Incentivizing Tester Behaviors, not Bounties: An Interview with Shaun Bradshaw


Noel Wurst sits down with Shaun Bradshaw to discuss creative, and positivity-boosting ways to incentivize software testers' work. Shaun gives some great examples from his upcoming STARWEST keynote, "The Bounty Conundrum: Incentives for Testing," in this informative interview.

Noel: Hi, this is Noel Wurst from TechWell, and today I’m speaking with Shaun Bradshaw, who is going to be giving the keynote at STARWEST on Thursday, October 3rd at 4:15, and the session is going to be called “The Bounty Conundrum: Incentives For Testers.” How are you doing this morning, Shaun?

Shaun: I’m doing well, Noel, thanks for asking.

Noel: I was really interested in speaking with you. I always enjoy learning what motivates people and what motivates this group as opposed to that group and new ways to offer rewards. I noticed that in the abstract for your session, it mentioned that to give bounties as a reward can backfire and you referred to that as the cobra effect, and I was curious if you could go into what that is and what kind of detrimental effects that can have on a project or on a team for rewarding bounties like that.

Shaun: Sure. First of all, let me just mention where the name “cobra effect” comes from, and I will actually tell a more detailed story in the keynote, but essentially it comes from something that happened in India, when colonial Britain was in charge. One of the local governors felt there were too many cobras in the local townships, and to get rid of them, he established a bounty. If you brought in a cobra skin, you would be paid, to basically enlist the citizenry to help rid them off this problem.

The ultimate effect of this is … you are familiar with the law of unintended consequences? What people did, is they started raising cobras. They started cobra farms. In fact, people would bring in cobra skins, they would get paid and then they would immediately go to the cobra farm and buy more cobras to get the skins, to get paid to … you see where it’s going.

Essentially, they weren’t getting rid of the cobras, and what’s worse is, once the government found out about this cobra farm going on, they said, “No more, we are not paying for any more cobra skins, we are done with this program.” Now you have a market that has collapsed and the cobra farmers have no more incentive to keep the cobras, and what happened was they released the cobras, and the net effect is essentially being worse off than how we started, and that’s the downside of a bounty.

How does that play into, say, a software development project, and particularly with testers? There are two things that I want to talk about in the keynote that I think has a similar negative effect. It’s not necessarily that more bugs could be created, I suspect that if we were to incentivize our internal teams as testers … as a tester, I love finding bugs. In fact, just yesterday … I won’t mention the name, but I was on my mobile phone ... my iPhone actually, and I was on a website trying to book some travel arrangements, and instead of having the month listed, it had “select=true quote 9” for September and so they had left some code in on the drop down that was not supposed to be there.

That really excites me as a tester to find bugs, and I think to some organizations, it’s appropriate to incentivize testers to find bugs, but really that’s an outcome and what I’m more interested in doing is incentivizing behaviors. Behaviors like collaborating with the developers, or the business analysts, or the customers to ensure that every aspect of the project is as clear and as defect-free as possible. In the end, I’m not really looking for bugs, I’m looking for quality as it relates to that application, if that makes sense. What I really want to do is I want to drive behaviors that help us incentivize, really, fewer defects, fewer bugs. If I incentivize finding bugs, then what I’m really doing is I’m asking, number one, testers to potentially fake finding bugs.


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