Paul Gerrard

My experiences in the Test Engineering business; opinions, definitions and occasional polemics.

First published 01/06/2016

A recent study from the University of Oxford makes for interesting reading:

  • Over the next two decades, 47% of jobs in the US may be under threat.
  • 702 occupations are ranked in order of their probability of computerisation. Telemarketers are deemed most likely (99%), recreational therapists least likely at 0.28%. Computer programmers appear to be 48% likely to be replaced.

If programmers have a 50/50 chance of being replaced by robots, we should think seriously on how the same might happen to testers.

Machine Learning in testing is an intriguing prospect but not imminent. However, the next generation of testing tools will look a lot different from the ones we use today.

For the past thirty years or so we have placed emphasis on test automation and checking. In the New Model for Testing, I call this 'Applying'. We have paid much less attention to the other nine - yes, nine - test activities. As a consequence, we have simple robots to run tests, but nothing much to help us to create good tests for those robots to run. 

In this paper, I am attempting to identify the capabilities of the tools we need in the future.

The tools we use in testing today are limited by the approaches and processes we employ. Traditional testing is document-centric and aims to reuse plans as records of tester activity. That approach and many of our tools are stuck in the past. Bureaucratic test management tools have been one automation pillar (or millstone). The other pillar – test automation tools – derive from an obsession with the mechanical, purely technical execution activity and is bounded by an assertion that many vendors still promote – that testing is just bashing keys or touchscreens which tools can do just as well.

The pressure to modernise our approaches, to speed up testing and reduce the cost and dependency on less-skilled labour means we need some new ideas. I have suggested a refined approach using a Surveying metaphor. This metaphor enables us to think differently on how we use tools to support knowledge acquisition.

The Survey metaphor requires new collaborative tools that can capture information as it is gathered with little distraction or friction. But they can also prompt the user to ask questions, to document their thoughts, concerns, observations and ideas for tests. In this vision, automated tools get a new role – supportive of tester thinking, but not replacing it.

Your pair in the exploration and testing of systems might soon be a robot. Like a human partner, they will capture the knowledge you impart. Over time they will learn how to support and challenge you and help you to navigate through your exploration or Surveying activity. Eventually, your partner will suggest ideas that rival your own. But that is still some way off.

To download the full paper, go to the Tools Knowledge Base.

Tags: #testautomation #TestingTools #Robots #Bots

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 09/05/2013

Testing is Long Overdue for a Change

Rumours of the death of testing were greatly exaggerated, but even so, the changes we predict will be dramatic. My own company has been heralding the demise of the 'plain old functional tester' (POFT) for years and we’ve predicted both good and bad outcomes of the technological and economic change that is going on right now. Some time ago, I posted a blog, Testing is in a Mess where I suggested that there's complacency, self-delusion and over capacity in the testing business; there is too little agreement about what testing is, what it’s for or how it should be done.

But there are also some significant forces at play in the IT industry and I think the testing community, will be coming under extreme pressure. I summarise this change as ‘redistributed testing’: users, analysts, developers and testers will redistribute responsibility for testing by, wait for it, collaborating more effectively. Testers probably won’t drive this transition, and they may be caught out if they ignore the winds of change.

In this article, I’ll suggest what we need from the leaders in our industry, the market and our organisations. Of course, some responsibility will fall on your shoulders. Whether you are a manager or technical specialist, there will be an opportunity for you to lead the change.

New Architectures, new Approaches

Much of the software development activity in the next five years or so will be driven by the need for system users and service vendors to move to new business models based on new architectures. One reason SaaS is attractive is that the route to market is so simple that tiny boutique software shops can compete on the same playing field as the huge independent software vendors.

SaaS works as an enabler for very rapid deployment of new functionality and deployment onto a range of devices. A bright idea in marketing in the morning can be deployed as new functionality in the afternoon and an increasing number of companies are succeeding with ‘continuous delivery’. This is the promise of SaaS.

Most organisations will have to come to terms with the new architectures and a more streamlined approach to development. The push and pull of these forces will make you rethink how software available through the Internet is created, delivered and managed. The impacts on testing are significant. If you take an optimistic view, testing and the role of testers can perhaps, at last, mature to what they should be.

The Testing Business has Matured, but Bloated

Over the last twenty years or so there has been a dramatic growth in the number of people who test and call themselves testers and test managers. It’s not that more testing happens. I think it’s because the people who do it are now recruited into teams, having managers who plan, resource and control sizable budgets in software projects to perform project test stages. There is no question that people are much more willing to call themselves a tester. There are now a huge number of career testers across the globe; many have done nothing but testing in their professional lives. The problem is that there may now be too many of them.

In many ways, in promoting the testing discipline as some of us have done for more than twenty years, we have been too successful. There is now a sizable testing industry. We have certification schemes, but the schemes that were a step forwards fifteen years ago, haven’t advanced. As a consequence, there are many thousands of professional testers, certified only to a foundation level who have not developed their skills much beyond test script writing, execution and incident logging. Much of what these people do are basically ‘checking’ as Michael Bolton has called it.

