Where Are the Testers in XP?


Cem Kaner has said, "Unless the level of technical skill in our field improves substantially, we can expect programming teams to continue to actively plan ways to work around low-functioning test teams. If we continue to combine low technical skill with process traditionalism, judgmentalism, and righteous political activism on projects, I think we'll see ongoing, reasonable, and justified sympathy for excluding testers from any serious roles in projects, among programmers, project managers, and development executives."7

If you are a tester on a team adopting XP, here's how to demonstrate your value to the team:

  1. Show how you provide a helpful perspective in the definition of software expectations (whether you call them "requirements" or "tests")—a perspective that is difficult for either programmers or "customers" but that makes a real difference for the success of the project
  2. Show how you can be satisfied with an information-provider role, not insisting on being a gatekeeper or quality policeman8
  3. Show how you can adapt to an iterative methodology, changing direction as the project changes, rather than insisting that the team stick to the plan9
  4. Show how you can function with a minimum of formal specifications, asking for more information when you need it and taking the initiative to document key information yourself when you see the need

Interestingly, these are not only the criteria for how testers can provide value to XP teams; they are also the ingredients for exploratory testing.10,11

Thanks to Ståle Amland and Elisabeth Hendrickson for comments on early drafts.

1By "the XP books" I mostly refer to Extreme Programming Explained, by Kent Beck and Planning Extreme Programming, by Kent Beck and Martin Fowler
2Correspondence on "Agile-Testing" mailing list, Ron Jeffries, 29 April 2002
3Planning Extreme Programming, Beck and Fowler, p. 17
4 "Circle of Life, Spiral of Death," Ramachandran and Shukla, in XP/Agile Universe 2002 Proceedings, Wells & Williams, ed.
5Framework for Integrated Test, Ward Cunningham
6Testing Extreme Programming, Lisa Crispin and Tip House
7Correspondence on "Software-Testing" mailing list, Cem Kaner, 18 September 2002
8"Don't Become the Quality Police," Pettichord, Stickyminds.com, 1 July 2002
9"XP, Iterative Development, and the Testing Community," Kaner, Stickyminds.com, 21 October 2002
10"What is Exploratory Testing?" James Bach, Stickyminds.com, 29 January 2001
11"A Survey of Exploratory Testing," Brian Marick

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