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Woodchucks and Test Estimation (Unimagined Testing)

On August 8, 2011, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Recently I was reminded of an old tongue twister during a conversation about test estimation. Once again I had heard the question asked to a tester “How much time do you need for testing?”. To me that question practically the same as asking – “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”  Let’s break it down to illustrate.

How muchThe statement “How Much” begs a number of questions:

  • How will we measure “how much” is it by weight, size of the pile, height of the pile, number of pieces, or size of the individual pieces.
  • Perhaps there is a less quantifiable metric we are ‘measuring’ against such as “when the individual who requested wood chucking is happy or satisfied with the results?”
  • Is there a quality concern that would deem some of the wood chucked to be not included in this measurement. Could we have poorly chucked wood that wouldn’t count? Or alternatively would wood chucked in a high quality manner count for more towards this final measurement?

How much woodWhat exactly do we mean by “wood”? Wikipedia defines wood as a “hard, fibrous tissue found in many plants.” The definition continues to say ” wood can be used for fuel or construction. Wood may also refer to other plant materials with comparable properties, and to material engineered from wood, or wood chips or fiber.” So what exactly is our woodchuck chucking?

  • What is the purpose of the wood we are chucking?
  • Does the wood need to meet a certain criteria? Size, type?
  • Are we talking treated wood, recycled wood, unfinished, finished, MDF, oak, pine, cherry, you get the picture?

So when we don’t know what we are chucking, how can we know how much? This adds even more complexity to the question.

How much wood would a woodchuck… Let’s closer examine our hard working little wood chucker the woodchuck. A woodchuck is also known more commonly as a groundhog. (Well who knew!) Woodchucks are a lowland creatures who are found in North America as far north as Alaska and as far south as Alabama. If you have never seen one they are a small creature between 16 – 26 inches long and weighing between 4 – 9 lbs. Not a very big size to be chucking a lot of wood. You also need to consider:

  • Woodchucks hibernate during the winter months. So depending on when the woodchucking is occurring he may not be chucking any at all since he would be sleeping.
  • Once a year woodchucks have a moral duty on Groundhog Day to leave their borrows to check for their shadow and determine if winter will end early or continue for 6 more weeks. Clearly they can’t be chucking wood on such an important day. If winter is extended for 6 more weeks, you will further reduce the available for woodchucking.
  • In the wild woodchucks only live on average 2 – 3 years.  However, in captivity woodchucks can live from 9 – 14 years. Depending on which woodchuck (wild or domestic) is performing the chucking you may have only a year to get said job completed.
  • Woodchucks are aggressive by nature. You may have some personnel issues to deal with in order to get the woodchucking job done.
  • Common predators for woodchucks include wolves, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, bears, large hawks, owls, and dogs. When threaten they retreat to their burrows to hide. You’ll need to invest in some protection of your little wood chucker in order to keep him safe and on task.

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck… The word “chuck” when used as a verb means, “to toss; throw with a quick motion, usually a short distance”.  It also has various other meanings however, I believe in this example this definition is the most fitting. Again additional questions come to mind:

  • Is there a certain preferred chucking technique that our woodchuck must use to perform the wood chucking?
  • Is there a distance requirement that needs to be met in order for the chuck to count?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if… My grade school grammar (and the Internet) taught me that in this sentence the word “if” is a conjunction. Its meaning in this sentence could be replaced with “when” or “whenever”. Which could mean that woodchucks can indeed chuck wood. So we could alternatively ask, “How much would would a woodchuck chuck WHEN a woodchuck would chuck wood?” In this case woodchucks can chuck wood if they decide to do so. Now we could use past examples of wood chucking woodchucks to determine how much wood a woodchuck could chuck. (Much like we try to do with past software projects and test estimation). However, still more questions:

  • How accurate is it to compare two woodchucks’ woodchucking ability? If one can chuck a certain quantity of wood, does that mean another should be able to chuck the same? How similar do two woodchucks need to be before we can compare one to another?
  • Are the conditions under in which one woodchuck is woodchucking wood the same conditions as when another woodchuck is woodchucking wood?
  • Are the requirements the same for woodchucking the same for both woodchucking woodchucks?

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?… The word could in this sentence leaves me a little concerned. There is some potential risk that even if we found a woodchuck large enough and who was motivated enough to chuck wood he still may not be able to for any number of reasons.

As silly as this question about woodchucks is, there are a number of parallels that can be made to software testing. In our test estimations we face a number of the same questions and concerns listed above and often end up with more questions than answers. For me the biggest challenge isn’t coming up with a test estimate that I know will change, its easy for me to make up any number. Instead the challenge is getting my stakeholders or project manager to understand the complexity of testing.

    So when you are next asked for your test estimate just take a deep breath and think “if I were a woodchuck…..”.

     

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