Deception and Self-deception in Software Testing

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Deceptions about Testers and Testing
Sometimes deceptions appear at a higher level, in what managers, project managers, and programmers say about testers and testing. Often, those untruths reflect what they actually believe:

"The testers don't know what they're doing." [They estimated it would take two weeks, but found incomplete code and so many bugs it has taken six, and they're not done yet.]

"Our mature test process employs all the industry best practices." [Major bugs frequently bring production systems down, but we have all the "right" testing documentation.]

"Total test automation will make testing much faster and more efficient, and we can save on expensive labor costs." [We haven't thought about who will design the automated tests, and we have no idea what it will take to maintain them.]

Deceptions Testers Are Pressured to Practice
Testing can be the first place where cracks in a project appear. The light we shine on product quality isn't always welcome, especially when it illuminates a midden full of problems.

Managers who have been hiding ongoing quality issues, or deceiving themselves into not seeing them, can be thrown into a panic by test results that show poor product quality. Some will be tempted to skew the results they report upwards, putting strong pressure on testers to misreport their findings—to show testing progress or product quality as better than it is:

"We have to get creative about these numbers." [And paint a false picture.]

"We can call more of these tests passed." [Although they have failed, or perhaps not even been run.]

"The rest of the project is status green. Testing needs to be green, too." [Though it clearly isn't.]

These are some of the things testers will hear from managers who want them to lie.

Deceptions Practiced by Testers
Testers are no more immune than anyone else to temptations to fool ourselves and others about testing. We can easily succumb to the belief that we are doing the right thing—or the only possible thing—when we have blinkered ourselves to other possibilities. And we too like to believe that:

"We're going to make it!" [Whatever "it" is—often an impossible date with impossible scope.]

About the author

Fiona Charles's picture Fiona Charles

Fiona Charles is a Toronto-based test consultant and manager with thirty years of experience in software development and integration projects. Fiona is the editor of The Gift of Time, featuring essays by consultants and managers of various professions about what they've learned from Gerald M. Weinberg. Through her company, Quality Intelligence, Inc., Fiona works with clients in diverse industries to design and implement pragmatic test and test management practices that match their unique business challenges. Her experiential workshops facilitate tester learning by doing, either on the job or at conferences. Contact Fiona via her Web site at www.quality-intelligence.com.

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