Sunday, November 18, 2018

Why Don't Managers Understand What Good Testing Is?

Several years ago, I was sitting having a quiet drink waiting for a couple of friends to arrive when a fellow walked over and sat down. Did not ask if he could, just sat down. Rude bugger.

He was a senior boss type in his own organization. I was... not a boss type.

Still, he sits down and asks me a question. "I don't know how you deal with this. I would think you get this all the time. It seems like every few months I get called into  my manager's office to answer questions about why we do what we do and why we don't do what these "experts" say we should be doing. It can be everything from metrics that are supposed to show us where all the problems are or sometimes some best practice that someone is pushing or some tool or other for test management or some requirements tracking tool that lets you show what you're testing and how much testing you're doing and how good a job testing you're doing or something. I explain to him why that stuff isn't real and how those things don't actually work. He seems OK with it, then another couple months and I'm back having the same conversation with him. Don't you find that frustrating?"

My response was something really non-committal. Something like, "Yup, that can be really frustrating and a huge energy draw."

He felt better after venting or maybe getting some form of confirmation that it really IS frustrating and went away - he went to hang with other manager boss types.

Here's what was running through my mind as I finished my beer.

Maybe the reason why this keeps coming up is in what he said to me.

Your manager or manager's manager or someone up the food chain is looking for information. If they are not seeing anything they understand or can report to THEIR manager on, they'll look for what is commonly discussed among their peers or in article or books or webinars or conference presentations.

They are looking for information they can use that is presented in a way they and other managers can understand. Let's be realistic. They don't have time to filter through 18 pages of buzz words, technical jargon, mumbo-jumbo and falderal. They want a single page, bullet pointed list that summarizes all that rubbish. They would also probably like some graphic representation that presents information clearly - and accurately. They don't have time or patience to sift through a dozen footnotes explaining the graphic.

You may object strongly to some level of manager higher than you being sucked in by snake-oil salesmen or some other word for con-artists.

Still, if the con-artists and snake-oil salesmen are presenting them with a tool or a "solution" or a method that gives them something resembling what they want and need, that will seem like The Solution to them, no matter how wrong you think The Solution is.

Then again, maybe the solution people are looking for, the one that looks right, based on their understanding will work. Maybe, just maybe, people will land on something that sounds like what "experts" are talking about. There are looking at the results of "software testing tools" in their favorite search engine and wondering why their company is not using one or some of these tools.

Then they enter "best software testing tools" into the search engine and see MORE results. And these are for the BEST testing tools. Some are "Manual Testing Tools" some are "Automated Testing Tools" and when you read the ad copy on the webpage - they sound AWESOME.

Then they wonder why their company is not using one of these BEST tools.

They read articles online or in a magazine and they talk about "test everything" because if you don't then bugs might get through. And they read about how they can have software with ZERO BUGS. And then there are the articles about choosing the RIGHT things to test since there isn't really time to test everything. And then they get confused because given the stuff they read in their search results talk about testing faster and better with these tools - and deliver results that can be tracked.

So they think about how to track results and how to measure things like "improvement" and "quality" and to see if there is anyway to tell if anything is being done, let alone done right, and when changes are implemented, do they make any difference at all,

This leads to things like methodologies, processes, process models, and SCRUM an KANBAN and how "Agile" is better than other ways of working and how to be Agile and how to measure how Agile you are and how to show that being Agile is better and how to Scale Agile and Disciplined Agile... and... and...

Still, the bosses want to know why we (the resident "experts" in testing) don't do things like they read about or hear about in meetings or conferences or training sessions or podcasts. We can explain how those things are not really helpful and don't really work - and the software being made still sucks and if more large customers don't like the software and cancel and it is likely that someday we'll run out of new customers to use the software we make and if we can't keep more of our customers happy, and then we are all screwed completely.

Why don't managers understand what we are doing and what good testing is?

Why is it they keep coming back and asking fundamental questions about what we do, how to evaluate progress, how to look for improvement in quality, how to track customer satisfaction, how to know the software works the way the sales people say it works...

Why is that?

When managers, bosses, whatever, are looking for help to make things happen - make things better or find some sense of progress, how do we respond?

Do we scoff openly at them and say "that will never work?" Personally, I find it not wise to scoff openly at managers and directors and VPs of whatever, but your experience may be different than mine.

Maybe we say "This is not going to help because..." and explain why it won't do what they are hoping it will. Perhaps our more sophisticated thought leader types might patiently explain what a "good" thing is (metric or tracking tool or some other tool.)

Then maybe give some sage advice like "You need to decide what you want to learn from this and what you intend to do with what you learn."

They blink. Maybe they realize they have no idea what that means. Let's face it - an awful lot of people have no idea what that statement means.

So far, except for the scoffing part, there is not a lot to object to in my experience.

The problem, and the reason why the questions keep coming back, is we have not provided an example of a good alternative.

If our method of teaching managers about testing and test management extends only as far as what won't work and why things are a bad idea, then we have greater issues.

We have only done half of what we need to do.

If a tool will not do what is needed, is there an alternative? Maybe there will need to be more than one working in parallel.

If they are trying to discover something about quality of the software, do we suggest paths to discover what is needed? Do we offer to help them with this and work on finding the solution together?

In short, if all we do is tell them something won't work, we are not doing our job.

We have no grounds to complain if we have not worked hard to provide viable alternatives they can understand.

Maybe the great gulf and obstacle to understanding is more simply put.

People (like Managers, Developers, Product Owners, Business Analysts, Project Managers, Scrum Masters and Testers) have no shared concept of what testing itself is.

Can we blame them if they do not understand what Good Testing is?

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