Most checking could be automated and some could be avoided. In the meantime, we have seen (at last) developer testing begin to improve through their adoption of test-driven and behaviour-driven approaches. Of course, most of the testing they do is checking at a unit level. But this is similar to what many POFTs spend much of their time doing manually. Given that most companies are looking to save money, it’s easy to see why many organisations see an opportunity to reduce the number of POFTs if they get their developers to incorporate automated checking into their work through TDD and BDD approaches.

As the developers have adopted the disciplines and (mostly free) tools of TDD and BDD, the testers have not advanced so far. I would say, that test innovation tends to be focused on the testers’ struggle to keep pace with new technologies rather than insights and inventions that move the testers’ discipline forward. Most testing is still manual, and the automated tests created by test teams (usually with expensive, proprietary tools) might be better done by developers anyway.

In the test management space, one can argue that test management is a non-discipline, that is, there is no such thing as test management, there’s just management. If you take the management away from test management – what’s left? Mostly challenges in test logistics – or just logistics – and that’s just another management discipline isn’t it?

What about the fantastic advances in automation? Well, test execution robots are still, well, just robots. The advances in these have tracked the technologies used to build and deliver functionality – but pretty much that’s all. Today’s patterns of test automation are pretty much the same as those used twenty or more years ago. Free test automation frameworks are becoming more commonly used, especially for unit testing. Free BDD tools have emerged in the last few years, and these are still developer focused but expect them to mature in the next few years. Tools to perform end-to-end functional tests are still mostly proprietary, expensive and difficult to succeed with.

The test management tools that are out there are sophisticated, but they perform only the most basic record keeping. Most people still use Excel and survive without test management products that only support the clerical test activities and logistics and do little to support the intellectual effort of testers.

The test certification schemes have gone global. As Dorothy Graham says on her blog the Foundation met its main objective of “removing the bottom layer of ignorance” about software testing. Fifteen years and 150,000+ certificate awards later, it does no more than that. For many people, it seems that this ‘bottom layer of knowledge’ is all they may ever need to get a job in the industry. The industry has been dumbed-down.

Agile: a Stepping Stone to Continuous Delivery

There is an ongoing methodological shift from staged, structured projects to iterative and Agile and now, towards ‘continuous delivery’. Just as companies seem to be coming to terms with Agile – it’s all going to change again. They are now being invited to consider continuous ‘Specification by Example’ approaches. Specification by example promotes a continual process of specification, exampling, test-first, and continuous integration. CI and Delivery is the heartbeat, the test, life-support and early warning system. The demands for better testing in development are being met. A growing number of developers have known no other way. If this trend continues, we will get better, stable software sooner and much of the late functional checking done by system testers may not be required. Will this reduce the need for POFT testers? You bet.

But, continuous delivery is a machine that consumes requirements. For the rapid output of continuous delivery to be acceptable, the quality of requirement going into that machine must be very high. We argue that requirements must be trusted, but not perfect.

Testers are Being Squeezed

Developers are increasingly taking on the automated checking. Some business analysts are taking their chance and absorbing critical disciplines into analysis and are taking over the acceptance process too. Combined, the forces above are squeezing testers from the ‘low-value’ unskilled, downstream role. To survive, testers will have to up-skill to upstream, business-savvy, workflow-oriented, UX-aware testing specialists with new tools or specialise in automation, technical testing or become business domain experts.

So how do Testers take Advantage of Redistribution?

I set out my top 10 predictions for the next five years in my blog On the Redistribution of Testing and I won’t labour those points here. Rather, I’ll explore some leadership issues that arise from the pressures I mentioned above and potential shifts in the software development and more particularly, testing business.

The core of the redistribution idea is that the checking that occupies much of the time of testing teams (who usually get involved late in projects) can be better done by developers. Relieving the testers of this burden gives them time to get involved earlier and to improve the definition of software before it is built. Our proposal is that testers apply their critical skills to the creation of examples that illustrate the behaviour of software in use in the requirements phase. Examples (we use the term business stories) provide feedback to stakeholders and business analysts to validate business rules defined in requirements. The outcome of this is what we call trusted requirements.

In the Business Story Pocketbook, we define a trusted requirement as “… one that, at this moment in time, is believed to accurately represent the users’ need and is sufficiently detailed to be developed and tested.” Trusted requirements are specified collaboratively with stakeholders, business analysts, developers and testers involved.

Developers, on receipt of validated requirements and business stories can use the stories to drive their TDD approach. Some (if not all) of these automated checks form the bulk of regression tests that are implemented in a Continuous Integration regime. These checks can then be trusted to signal a broken build. As software evolves, requirements change; stories and automated checks change too. This approach, sometimes-called Specification by Example depends on accurate specifications (enforced by test automation) for the lifetime of the software product. Later (and fewer) system testers have reduced time to focus on the more subtle types of problem, end to end and user experience testing.

The deal is this: testers get involved earlier to create scenarios that validate requirements, and that developers can automate. Improving the quality of requirements means the target is more stable, developers produce better code, protected by regression tests. Test teams, relieved of much of the checking and re-testing are smaller and can concentrate on the more subtle aspects of testing.

