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Some see things as they are, and ask "Why?"   I dream things that never were, and ask "Why Not".  
Robert F. Kennedy

“Impossible” is only found in the dictionary of a fool.  
Old Chinese Proverb

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Is it Time to Reinvent the Wheel?

Note:  The following article originally appeared in the November 18th issue of the uTest Newsletter.
If you're curious, you can find it HERE.

Our latest guest post comes from Jim “JR” Harris, Principal Engineer and Owner of Arrowhead Computer Consulting, and one of the most entertaining tester bloggers out there (you’ll see what I mean shortly). You can find more of his writings at qatechtips.blogspot.com. In this post, he addresses why the value created by testers is not always fully recognized in the world of business. Enjoy!
In the October issue of the uTest newsletter, Matt Johnston led off with the title “Are Testers the next Endangered Species” – and I blew my stack!  Now don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I was furious or anything like that, but I will admit that I did bite the heads off of about a dozen or so thick framing nails before I could compose a coherent reply.

And I let him have it – with both guns blazing! – eager to defend the honor and integrity of those of us in the Software QA community.

“Oh, it’s the idiots in Management who don’t recognize the need for quality software!”

“Those idiots in Marketing ALWAYS leave us with too much to do and too short a time-line to do it!”

“If the developers would send us software releases that were at least testable; we wouldn’t be in this bind all the time!”

Now Matt has a sick and twisted sense of humor, not unlike my own.  So instead of getting offended, he offered me the chance to express MY views on his bully pulpit.  “Ok Einstein, you’re so smart?  YOU write the next one!”  No he really didn’t say that, but his invitation was clear:  Put up or shut up.

I got ready.  Cleaned both pistols, checked all my ammo and was ready to sit down here and burn a hole in his newsletter servers.  Pistols cocked, take careful aim and. . . . .

Then I started thinking.  (Always a good idea, that – thinking, that is.)

What was I aiming at?  Management?  Marketing?  Developers?  Or maybe, just maybe, it was at my own two feet.

Then I started thinking some more.

What is management’s mandate?
Their job is – first and foremost – to make money for the company.  You know, Money.  Moola.  Cash.  As in “to pay your salary”, or to be able to afford that nice new Blade Server you need for the next round of testing.

What about marketing?
Nope.  “Make QA happy” does not appear anywhere in Marketing’s job description.  It reads more like “Make past, (and future), customers drool over the thought of shelling out huge dollars to buy our next release.”

Who are YOU kidding!  They get it as bad as we do – six months’ worth of coding due in six weeks.  Then pray to the Blessed Virgin that it doesn’t fall into a million pieces when QA gets it.

So where does that leave us?
Let’s look at it from upper management’s perspective:

To them the world is black-and-white.  Things either cost money, or they make money.
  • Of course, Management is always important.
  • Marketing drives sales.  Sales = Cash.
  • Development actually creates the product that the company sells.  Product = Cash.
Then, there are the expenses:
  • Housekeeping.
  • Electric, gas and water.
  • Rent.
  • Capital equipment.
  • Maintenance.
And waaaay down at the bottom of the heap:
  • Tech Support.  (They gripe too, but not as bad as QA.)
  • QA:  The guys that are never satisfied and always gripe about SOMETHING!
And you wonder why we’re not popular in the corporate world?  Puh-leeeze!

So there you have it.  It really does make sense when you look at it this way

Our problem is this:  We have never really presented ourselves as an asset to the company.  Rather we’re seen as being more like “going to the dentist”; you gotta do it, but you aren’t expected to be overjoyed about it.  We’re not only viewed as a “sunk cost” – we’re a “sunk cost” that complains all the time!

So why are testers expendable?  Because we’re not perceived as driving value to the company.  And that’s the problem.

Next question:  How do we go about fixing this?

Answer:  Change. Grow. Demonstrate to the rest of the company that we’re assets that drive value, not just “the gripe-and-moan department.” It won’t be easy, but it’s something we have to do if we want to survive.

First:  Lose the whining and complaining.  The next time you get riled up at something and want to start complaining, put your hand in your mouth and bite. Hard. Then remember that the pain you’re feeling is just a small sampling of the pain you are causing others.

Second:  Trim your claws and fangs.  If YOU had spent three or four sleepless nights getting that code segment finished on time, would YOU want some “idiot from QA” coming to you and telling you it’s a piece of junk?

Next:  Try to become a pleasure to work with, not a pain in the butt.  Think of how you can present your issues as something other than a gripe-session.
  • Can you offer the developer some positive feedback too?
  • Can you offer a constructive suggestion to improve it?
At your next team/department meeting:
  • Ask if there is something QA can do to actually HELP the development process.
  • Maybe participating in early stage code reviews would help?
  • Maybe participating in early stage design or requirements reviews would help?
By doing this you may be in a position to recognize a mistaken assumption, or a misunderstood requirement. When we solve these problems early on, we help reduce the pain felt in both Development and QA later. More efficient and accurate work = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

We need to be vigilant in reminding our boss, (and our boss’s boss), how critically important a firm commitment to quality is in today’s litigious world.  (i.e. Toyota, etc.)  By reinforcing that commitment we reduce legal risk and expense.  Reducing expenses = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

We need to be vigilant in reminding ourselves, as well as others, that we’re not the only fish in the pond. If we produce shoddy products, we drive our customers to our competition.  Likewise, excellent products drive the competition’s customers to us. More Customers = More Money.  More Money = We drive value.

Maybe, just maybe, we need to take a good hard look in the mirror. Maybe the reason that “testers” are becoming “endangered” is because we’re driving ourselves to extinction by not changing to keep up with the needs of the companies that hire us.

Maybe it IS time to get out that stone axe and re-invent the wheel.

What say ye?