developer nor tester thought this field was important. But it really bugged me today. Further more she noted The same software company maintained the government listing and had all the zip codes removed, leaving empty spaces in the listing. That´s even more stupid.

Clearly someone must have convinced the developers and testers “You Ain´t Gonna Need It” (YAGNI).

Seven Questions – Why do I test?

Reasons for testing

The question why something is tested has kind of a schizophrenic nature to it. Its answer is either so obvious that the question itself is ignored or it is so cumbersome that testers rather avoid to answer it. The latter is mostly the case if testers have to defend why testing is done in the first place. I cannot provide you with ready made answers for this, because the answer depends too much on the circumstances and context of your situation. What I can tell you is that it is worth while for you to figure out why your specific subject under test needs testing. If you can answer this for your specific situation, then the contextually acceptable general answer should be able to be derived from it.

What to take into consideration?

One of the more common ideas on why software testing is conducted is that it’s done to find bugs. The idea is that the fact that you do or do not find more then a certain amount of bugs in time is a measurement for release readiness. Obviously such a amount of bugs doesn’t say anything about how serious the remaining bugs are nor does it say anything about the bugs you did not find. Already more than 40 years ago Edsger W. Dijkstra (1969 p.16 and 1970) discovered that software testing can show the presence of bugs, but never their absence .

Another reason to do software testing is that there is some internal or external reason to do it. A standard, law or regulation exists that either states that you have to test or whose interpretation makes management believe that you should do tests, often in a certain predefined way, to meet the rules. This is not a bad thing as an external reason for testing.

A better, more internal, reason for testing is that the software is tested to provide information. Better still Information that is meaningful with regard to the product itself, its intended use, its real use, its potential (miss)use and related to the value this has to which stakeholders.

Your Challenge

It is your challenge as a tester to find out what the information is that the stakeholders value. Then extend this with the information they should value, even if for reasons thus far unknown to them. And finally to find a way how to provide that information so that its relevance and value is delivered to them in a meaningful way.

With some well-directed extra effort the value of testing can grow. Both to the tester and to the stakeholders.

Finding the right reason

Way back in 1998, with the introduction of the Euro to the financial markets I came in contact with software testing for the first time. As a business acceptance tester I was responsible of judging whether the new programs actually had the desired functionality and if we could work with them. Especially that latter part had the focus of my attention. Being one of the users myself and being involved in the requirements design of the product I found it easy to understand why this had to be tested and what value to look for.

More often than not software testers are not so familiar with the everyday practical needs and demands of the product they are working on. In this case I have two approaches that I prefer to use and that have served me well in the past. The first is to approach testing heuristically, with for instance the Heuristic Test Strategy Model,  and explore the product with helpful mnemonics like FEW HICCUPPS . The second approach is to converse and to keep on conversing with the stakeholders and ask them all they need to know.

Who else would know better what matters to them than the people who matter (to the product and/or the project) themselves.

Why do I test, summarized.

Seven Questions

This is the opening blog of a small series of posts in which I elaborate on a test approach heuristic using 7 questions that I have developed over the years.

Thinking about testing

As a tester I have seen many approaches to software testing pass me by. A few of them, like TMap (Next) and ISTQB were picked up by the Rabobank and I have had the mixed pleasure of working with them. But regardless of how different the approaches voice out to be from each other they all seem to have a number of things in common:

  • They are mostly oriented on management (of testing)
  • They focus on processes and deliverables
  • They do not teach you how to actually test something in practice
  • They hardly make any connection to software development in general
  • They are supposedly mastered after certification

I admit that both TMap and ISTQB (initially) helped to give testing a positive foothold in many organisations and have underlined that testing should get its place in software development. Even so the five elements I have described above should also show that there are fundamental flaws in how these approaches apply testing. Following them does not guarantee you to get fully involved into software development nor does it teach you how to test in practice. Usually as a compensation for these flaws testers go to boot camp like courses to teach them more practical testing skills, like determining test coverage and applying test design techniques. Even so for many testers the start-up of their professional life is focused on getting the certification and maybe some introduction to actual testing. And then….well…..for of them most it ends here and they go out to work and follow the processes and deliver a bunch of documents. If your new to software testing this will probably keep you busy for a while, but eventually you (should) start to ask yourself questions like: Is there no better way to test this? Do I really have to write these elaborate test plans / test scripts / test cases that nobody seems to really care about? Why don’t the developers agree with me on my defects? Why is my work not valued?

I have asked myself these and similar questions and over the years I have come up with a set of alternative questions whose answers guide me through a development / test cycle. These questions demand creativity, knowledge and skilled experience to answer them. And any answer you can come up with this time will differ the next time you ask yourself that same question again.

The seven questions I use are:

I have done a talk on these seven questions at EuroSTAR 2012 and will do the at Belgium Testing Days 2013. Contact me there if you want to meet and talk, or sent me a tweet @arborosa .

Here are some twitter reactions that I got from talking at EuroSTAR 2012