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In the Beginning, on Testing and User Experience (Rhythm of Testing)

On July 7, 2012, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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Behold, an Angel of the Lord appeared before them and said “Lift up your faces, oh wandering ones, and hear the words of the One who is Most High. 

Thus says the Lord, the Keeper of the Way and Holder of Truth, ‘Do not let your minds be troubled for I send a messenger unto you with great tidings.  The Path to Software Quality shall this messenger bring.  Heed the words and keep them whole. 

Worry not your hearts over the content of software releases.  Behold, one shall come bearing Requirements, functional and non-functional. And they shall be Good.  Study them and take them under your roof that you may know them wholly.

If, in your frail-mindedness, such Requirements are beyond the comprehension of lesser beings, Designers and Developers and Analysts, yea, unto the lowly Testers who are unable to comprehend such lofty concepts, fear not to come and humbly ask which these Requirements mean.  Lo, it shall be revealed unto you all that you need to know.  On asking, that which is given in answer shall be all that the lesser ones, unto the lowly Testers, shall be revealed.

Ask not more than once, for doing so will try the patience of the Great Ones who are given the task of sharing the Revelation of the Requirements.  To try the patience of these Great Ones can end with a comment in your permanent file, unto impacting your performance review and any pay raise you may long for now, and in the future.

Developers and Designers and lowly Testers shall then go forth from the place to the place of their cubicles and prepare such documents as is their task to prepare.'”

Then the Angel of the Lord spoke to them this warning with a voice that shook the Earth and the Hills and the Valleys and caused the Rivers to change from their courses.  “Seek not the counsel of those in the Help Desk nor those in Customer Support nor those in Services.  Their path will lead you astray for their knowledge is limited and perception flawed.  Avoid them in these tasks before you as they are not worthy to hear or read the words handed down to you from the Requirements Bearer.  Thus says the One who is Most High.”

1st Book of Development Methodology, 2:7-45

I’ve seen project methodologies adapted at companies that look and read painfully close to this.  None have gone this far, perhaps – at least not in language and phrasing.  Alas, a painful number have the spirit and feeling of the above.

Rubbish.

As you sow, so shall you reap.

It does not matter what methodology your organization uses to make software.  It does not matter what approach you have to determining what the requirements are.  They shall be revealed in their own time.

If you are making software that people outside of your company will use – maybe they will pay money for using it.  Maybe that is how your company stays in business.  Maybe that is where the money coming into the company for things

If that is the case, I wonder where the “Requirements” are coming from.  Companies I have worked for, in this situation, the “requirements” come from Sales folk.  Now, don’t get me wrong, many of these Sales folk are nice enough.  I’m just not sure they all understand certain aspects of technology and what can be done with software these days.

Frankly, I’m not sure if some of them have any idea what the software they are selling does.

That’s a pity.  The bigger pity is that many times the people they are working with to “get the deal” have no real idea what is needed.

They can have a grand, overall needs view.  They can have a decent understanding of what the company wants, or at least what their bosses say the company wants, from the new or improved software,  They may know the names of some of the managers that the people using the software every day.

This does not include the people who glance at the dashboard and say things like, “Hmmm. There seems to be a divergence between widget delivery and thing-a-ma-bob capacity.  Look at these charts.  Something is not right.”

That’s a good start.  Do they have any idea where the data for those charts come from?  Do they have any idea on how to drill down a bit and see what can be going on?  In some cases, they might.  I really hope that this is true in the majority of cases.  From what I have seen though, this isn’t the case.

The Average User

Ah yes.  What is an “average user”?  Well, some folks seem to have an idea and talk about what an “average user” of the system would do.  When they are sales folk who sell software (maybe that exists) I am not certain what they mean.

Do they mean an “everyman” kind of person?  Do they picture their mother trying to figure out the Internet and email and search engines?  I don’t know. 

Do they mean someone who follows the script, the instructions they are given on “how to do this function” – probably copied from the user manual – for 2,5 hours (then a coffee break) then 2 hours (lunch!) then 2 hours (then an afternoon break) then 1.5 hours (then home)?  Maybe.

Have any of you reading this seen that actually happen?  I have not.

So, folks tasked with designing a system to meet requirements derived from conversations with people who may or may not have contact with the system/process in general and who may or may not understand the way the system is actually used at their company (and when you multiply this across the model of “collected enhancement requests” many companies) will then attempt to build a narrative that addresses all of these needs, some of them competing.

This generally describes the process at four companies I know.

The designers may or may not create “user stories” to walk through scenarios to aid in the design.  They will look at aspects of the system and say “Yup, that’s covered all the requirements.  Good job, team/”

What has not happened in that model?   Anyone?

No one has actually talked with someone who is in contact with (or is) an “average user.”

When I raised the point at one company that this was an opportunity for miscommunication, I was told “the users are having problems because they are using it wrong.”

Really?  Users are using the system wrong?  

REALLY?

Or are they using it in a manner our model did not anticipate? 

Are they using it in a manner they need to in order to get their job done, and our application does not support them as they need it to?  Are they using it as they always needed to, working around the foibles of our software, and their boss’ boss’ boss – the guy talking with the sales folks – had no clue about?

Why?

Is it because the Customer Support, Help Desk, Professional Services… whatever they are called at your company – may know more about how customers actually use the software than, say, the “product experts”?  Is it because of the difference between how people expect the software to be used
and how those annoying carbon-based units actually use it?

As testers, is it reasonable to hold to testing strictly what one model of system use tells us is correct?   When we are to test strictly the “documented requirements” and adhere to the path as designed and intended by the design team, are we confirming anything other than their bias?

Are we limiting how we discover system behavior?  Are we testing?

I know I need to think on this some more. 

 

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