Wake up testers! It’s time to change your attitude

Testers the world over feel overworked and undervalued. Overtime is a constant necessity because of the pressure to get products out the door. QA departments are often excluded from the development process, and then end up being blamed for defects that make it into production. Late builds and patchy documentation are commonplace. Concerns are ignored, and this leads to arguments with the development and management teams. If you’re thinking “Why, why, why? It’s so unfair.” Then you need to change your attitude. It’s time for a wakeup call.

How everyone else sees you

Managers and developers don’t really understand what you do. They perceive testers as slow and combative. Defect reports are perplexing; they can’t find the bottom line. They think anyone can do your job, and given half a chance they’ll automate you out of it.

What’s the problem?

A lot of testers see themselves as the quality police. They are aiming for the holy grail of a zero defect product and they’ll fight to achieve that aim. The software always has bugs in it, so the testers are never happy to let it go. The problem is: it’s not your job to decide when a product should ship. This is a business decision. It’s a risk versus reward evaluation. It will often be prudent to ship earlier to market with defects, than to delay another few months to fix some of them. Problem is, by casting yourself as the gatekeeper of the product you are making yourself an obstacle.

Think differently

Testing is all about communicating information, not data. How that information is used is not your concern. What you need to do is focus on how to provide the information that your colleagues are really looking for. There are ways you can change your attitude today and start to build better relationships that will lead to you being more genuinely valued by your company. Think of yourself as a service provider and try to understand what your customers want. A report filled with metrics on defects and test completion does not tell the management team upstairs anything useful, its mindless data – not information. Try to help them understand how close to ready for shipping the product actually is, bearing in mind that no product is ever defect-free. They want to be armed, so that they can make an informed decision. Stop trying to execute responsibilities you don’t have the authority for. Don’t overreach or you’ll feel frustrated. Your job is to identify defects and report on them; to test software and see if it is fit for purpose. You are not responsible for fixing defects, designing new features, or deciding when the product is ready to ship. Don’t get hung up on the idea that everything must be fixed.

Be an information broker

Cast yourself as an information broker, not the quality police. Clear communication is at the heart of successful collaboration. Take the time to listen and gain an insight into your colleague’s roles. Be concise and tailor your information for your audience. You’ll find that your relationships improve and your influence grows.

Joseph Ours is Director of Quality Assurance and Testing Service for Columbus, Ohio-based Cohesion, a full service Technology consulting firm that partners with clients to optimize their technology investments.

5 comments on Wake up testers! It’s time to change your attitude

  1. Mahesh Mistry says:

    Sorry – but the role is all about Risk and Risk Mitigation…

    If you are unable to quantify what it is you do for the client business, you do not have a role that the client business will appreciate.

    As the ‘Test Manager’ and leader of a team of testers, it is my responsibility to mitigate the Risk of a software deployment causing Business, Financial or Reputational impact to the client organisation through failure (software or otherwise).

    To do this, I need to identify in the Test Strategy what the Risks are and How I will mitigate this Risk. Verification and Validation via testing is one approach. Once the strategy has been explained and signed off, that is all I need to do to fulfil my role.

    If I am denied the capability of mitigating these Risks, I move to transfer Risk Ownership away from myself to the parties who are challenging any approach I define. Generally, if they understand what it is I do, these same people back down and I get my way. I have had instances where I have been refused an approach, in writing, and following a failure post mortem, these same people have had to regret these decisions. Sometimes, you need to let things fail before the message is understood.

    It is a sad fact that when we are doing our jobs badly, for whatever reason, a large amount of time is spent finger pointing at the team, however, if we do our jobs well, we are asked what it is we are doing to add value … Simple, we mitigate Risk.

    It’s a great four-letter work to have in your vocabulary, you should use it more often…

  2. Joseph, I like what you say and I believe that changing the attitude and providing important information to stakeholders can be a key to reduce the stress and frustrations for testers. I would go even one step further and say that all the stress and frustration goes away completely when testing is treated as a continuous activity and not a phase of software development. If you do agile software development with a cross functional team, testing is an activity and can be performed by any member of the team. For me this has been the key to forget about being the quality police and focus on delivering value.

  3. @Joseph, I see your point. Problem occurs due to lack of communication between tester and test leader/managers. If right information is provided to write person off course voice of a tester is heard.

  4. Patrick Pope says:

    @Mahesh, you make a good point, but this article is NOT targeted at you, it is targeted at the guys who work for you – to handle risk and risk mitigation you will need a clear understanding of the defects – then you and your managers are in a position to make a risk judgement well

  5. @Mahesh,
    There isn’t anything within a tester’s power that can mitigate risk. The actions mentioned, e.g. Verification and Validation via testing, do not mitigate risk. To mitigate risk means to reduce the likelihood of occurrence or to reduce the impact of a realized risk. Equivocating testing and risk mitigation is a common misperception in the industry. Testing activities, at best, identify and quantify risk. When testers assume the erroneous role of “risk mitigator”, they set themselves up as a gate keeper. The gate keeper mentality contributes too many of the challenges testers face. Releasing software is always a business decision. Software is their investment, their tool, their means to achieve a goal. When software fails to achieve its full potential (e.g. defects), the decision to release still lies with the business. It is their risk versus benefit discussion, not a tester’s. They own generating profit, controlling costs, managing business risk, etc… To assume that role belongs with a tester is a mentality I see often. What is interesting is that a tester will complain about releasing software, but otherwise have no concerns over product lines or marketing strategies to acquire new customers, generate profit, or manage costs. That is why I suggest we need to change our mindset. I do not see the role of a tester as an authoritarian enforcement figure, but rather that of an information broker. A tester’s activities allow them to provide information to their stakeholders, whether they are business folks, project team members, operations folks, etc… The information provided, identification and quantification, should allow the rightful owners of decisions to make informed decisions. The better information testers provide will increase a tester’s value and worth to their customers. Understanding and executing the role of an information broker will improve a tester’s individual value to the profession and within their organization. It is up to everyone, individually, to decide how best to provide value to their organization. My observation is that as an industry, and individuals, we have lots of room for improvement.

    And, risk is a great four-letter word to have in anyone’s vocabulary, a word I understand quite well.

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