Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Requirements and Listening

At the QUEST conference in Dallas, there were many presentations, exercises and discussions around testers and requirements. Along with stressing the importance of requirements to project success, a regular theme was getting testers involved early in the project to help get the requirements “right.”

What was not often discussed was how the testers were to actually help get the requirements “right.” The problem, as I see it, is that there is not a clearly defined argument that can explain to me how being a good “tester” automatically makes a person a good “requirements definer.”

There were a couple of points made that people may have missed. One was part of a hall conversation -unfortunately I don’t recall who made it. This fellow's point was that the testers needed to do more than simply insist on “testable” requirements. Without being able to bring something to the discussion – without being able to help define the requirements, what purpose does a tester really serve at the discussion?

Nancy Kelln gave a presentation on testing in an Agile environment. It was interesting watching some of the attendees grappling with some of the basic premises found in a variety of Agile methodologies. While talking about Stand-ups, she answered the above question very succinctly. She said, in essence, the role of the tester in an Agile Stand-up, is to listen.

Simple, no? Its what all of us are supposed to do anyway, but usually find ourselves thinking about other things for at least part of the time.

By listening – by hearing what is being said, the tester can gain insight into some of the reasoning or logic or problems that are being encountered. If a tester is listening critically, and thinking like a tester, they can hear not only what is being said, but can hear what is not being said.

The thing is, most people who do not work in an Agile environment would argue something like "Well, that's Agile. We don't do Agile." You don't need to work in an Agile environment to do this. At Requirements reviews, or better yet, Requirements gathering/discovery meetings - the same technique can work: listen.

Listen critically, then, don't be afraid to ask questions. These questions can sometimes be straightforward. For example “We’ve talked about regulations changing around Y. Are there any regulations we need to consider for X?"

How many times have you been in a conversation and asked a question because you were looking for insight, and the person you asked it of had an "Ah-HA!" moment because of it? They realized that something was missing and there was an unconsidered possibility or gap.

By asking questions of the experts, the tester can clarify their own thoughts and maybe trigger others to also ask questions. Sometimes, the strength of not knowing things is asking questions and listening carefully to the answers.

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