With regards to the late testing in continuously delivering environments, testers are required to perform some form of ‘health check’ prior to deployment, but the days of teams spending weeks to do this are diminishing fast. We need fewer, much smarter testers working up-front and in the short time between deployment and release.

Where are the Opportunities?

The software development and Agile thought leaders are very forcefully arguing for continuous delivery, collaborative specification, better development practices (TDD, BDD), continuous integration, and testing in production using A/B testing, dark releases and analytics and big data. The stampede towards mobile computing continues apace and for organisations that have a web presence, the strategy is becoming clearer.

The pace of technical change is so high that the old way of testing just won’t cut it. Some teams are discovering they can deliver without testers at all. The challenge of testing is perceived (rightly or wrongly) to be one of speed and cost (even though it’s more subtle than that of course). Testers aren’t being asked to address this challenge because it seems more prone to a technical solution and POFTs are not technical.

But the opportunities are there: to get involved earlier in the requirements phase; to support developers in their testing and automation; to refocus testing away from manual checking towards exploratory testing; to report progress and achievement against business goals and risks, rather than test cases and bug reports.

Testers Need a New Mindset; so do Vendors

We need the testing thought-leaders to step up and describe how testing, if it truly is an information provision service, helps stakeholders and business analysts to create trusted requirements, support developers in creating meaningful, automatable, functional tests. And to be there at the end to perform the testing (in production, or production-like environments) to ensure there are no subtle flaws in the delivered system.

Some of the clichés of testing need to be swept away. The old thinking is no longer relevant and may be career limiting. To change will take some courage, persistence and leadership.

Developers write code; testers test because developers can’t: this mentality has got to go. Testing can no longer be thought of as distinct from development. The vast majority of checking can be implemented and managed by development. One potential role of a tester is to create functional tests for developers to implement. The developers, being fluent in test automation, implement lower level functional and structural tests using the same test automation. Where developers need coaching in test design, then testers should be prepared to provide it.

Testers don’t own testing: testing is part of everyone’s job from stakeholder, to users, to business analysts, developers and operations staff. The role of a tester could be that of ‘Testmaster’. A testmaster provides assurance that testing is done well through test strategy, coaching, mentoring and where appropriate, audit and review.

Testing doesn’t just apply to existing software, at the end: testing is an information provision service. Test activity and design is driven by a project’s need to measure achievement, to explore the capabilities, strengths and weaknesses so decisions can be made. The discipline of test applies to all artefacts of a project, from business plans, goals, risks, requirements and design. We coined the term ‘Project Intelligence’ some years ago to identify the information testers provide.

Testing is about measuring achievement, rather than quality: Testing has much more to say to stakeholders when its output describes achievement against some meaningful goal, than alignment to a fallible, out of date, untrusted document. The Agile community have learnt that demonstrating value is much more powerful than reporting test pass/fails. They haven’t figured how to do it of course, but the pressure to align Agile projects with business goals and risks is very pronounced.

Whither the Test Manager?

You are test manager or a test lead now. Where will you be in five years? In six months? It seems to me there are five broad choices for you to take (other than getting out of testing and IT altogether).
  1. Providing testing and assurance skills to business: moving up the food chain towards your stakeholders, your role could be to provide advice to business leaders wishing to take control of their IT projects. As an independent agent, you understand business concerns and communicate them to projects. You advise and cajole project leadership, review their performance and achievement and interpret outputs and advise your stakeholders.
  2. Managing Requirements knowledge: In this role, you take control of the knowledge required to define and build systems. Your critical skills demand clarity and precision in requirements and the examples that illustrate features in use. You help business and developers to decide when requirements can be trusted to the degree that software can reasonably be built and tested. You manage the requirements and glossary and dictionary of usage of business concepts and data items. You provide a business impact analysis service.
  3. Testmaster – Providing an assurance function to teams, projects and stakeholders: A similar role to 1 above – but for more Agile-oriented environments. You are a specialist test and assurance practitioner that keeps Agile projects honest. You work closely with on-site customers and product owners. You help projects to recognise and react to risk, coach and mentor the team and manage their testing activities and maybe do some testing yourself.
  4. Managing the information flow to/from the CI process: in a Specification by Example environment, if requirements are validated with business stories and these stories are used directly to generate automated tests which are run on a CI environment, the information flows between analysts, developers, testers and the CI system is critical. You define and oversee the processes used to manage the information flow between these key groups and the CI system that provides the control mechanism for change, testing and delivery.
  5. Managing outsourced/offshore teams: In this case, you relinquish your onsite test team and manage the transfer of work to an outsourced or offshore supplier. You are expert in the management of information flow to/from your software and testing suppliers. You manage the relationship with the outsourced test team, monitor their performance and assure the outputs and analyses from them.


The recent history and the current state of the testing business, the pressures that drive the testers out of testing and the pull of testing into development and analysis will force a dramatic re-distribution of test activity in some or perhaps most organisations.

Henry Kissinger said, “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone”. You might have to stand alone for a while to get your view across. Dwight D Eisenhower gave this definition: “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it”.

Getting that someone else to want to do it might yet be your biggest challenge.

Tags: #futureoftesting #Leadership

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 27/06/2014

The nice folk at Testing Cup in Poland have posted a video of my keynote on You tube.


