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Good News vs Bad News Cultures (Benjamin Yaroch's Blog)

On October 4, 2013, in Syndicated, by Association for Software Testing
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A while back I was recently watching a special on TV about a large automotive manufacturer in the US. Over several years the CEO created a “Good News” culture, in that he was only interested in hearing good news and not bad. Managers were rewarded for Green status reports and punished for anything else. This expectation and culture caused people to become dishonest because they would hide problems to avoid the slings and arrows of a negative report.

After some time there was a change in leadership (CEO), the status reports were presented as usual expect one manager decided to present a “Red” or bad news report. After he gave his report the new CEO started clapping and thanked the manager for his honesty, which came as a shock to everyone in the room. This new CEO wanted the truth and wanted to know about problems as they were discovered so they could get fixed. He knew that hiding them could cause them to become too big to resolve which in-turn put his products and company and jeopardy. This positive response to bad news caused a change in culture and at the following status meeting the reports went from mostly Green to a rainbow of colors that represented the truth about each product and project. This company had successfully moved from a “Good News” culture to a “Bad News” culture or a company that embraced bad news.  This cultural shift made the company stronger and better.

In a “Good News” culture stakeholders are interested in hearing things that are working, they celebrate the lack of problems, and typically are more focused on getting a product out based on single factors such as time or money.

In contrast a “Bad News” culture stakeholders are interested in hearing things that aren’t working, they celebrate new an interesting problems, and recognize that something found in-house avoids it being found in the field. Typically they are more focused on getting a product out based on quality and enjoy the challenges of resolving bad news.

In the testing world we can run into both types of cultures in our workplace both at a micro level (individuals) and a macro level (department or company wide). Testing is already challenging but when you combine that with a “Good News” culture it can be down right impossible. Let’s face it software testing tends to uncover  unpleasant and unflattering things, often making us the bearers of bad, or worse yet unwanted, news. If we are in a culture that only wants to hear good news then what is the value of testing? The test effort becomes merely a confirmatory process turning a tester into a checker. There is also and ethical dilemma that can occur, if a tester finds something the culture doesn’t want to hear bringing it forward can be a “career limiting move” but not doing so is irresponsible. What is a tester to do, we have a responsibility to report important problems that might detract value from our projects, but people need to want to hear the bad news.

As testers we must always be honest in our reporting, and ensure that we aren’t doing “fake” testing (IE writing “pass” in all the boxes because that is what people want). Further if the culture is causing you to limit constrain your testing or you know about important problems, you have a responsibility to speak up! Further managers need to be aware that for a tester to succeed a culture needs to be receptive to bad news; they must welcome it and celebrate it. Only then can a company succeed and truly appreciate the full value of testing.

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