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Testing Buzzwords Decoded (Testy Testy)

On June 4, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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If you work at a larger corporation, you are in danger of attending a “Directional Strategy Meeting” where you might hear some buzzwords used. This handy guide can help you translate!

Phrase

Possible Meaning

World Class Quality

We have no idea what quality is

Standardize

We are even willing to lower quality, as long as it is cheap and we can outsource it or simplify it

Modern tools

Try to automate our way out of this mess we created using magic

Best practices

Copy other companies

Global economy/global concerns

Outsourcing will save us money and give us tax shelters

Measurable progress

More Micromanagement will make us feel like we are making progress.

Increased Efficiency

Mandated Unpaid Overtime where  we break the law, but pretend we don’t

Measurable Goals

Limit ourselves to what we can easily measure

So, should you find yourself in a situation where you are being assaulted by buzzwords, here are some ways to help yourself take these in without despair. Often, you’ll find that a well-intended person who simply isn’t experienced in quality has been slightly tricked. They’ve been convinced either by success with engineering groups, or by reading books that leading a quality group is exactly the same as leading a group of programmers. That simply isn’t the case.

I’ve found I really enjoy working for teams where those in charge of quality leadership have not only done excellent testing, but have successfully led testing for projects before, and importantly, were well liked and recommended by those doing the work as well as the managers they were reporting to. Too often, managing up well is prioritized over managing your direct reports, and their direct reports. If you can skip several levels and interview both levels up and levels down in an organization and get a consistent picture of the performance and it is good? That person is a true excellent leader. If the person in charge is polarizing, and either everyone above or below doesn’t believe in the competence of the leader, that is a huge risk.

I hope that this translation guide can help you along with how I answer the question: “Should I stay or should I go now?” Are you protected enough from the larger corporate problems to perform your day to day work to the best of your ability? If you are, you may want to stay. Every company has issues, and every job has pros and cons. The question in software isn’t, “Can’t I do this for the rest of my life?” The better question is, “For the next 6 months, what are my plans?” Things change pretty fast. Even 6 months may be too long to wait to evaluate. If you are in a buzzword heavy situation, try this translation chart, and see if it helps you write your own.

 Corporate Phrase  Edited Meaning
 World Class Quality  Our team needs to define what meaningful quality is before someone does it for us!
 Standardize  Even if we need a limited set of “supported tools”, we’d better protect the future and make sure each team can use the tools that work and we aren’t limited so much that we can’t use new tools are they are available.

Modern tools

Money to use for sustainable, well designed, helpful automation that applies in our context. Protect this money so it isn’t wasted.

Global economy/global concerns

We understand the needs of our global customers and have our testing scaled to support all regions that apply now and in the future.

Measurable progress

We must decide what progress we really need, find a way to measure it, and make sure it’s agreed upon by our management or they could do this for us.

Increased Efficiency

Iterative improvement as measured by meeting team goals.

Measurable Goals

Agree on goals that matter, understand how they will be measured, make sure that the data isn’t abused or unfairly manipulated.

If there are other buzzwords, terms, or worse yet “Mandates”, try to think about what you can do to make them positive for your team and protect what is working to get the job done.You may think I’m picking on one particular company or client, but I assure you, if these seem familiar, it is only because I’ve seen them in no less than 3 places, and they are commonly used in anything from “quality improvements”, “testing plans”, “long term goals”, and “engineering excellence” as well as “corporate initiatives”. It isn’t enough to point out the lack of details or flaws within them, as that will just target you as being a “trouble maker”. Unfortunately, the majority of the people willing to use this corporate speak will not understand that you questioning them is meant to make them better, or is helpful feedback. If they truly understood testing, they would know to choose better words than these. Words with meaning. Better yet, words that don’t alienate testers. This isn’t the sort of fight best won with bluntness and confrontation. It is likely that you’ll be seen as disloyal to your company if you approach these buzzwords with disdain.

Instead, do your best to reinterpret these goals and make them useful. Assume that they just don’t know better, and the intent really is to improve quality, and help them improve quality, even if they can’t express a good plan for doing so. If it isn’t possible to help influence the buzzword party for good, at least protect what is good about your teams to help you best cope and limit the harm they can do. Test through it, just keep testing, keep learning, and long after the nonsense goals have passed, you’ll have useful testing experience to share. Also, keep in mind that it isn’t always like this. There are small unstable start-ups where even the executives, all the way up to the CEO are doers. They are the people writing the code. They often don’t do much testing or hire many testers, but there is far less time for writing buzzword heavy documents at some small companies. There are also some amazing large companies being led by amazingly smart and capable testers (nod to Jon Bach from Ebay as a prime example), so there is even more hope on the horizon for better understanding of what makes testing good, and what good testing looks like. Whatever happens, don’t spread these nonsense words yourself. When you refuse to leverage the synergy, and instead put it into simple terms that make sense, we all win.

Each time you leverage the intrinsic skills driving passionate innovation in the instant mobile world of the web 2.0 social media strategy, embracing world class quality at a company known for class leading technology, a kitten dies. Save the kittens. Down with buzzwords.

 

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