Tags: #ALF

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 30/04/2013

Huib Schoots asked me to name my top 10 books for testers. Initially, I was reluctant because I'm no fan of beauty parades and if an overall 'Top 10 Books' were derived from voting:


  1. The same old same old books would probably top the chart again, and
  2. Any obscure books I nominated would be lost in the overall popularity contest.


So what's the point?


Nassim Taleb tweeted, just the other day: "You should never allow knowledge to turn into a spectator sport, by condoning rankings, awards, "hotness" &"incentives"" (3rd ethical rule)

— Nassim N. Taleb (@nntaleb) April 28, 2013

Having said that, and with reservations, I sent Huib a list. What books would I recommend to testers? I’m still reluctant to recommend books because it is a personal choice. I can’t say whether anyone else would find these useful or not. But, scanning the bookshelf in my study, I have chosen books that I like and think are *not* likely to be on a tester’s shelf. These are not in any order. My comments are subjective and personal.

  1. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert M Pirsig – Quality is for philosophers, not systems professionals. I try not to use the Q word.
  2. Software Testing Techniques, Boris Beizer - for the stories and thinking, more than the techniques stuff (although that’s not bad).
  3. The Complete Plain Words, Sir Ernest Gower – Use this or your language/locale equivalent to improve your writing skills.
  4. Test-Driven Development, Kent Beck – is TDD about test or design? Does it matter? Testing is about *much* more than finding bugs.
  5. The Tester’s Pocketbook, Paul Gerrard – I wrote this as an antidote to the ‘everything is heuristic’ idea, which I believe is limiting and unambitious.
  6. Systems Thinking, Systems Practice, Peter Checkland – an antidote to the “General Systems Theory” nonsense.
  7. The Tyranny of Numbers, Why Counting Can’t Make Us Happy, David Boyle – The title says it all. Entertaining discussion of targets, metrics and misuse.
  8. Straight and Crooked thinking, Robert H Thouless – Title says it all again. Thouless wrote another book 'Straight and Crooked Thinking in Wartime' 70-odd years ago - a classic.
  9. Logic: an introduction to elementary logic, Wilfred Hodges – Buy this (or a similar) book on predicate logic: few understand what it is, but it’s a cornerstone of critical thinking.
  10. Lectures on Physics, Richard P Feynman – It doesn’t matter whether you understand the Physics, it’s the thought processes he exposes that matters. RPF doesn't do bullsh*t.

11. Game Theory and Economic Behaviour, John von Neuman, Oskar Morgenstern – OK it’s no 11. Don’t read this. Be aware of it. We have the mathematics for when we finally collect data that people can *actually* use to make decisions.

There are many non-testing books that didn't make my list. Near misses include at least one scripting/programming language book, all of Edward Tufte's books, Gause & Weinberg's "Exploring Requirements", DeMarco and Lister's "Peopleware", DeMarco's "Controlling Software Projects" and "Structured Analysis", Nancy Leveson's "Safeware", Constantine and Lockwood's "Software for Use" and lots more. Ten books isn't enough. Perhaps one hundred isn't enough either.

Huib asked me to explain my "General Systems Theory" nonsense comment. OK, nonsense may be too strong. Maybe I should say non-science?

The Systems movement has existed for 70-80+ years. Dissatisfaction with General Systems Theory in 60s/70s caused a split between the theorists and those who wanted to evolve System Thinking into a problem solving approach. Maybe you could call them two ‘schools’? GST was attacked very publicly by the problem-solving movement (the Thinkers) who went down a different path. GST never delivered a ‘grand theory’ and appeared to exist only to publish a journal. The thinker movement proceeded to work in areas covering hard- and soft-systems and decision making support. It's clear that the schism between the two streams caused (or was caused by) antagonism. It is reminiscent of the testing schools 'debate'. A typical criticism in the 1970s was one expert (Naughton) chided another expert (Lilienfield (who attacked GST)) by saying “there was nothing approaching a coherent body of tested knowledge to attack, rather a melange of insights, theorems, tautologies and hunches…”. The problem that the 'Thinkers' had with GST is that most of the insights and theorems are unsubstantiated and not used for anything. GST drifts into the mystical sometimes - it’s almost like astrology. Checkland says: “The problem with GST is it pays for its generality with lack of content” and "... the fact that GST has failed in its application does not mean that systems thinking has failed". The Systems Thinking movement, being focused on problem solving inspired most of the useful (and used) approaches and methods. It’s less ‘pure’ but by being grounded in problem solving, it has more value. Google "General Systems Theory" and you get few hits of relevance and only one or two books written in the last 25 years. Try "Systems Thinking" and you get lots (although there's a certain amount of bandwagon jumping perhaps). Seems to me that GST has been left behind. I don't like GST because it is so vague. It is impossible to prove or disprove the theories, so being a sceptical sort, mostly it says nothing useful that I can trust.

