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Authority Bias in Testing: My article in OZTester Magazine (The Pragmatic Testing)

On July 16, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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There is new issue of OZTester magazine available at www.nztester.conz. Both OZTester and NZTester have good articles focusing on multiple aspects of testing. I focused on the human aspect and wrote about Authority & Action Biases. There is also a joke about Zeno’s paradox.

For your convenience, below is my article that has published . The complete article can be read at:

http://www.nztester.co.nz/oztester_files/OZTester02.pdf

Airblue Flight 202 was a scheduled domestic passenger flight which crashed on 28 July 2010 near Islamabad, the      capital of Pakistan, killing all 146 passengers and six crew on board.
The report issued by Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority in November 2011 cited a lack of professionalism in the cockpit crew along with poor weather as primary factors in the crash. In particular, the report noted that the captain ignored or did not properly respond to a multitude  of Air Traffic Control directives and automated cabin warning systems. The report also claimed that the first officer passively accepted the captain’s actions, after the captain on multiple occasions “berated” and took a “harsh, snobbish and contrary” tone with him. 
Korean Air Flight 801 (KE801, KAL801) crashed on August 6, 1997 on approach to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in the US territory ofGuam
While formal investigation revealed multiple reasons of crash, Malcolm Gladwell  examined the crash in the context of ethno-centric power structures of Asian cultures in his book Outliers. He believes that because Korean culture is hierarchical, people become obliged to be deferential toward elders and superiors.  In this crash, when the captain made an error, the co-pilot did not respond. Reason; the captain is in charge of the plane, the boss, and either out of respect or fear, the  co-pilot never raised the alarm.
Now, most airlines have a role that deals with training, coaching and mentoring of crew. One of   the jobs of this role is to ensure there is no authority bias exists amongst the crew.
What is the Correlation?
You must be either wondering what the correlation is between testing and plane crashes or, you already know by now what I am going to talk about. For those who are still wondering, there is a correlation between the possible cause of above incidents of crashes and a failed testing attempt of a software project.  This correlation is called Authority Bias.
What is Authority Bias?
Authority bias is the tendency to accept or value the opinion of an authoritative figure without question. When this bias exists, the authority figure also tends     to ignore the opinion of subordinates.  
If you notice in the examples above, the mishap happened because communication amongst the crew was ineffective.  Crew members were afraid to question the captain and didn’t raise the alarm even when they were aware that a lethal accident was about to happen. And when they did, their manager did not care to listen to whether they were raising anything of importance. 
I have observed similar phenomena in testing on many occasions. Authority bias can strongly affect testing delivery at various stages of the SDLC. 

Continue reading at http://www.nztester.co.nz/oztester_files/OZTester02.pdf

Authority bias has been a huge culprit in negatively affecting testing deliveries on many projects. Perhaps in the future, armed with understanding, we may better address it and establish a more realistic grounding for our testing efforts!  

References:
1) AirBlue Flight crash: Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airblue_Flight_202
2) Korean Air Flight crash: Outliers; Malcome Gladwell
3) Zeno’s Paradox & Authority paradox: Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar…Understanding Philosophy through Jokes; Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein
Further Reading:
1) Thinking Fast and Slow; Daniel Kahnemann’s 
2) The Art of Thinking Clearly; Rolf Dobelli
3) Software Estimation: Demystifying the Black Art; Steve McConnell
 

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