Conducting testing

I was reading a blog post from @GregPaciga on the Modern Testing Principles being developed by Alan Page and Brent Jensen ( I saw Alan give a presentation at TestBash Brighton on ‘Modern Testing’ and found his arguments persuasive.

In his post, Gregory was describing a discussion about the seven principles of Modern Testing, and in particular reporting on issues raised in the discussion over the fifth and (particularly) the seventh principles. Part of that seventh principle caused a few raised eyebrows amongst a discussion group comprised of testers:

7. We expand testing abilities and knowhow across the team; understanding that this may reduce (or eliminate) the need for a dedicated testing specialist

Gregory said that he was unsure whether disagreement with the second part of that statement, about reducing/eliminating the need for dedicated test specialists, was a knee-jerk reaction or not. (I got the feeling that he was saying ‘knee-jerk reaction’ as if that were a Bad Thing.) He talks about reducing the need for a testing specialist without eliminating the need for the function itself.

Looking at this, I was reminded of the orchestral conductor André Previn. Many years ago (when he was principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra) he did some tv documentaries on the role of the conductor. In one, he set the orchestra playing a piece and then stepped away from the podium and sat down. The orchestra continued quite happily without him to the end of the piece. So why, asked Previn, have a conductor?

Well, it was a very standard piece of repertoire, something the orchestra had played many times before. The individual players were all talented and able musicians. So the conductor wasn’t completely necessary. But consider what might happen if the orchestra had to play an unfamiliar or new piece, or had to integrate a new member who did not know the way they worked and played together? Then all the assumptions that each orchestra member might make, the unstated consensus that the orchestra would collectively have, might be thrown into confusion. Then the conductor acts as a unifying force, setting the tempo, or exploring matters of interpretation or meaning in rehearsal, and holding the whole together in public performance.

I think this is the same as expanding testing knowhow across the entire development team. But that does not eliminate the need for a dedicated testing specialist. Rather, it changes the test specialist’s role. They become the person who directs testing; the person who thinks about testing as a discipline and steers individuals on their own testing journey; the person who helps mould the team into a single unit and, indeed, orchestrates the testing effort to a successful delivery. The tester also can act as a fresh pair of eyes in the planning and design stages of a project; just as the conductor does, they can consider matters of meaning or interpretation outside the cutting edge of the performance itself and communicate this back to the team in the development process (which you might think of as being like rehearsal).

And of course, this sees software development as being, like music, an art as well as a science.


5 thoughts on “Conducting testing

  1. 7. We expand testing abilities and knowhow across the team; understanding that this may reduce (or eliminate) the need for a dedicated testing specialist

    This has always been my philosophy in testing. I don’t think you can ever get away with eliminating the dedicated tester for a project but you whole team should have a good understanding or all that you need to test. There should also be a SME. In this world of need to get things tested yesterday you cannot have a lapse if a tester goes down. As a Director of QA I am also well versed in what needs to get tested in case I need to jump in.

    Thomas Fritzen
    Director of QA


    1. Thomas, thanks for your reply. Just one minor clarification: here in the UK, ‘SME’ is taken to mean “Small to Medium Enterprise”. Could you just clarify your understanding of the term?




  2. >I got the feeling that he was saying ‘knee-jerk reaction’ as if that were a Bad Thing.

    Just an instinctive reaction, one that has not been thought through. The reaction might not change after thinking it through, but often it does. Its only a Bad Thing if you refuse to question it 🙂

    I think your analogy is pretty apt. Let me poke at it: *most* music groups don’t have a dedicated conductor. Why?


    1. Given that the knee-jerk reaction is most likely an evolutionary thing, part of the ‘fight or flight’ reaction, perhaps the Bad Thing is when you make the wrong choice 🙂

      As for musical groupings; you only really need a conductor when the forces go beyond eight or ten players, roughly. Below that number, I think the analogy with testing still holds good. Smaller groups come together to rehearse (test) and either find a common way forward based on shared musical values or split up. Each individual knows at least one instrument and possibly a handful of tunes; by coming together, you get a better repertoire of pieces to perform, on a better range of instruments – or have a better range of test techniques and testing tools. As for numbers; you start with a solo performer (tester), then you go on to a duet (pair), then a trio, then a quartet, and so on until you get to eight – an octet – when (in testing terms) you’re beginning to look like a mob. The process is pretty much the same in either case.


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