When I say systems Thinking I mean Systems Thinking and Soft Systems Methodology and not General Systems Research and Systems Inquiry

— Paul Gerrard (@paul_gerrard) December 22, 2012


Tags: #Top10Books

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 05/07/2018

Do you remember the 'Testing is Dead' meme that kicked off in 2011 or so? It was triggered by a presentation done by Alberto Savoiea here . It caused quite a stir, some copycat presentations and a lot of counter-arguments. But I always felt most people missed the point being made. you just had to strip out the dramatics and Doors music.

The real message was that for some organisations, the old ways wouldn't work any more, and as time has passed, that prediction has come true. With the advent of Digital, mobile, IoT, analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, some organisations are changing the way they develop software, and as a consequence, testing changes too.

Shifting testing left, with testers working more collaboratively with the business and developers, test teams are being disbanded and/or distributed across teams. With no test team to manage, the role of the test manager is affected. Or eliminated.

Test management thrives; test managers come and go.
It is helpful to think of testing as less of a role and more of an activity that people undertake in their projects or organisations. Everyone tests, but some people specialise and make a career of it. In the same way, test management is an activity associated with testing. Whether you are the tester in a team or running all the testing in a 10,000 man-year programme, you have test management activities.

For better or for worse, many companies have decided that the role of test managers is no longer required. Responsibility for testing in a larger project or programme is distributed to smaller, Agile teams. There might be only one tester in the team. The developers in the team take more responsibility for testing and run their own unit tests. There’s no need for a test manager as such – there is no test team. But many of the activities of test management still need to be done. It might be as mundane as keeping good records of tests planned and/or executed. It could be taking the overall project view on test coverage (of developer v tester v user acceptance testing for example).

There might not be a dedicated test manager, but some critical test management activities need to be performed. Perhaps the team jointly fulfil the role of a virtual test manager!

Historically, the testing certification schemes have focused attention on the processes you need to follow—usually in structured or waterfall projects. There’s a lot of attention given to formality and documentation as a result (and the test management schemes follow the same pattern). The processes you follow, the test techniques you use, the content and structure of reporting vary wherever you work. I call these things logistics.

Logistics are important, but vary in every situation.
In my thinking about testing, as far as possible, I try to be context-neutral. (Except my stories, which are grounded in real experience).

As a consultant to projects and companies, I never knew what situation would underpin my next assignment. Every organisation, project, business domain, company culture, and technology stack is different. As a consequence, I avoided having fixed views on how things should be done, but over twenty-five years of strategy consulting, test management and testing, certain patterns and some guiding principles emerged. I have written about these before[1].

To the point.

Simon Knight at Gurock asked me to create a series of articles on Test Management, but with a difference. Essentially, the fourteen articles describe what I call “Logistics-Free Test Management”. To some people that's an oxymoron. But that is only because we have become accustomed in many places to treat test management as logistics management. Logistics aren't unique to testing.

Logistics are important, but they don't define test management.
I believe we need to  think about testing as a discipline where logistics choices are made in parallel with the testing thinking. Test Management follows the same pattern. Logistics are important, but they aren't testing. Test management aims to support the choices, sources of knowledge, test thinking and decision making separately from the practicalities – the logistics – of documentation, test process, environments and technologies used.

I derived the idea of a New Model for Testing – a way of visualising the thought processes of testers – in 2014 or so. Since then, I have presented to thousands of testers and developers and I get very few objections. Honestly!

However, some people do say, with commitment, “that's not new!”. And indeed it isn't.

If the New Model reflects how you think, then it should be a comfortable fit. It is definitely not new to you!
One of the first talks I gave on the New Model is here. (Skip to 43m 50s to skip the value of testing talk and long introduction).

[caption id=“attachment_1068” align=“aligncenter” width=“525”] The New Model for Testing[/caption]

Now, I might get a book out of the material (hard-copy and/or ebook formats), but more importantly, I'm looking to create an online and classroom course to share my thinking and guidance on test management.

Rather than offer you specific behaviours and templates to apply, I will try to describe the goals, motivations, thought processes, the sources of knowledge and the principles of application and use stories from my own experience to illustrate them. There will also be suggestions for further study and things to think about as exercises or homework.

You will need to adjust these lessons to your specific situation. It requires that you think for yourself – and that is no bad thing.
Here’s the deal in a nutshell: I’ll give you some interesting questions to ask. You need to get the answers from your own customers, suppliers and colleagues and decide what to do next.

I'll be exploring these ideas in my session at the next Assurance Leadership Forum on 25 July. See the programme here and book a place.

In the meantime, if you want to know more, leave a comment or do get in touch at my usual email address.

[1] The Axioms of Testing in the Tester’s Pocketbook for example,

Tags: #testassurance #testmanager #NewModelTesting #ALF #TestManagement #post-format-gallery

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 22/09/2017

Twitter is a lousy medium for debate, don't you think?

I had a very brief exchange with Michael Bolton below.  (Others have commented on this thread this afternoon). To my apparently contradictory (and possibly stupid) comment, Michael responded with a presumably perplexed “?”

This blog is a partial explanation of what I said, and why I said it. You might call it an exercise in pedantry. (Without pedantry, there is less joy in the world – discuss). There's probably a longer debate to be had, but certainly not on Twitter. Copenhagen perhaps, Michael? My response was to 3) Lesson.

3) Lesson: don't blindly trust ... your automated checks, lest they fail to reveal important problems in production code.

I took the lesson tweet out of context and ignored the first two tweets deliberately, and I'll comment on those below. For the third, I also ignored the “don't blindly trust your test code” aspect too and here's why. If you have test code that operates at all, and you have automated checks that operate, you presumably trust the test code already. You will have already done whatever testing of the test code you deemed appropriate. I was more concerned with the second aspect. Don't blindly trust the checks.

But you know what? My goal with automation is exactly that – to blindly trust automated checks.

If you have an automated check that runs at all, then given the same operating environment, test data, software versions, configuration and so on, you would hardly expect the repeated check to reveal anything new, unless you'd want to research its intricacies manually and embark on trying to find newer resolutions, through debate and comparisons; for example, the grafana vs kibana comparison. If it did 'fail', then it really ought to flag some kind of alarm. If you are not paying attention or are ignoring the alarm, then on your own head be it. But if I have to be paying attention all the time, effectively babysitting – then my automation is failing. It is failing to replace my manual labour (often the justification for automating in the first place).

A single check is most likely to be run as part of a larger collection of tests, perhaps thousands, so the notification process needs to be integrated with some form of automated interpretation or at least triggered when some pre-defined threshold is exceeded.

Why blindly? Well, we humans are cursed by our own shortcomings. We have low attention-spans, are blind to things we see but aren't paying attention to and of course, we are limited in what we can observe and assimilate anyway. We use tools to replace humans not least because of our poor ability to pay attention.

So I want my automation to act as if I'm not there and to raise alarms in ways that do not require me to be watching at the time. I want my phone to buzz, or my email client to bong, or my chatOps terminal to beep at me. Better still, I want the automation to choose who to notify. I want to be the CC: or BCC: in the message, not necessarily the To: all the time.

I deliberately took an interpretation of Michael's comment that he probably didn't intend. (That's Twitter for you).

When my automated checks run, I don't expect to have to evaluate whether the test code is doing 'the right thing' every time. But over time, things do change – the environment, configuration and software under test – so I need to pay attention to whether these changes impact my test code. Potentially, the check needs adjustment, re-ordering, enhancing, replacing or removing altogether. The time to do this is before the test code is run – during requirements discussions or in collaboration with developers.

I believe this was what Michael intended to highlight: your test code needs to evolve with the system under test and you must pay attention to that.

Now, my response to the tweet suggests rather than babysit your automated checks, you should spend your time more wisely – testing the system in ways your test code cannot (economically).

To the other tweets:

1) What would you discover if you submitted your check code to the same review, scrutiny, and testing as your production code?

2) If you're not scrutinizing test code, why do you trust it any more than your production code? Especially when no problems are reported?

Test code can be trivial, but can sometimes be more complex than the system under test. It's the old old story, “who tests the test code and how?”. I have worked on a a few projects where test code was treated like any other code. High integrity projects and the like. but even then I didn't see much 'test the test code' activity. I'd say there are some common factors that make it less likely you would test your test code, and feel safe (enough) not doing so.
  1. Test code is built incrementally, usually, so that it is 'tried' in isolation. Your test code might simulate a web or mobile transaction, for example? if you can watch it move to fields, enter data, check the outcomes you see correctly, most testers would be satisfied it works as a simple check. What other test is required than re-running it, expecting the same outcome each time?
  2. Where the check is data-driven, of course, the code uses prepared data to fill, click or check parameterised fields, buttons and outcomes respectively. On a GUI app this can be visibly checked. Should you try invalid data (not included in your planned test data) and so on? Why bother? If the test code fails, then that is notification enough that you screwed up – fix it. If the test code flags false negatives when for example your environment changes, then you have a choice: tidy up your environment, or add code to accommodate acceptable environmental variations.
  3. Now, when your test code loses synchronisation or encounters a real mismatch of outcomes, your code needs handlers for these situations. These handlers might be custom-built for every check (an expensive solution) or utilise system-wide procedures to log, recover, re-start or hand-off depending on the nature of the tests or failures. This ought to be where your framework or scaffolding code comes in.
  4. Surely the test code needs testing more than just 'using it'? The thing is, your test code is not handed over to users for them to enter extreme, dubious or poor quality data. All the data it will ever handle is in the test suite you use to test the system under test. Another tester might add new rows of test data to feed it, but problems arising are as likely to be due to other things than new test data. At any rate, what tests would you apply to your test code? Your test data, selected to exercise extremes in your system under test is probably quite well suited to testing the test code anyway.
  5. When problems do arise when your test code is run, it is more likely to be caused by environmental/data problems or software changes, so your test code will be adapted in parallel with these changes, or made more resilient to variations (bearing in mind the original purpose of the test code).
  6. Your scaffolding code or home-grown test frameworks handles this doesn't it? Pretty much the same arguments above apply. They are likely to be made more robust through use, evolution and adaptation than a lot of planned tests.
  7. Who tests the tests? Who tests the tests of the tests? Who tests the tests of ...
Your scaffolding, framework, handlers, analysis, notifications, messaging capability need a little more attention. In fact, your test tools might need to be certified in some way (like standard C, C++, Java compilers for example) to be acceptable to use at all.

I'm not suggesting that under all circumstances, your test code doesn't need testing. But it seems to me, that in most situations, the code that actually performs a check might be tested by your test data well enough and that most exceptions arise as you develop and refine that code and can be fixed before you come to rely on it.

Tags: #testautomation #automation #advancingtesting #automatedregression

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 23/10/2013

This article appeared in the October 2013 Edition of Professional Tester magazine. To fit the magazine format, the article was edited somewhat. The original/full article can be downloaded here.

Big Data

Right now, Big Data is trending. Data is now being captured at an astonishing speed. Any device that has a power supply has some software driving it. If the device is connected to a network or the internet, then the device is probably posting activity logs somewhere. The volumes being captured across organisations are huge – databases of Petabytes (millions of Gigabytes) of data are springing up in large and not so large organisations. Traditional, relational technology simply cannot cope. Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier argue in their book, “Big Data” [1], it’s not that data is huge, it’s that, for all business domains, it seems to be much bigger than we collected before. Big Data can be huge, but the more interesting aspect of Big Data is its lack of structure. The change in the philosophy of Big Data is reflected in three principles.
  1. Traditionally, we have dealt with samples (because the full data set is large), and as a consequence we have tended to focus on relationships that reflected cause and effect. Looking at the entire data set allows us to see details that we never could before.
  2. Using the full data set releases us from the need to be exact. If we are dealing with data points in the tens or hundreds, we focus on precision. If we deal with thousands or millions of data points, we aren’t so obsessed with minor inaccuracies like losing a few records here and there.
  3. We must not be obsessed with causality. If the data tells us there is a correlation between two things we measure, then so be it. We don’t need to analyse the relationship to make use of it. It might be good enough just to know that the number of cups of coffee bought by product owners in the cafeteria correlates inversely with the number of severity 1 incidents in production. (Obviously, I made that correlation up – but you see what I mean). Maybe we should give the POs tea instead?
The interest in Big Data as a means of supporting decision-making is rapidly growing. Larger organisations are creating teams of so-called data scientists to orchestrate the capture of data and analyse it to obtain insights. The phrase ‘from insight to action’ is increasingly used to summarise the need to improve and accelerate business decision-making.

‘From Insight to Action’Activity logs tend to be captured as plain text files with fields delimited by spaces, tabs or commas or as JSON or XML formatted data. This data does not appear validated, structured and integral as it would be in a relational table – it needs filtering, cleaning, enriching as well as storing. New tools designed to deal with such data are becoming available. A new set of data management and analysis disciplines are also emerging. What opportunities are out there for testing? Can the Big Data tools and disciplines be applied to traditional test practices? Will these test practices have to change to make use of Big Data? This article explores how data captured throughout a test and assurance process could be merged and integrated with definition data (requirements and design information) and production monitoring data and analysed in interesting and useful ways.

The original/full article can be downloaded here.

Tags: #continuousdelivery #BigData #TestAnalytics

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 17/06/2016

A further response to the debate on here I couldn't fit it in a comment so put it here instead.

Hi Alan. Thanks - I'm not sure we are disagreeing, I think we're debating from different perspectives, that's all.

Your suggestion that other members of our software teams might need to re-skill or up-skill isn't so far-fetched. This kind of re-assignment and re-skilling happens all the time. If a company needs you to reskill because they've in/out/right-sourced, or merged with another company, acquired a company or been acquired - then so be it. You can argue from principle or preference, but your employer is likely to say comply or get another job. That's employment for you. Sometimes it sucks. (That's one reason I haven't had a permanent job since 1984).
My different perspective? Well i'm abolutely not arguing from the high altar of thought-leadership, demagoguery or dictatorship. Others can do that and you know where they can stick their edicts.

Almost all the folk I meet in the testing services business are saying Digital is dominating the market right now. Most organisations are still learning how to do this and seek assistance from wherever they can get it. Services business may be winging it but eventually the dust will settle, they and their clients will know what they are doing. The job market will re-align to satisfy this demand for skills. It was the same story with client/server, internet, Agile, mobile and every new approach - whatever. It's always the same with hype - some of it becomes our reality.

(I'm actually on a train writing this - I'm on my way to meet a 'Head of Digital' who has a testing problem, or perhaps 'a problem with our testers'. If I can, I'll share my findings...)

Not every company adopts the latest craze, but many will. Agile (with a small a), continuous delivery, DevOps, containerisation, micro-services, shift-left, -right or whatever are flavour of the month (althoough agile IMHO has peaked). A part of this transition or transformation is a need for more technical testers - that's all. The pressure to learn code is not coming from self-styled experts. It is coming from the job market which is changing rapidly. It is mandatory, only if you want to work in these or related environments.

The main argument for understanding code is not to write code. Code-comprehension, as i would call it, is helpful if your job is to collaborate more closely with developers using their language, that's all.

Tags: #Testers #learntocode

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 31/08/2012

In response to Kim Ming Leung's comment A Different way to Apply SBE to Structured Methods and with reference to some of the ideas on his blog post here: The New V-Model I decided to write a longer response and blog.

I prefer to use the term “Measurement” and have applied it to Business goal, Business process, User story and program levels"

The given/when/then construct is appropriate where examples of a process or feature is required to illustrate and challenge the understanding of the feature or process in context. We recommend its use in requirements validation of identified features before implementation, in addition to the testing of software as per Behaviour-Driven Development. The approach can be used to validate business processes to some extent, in that pre-conditions, steps and post-conditions provide an example and therefore a test case of a stage in a business process.

Higher level business goals are defined and measured in different ways, however.

In the early 2000s I coined the term 'Project Intelligence' to label the information that testers and a full test process gathered, analysed and disseminated. You can download the 2004 paper that sets out these ideas here: Managing Projects With Intelligence. The notion of testing is expanded to include not only software testing (at all levels) but also the measurement (and that is the correct term in this context) of achievement in general. That is, I suggest that the disciplines of testing can be applied to the highest level business goals, intermediate goals and achievements, and in fact, any output, outcome or business benefit. So this notion fits nicely with your proposal to use the term "measurement rather than testing".

"Different “test detailing” methods are applied at different level"

Given your description of detailing, I agree. Testers (if they are to measure at every technical and business level) need to learn how to measure in a plethora of dimensions. Business measures come in all shapes and sizes from financial metrics and ratios to all kinds of physical measures to measures of less tangible outcomes or achievements:

  • Financial measures might appear simple, but the formulae, data derivation and calculations required might not be. A certain level of financial accounting nous will be required.
  • Physical measures relate to 'almost everything else' that is measurable. This could be a headcount, products sold, manufactured and delivered in a period, time to manufacture, deliver or repair, commissioned floorspace, employees trained and certified, systems delivered, tested or implemented. There is no limit to what can be measured and the variations of goal and achievement targets can be set and measured are endless.
  • What about intangibles? How are they measured? There's the theory that anything can be measured (Tom Gilb's law). I interpret this as, "if I choose to assign a measure to that 'intangible concept', then that's good enough for me". In so far as stakeholders can regard such targets as meaningful, then I guess these things can be measured. But this is, in my opinion, more an art than a science. There's a lot more subjectivity that is comfortable for some. But if you are the measurer, and not the stakeholder, then perhaps it's not your problem to worry about. Maybe you don't have the domain knowledge or experience to judge what a good measure is? Who knows?

Given this extended role of testing (or measurement), the people who test today have an opportunity to expand their remit to measuring at a much higher level, and their involvement and influence in projects could be much more significant. Approaches such as benefits realisation, results-based and performance management require good measurement to work, but their advocate rarely, if ever, explain how measurements are made. There is a presumption that numbers just 'fall from the air' perhaps. The challenge of measurement falls most severely on systems testers. I propose that the hard-won lessons of system testing can be applied at all levels in business programmes and maybe the systems testers should take this role on.

"I regard the exploration and verification capabilities desirable side effects but the ultimate goal is to agree with users the Measurements (Acceptance criteria) as Specifications."

I think by this you mean the internal testing of systems at a unit, integration or system level is of little interest to stakeholders but that the definition of criteria for acceptance and the acceptance (testing) process itself is of most importance. I think definitely that stakeholders usually are not interested in what goes on inside software development projects (and most software testing falls into this category), but they are interested in the process that triggers acceptance and payments to suppliers in particular. But there is a large variation in views of what acceptance criteria are and whether they can ever be objective. I think the traditional 'software testing' view that a feature can be deemed accepted if a set of tests derived from its specification can be staged and run successfully is inadequate and not meaningful.

Most stakeholders find it hard to be specific enough for us (testers) to stage tests. I don't think we have made anywhere near enough progress towards defining acceptance criteria that truly cover all aspects of a system to allow us to test them 'objectively'. Such criteria must cover the functionality, of course, but there are so many intangible aspects to the comfort, fit, confidence, sense of certainty that a 'good' system engenders that our attempts to define and measure usability, performance, security in technical terms miss the mark. I know we can define acceptance criteria in these technical, measurable, objective ways, but they aren't satisfactory even through they are “rational” and “objective”.

But you know what? I don't think it matters.

Many studies have shown that business people, especially at the highest level, make their biggest decisions based on experience, intuition and gut feel. Yes, they ask for the data, analyses and fancy charts. Sometimes they understand the data. But when it comes to making the call, as often as not, the guy at the top will take the opinions of his peers and gauge the consensus in his community to make that final decision. Our pained deliberations over the rationality or irrationality of our measurements don't really figure at all in their estimation.

What we really need is to be regarded as a peer and have our say in that consensus.

Tags: #projectintelligence #BSM #resultsbasedmanagement #benefitsrealization

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here

First published 08/07/2014

It seems like testing competitions are all the rage nowadays. I was really pleased to be invited to the Testing Cup in Poland in early June this year. The competition was followed by a full day conference at which I gave a keynote – The Value of Testing – and you can see a video of that here.

The competition was really impressive with nearly 300 people taking part in the team and individual competitions. Here's a nice video (with English subtitles).

Tags: #valueoftesting #TestingCup #Poland

Paul Gerrard My linkedin profile is here