Do it right: A value in Context Driven Testing

The problem with me is that I’m really bad at following instructions. When people tell me to do something in a certain way, I do it differently.

It’s a problem when I cook, because I‘m not particularly good at cooking. So I have to follow recipies, and I often mess it up slightly. I’m improving, learning strategies to remember, but this is a fundamental personality trait for me.

And not one I’m sorry about. Because it’s not a problem when I test!

I always wanted to be a great tester.

I tend to become really annoyed with myself when a bug turns up in production in something I have tested. ”Why did I miss that?!” I feel guilty. You probably recognise the feeling.

The feeling of guilt is ok. The fact that we can feel guilt proves that we have consciousness, empathy and do the best we can. People who don’t care, don’t feel guilt.

But in testing, finding every bug is fundamentally impossible, so we have to get over it and keep testing. Keep exploring!

Even before I learnt about Context Driven Testing, I knew that great testing could never be about following test scripts and instructions. I noticed that I got bored and lost attention when I executed the same test scripts over and over again, but I also noticed that I missed more bugs when I only followed the instructions.

So I stopped following the instructions. This gave me an explanation problem, however: “Uhh, well I didn’t do quite what I was asked to do…. but hey you know, I found these interesting bugs that I can show you!”

Can you hear it? That won’t impress old-school project managers with spreadsheets to check and plans to follow.

Context Driven Testing has helped me greatly in becoming a better tester. The thing is that CDT teaches me to do a great testing job without instructing me exactly what to do. Instead, the community shares a lot of heuristics I can use to help me do a great testing job, and through thinking-training and inspiration from others, it’ll help me develop my capacity to do great testing in whatever contexts in which I’m working.

It may be a bit difficult to grasp at first. A little worrying, perhaps.. But CDT is a really, really powerful testing approach.

And CDT has helped me explain what I do to my project managers. Even the old-school types!

Social services and testing

A few days ago, I read an article about quality in social services in which the following statement from the vice president of the Danish social workers union caught my attention: ”It’s about doing it right, not about doing the right things.” He was speaking of how the authorities try to help vulnerable children and their families.

The statement resonated with me, and a bit later it occurred to me that it even sums up what CDT is about:

Context Driven Testing is about doing it right, not about doing all the right things.

Note that I’ve added the word ‘all’ here.

There’s more to CDT of course, but this is the core of CDT – to me. Some readers may lift their eyebrows over the ”doing it right”-thing: ”Does he mean that there is ONE right way to do it?” Read on…

The past 10 years, I’ve worked in contexts where CDT is not really the thing we do, and if I was to be as context driven as managers in my context had asked me to be, I would not really have been context driven. You get the picture, I’m sure.

But with CDT in my briefcase, I can work to make changes and improving things in the specific context in which I’m working. As a consultant and contractor, I’m usually hired to fix a problem, not to revolutionize things, and I’m expected to do a “good job” fixing it.

”Doing it right” is of course about doing a good job, and ”doing a good job” should really not be taken lightly. CDT helps me do a good job, even when I’m not working in contexts that actively supports CDT. That’s because CDT is flexible: It empahsizes that testing should never be driven by manuals, standards or instructions, but by the actual context in which it takes place, and that’s actually quite difficult to disagree with, even for old school project managers!

Further, if my context (i.e. project manager) ask me to do something, I do it – even if it’s in a standard. Sometimes there’s a good reason to use a standard.

Context driven testing is not defined by any methods or even by a certain set of heuristics. Nor is it defined by a book, standard or manual. Neither is there any formal education, certification or ”club” that you have to be a member of in order to call yourself Context Driven.

Instead, Context Driven Testing is about committing oneself to some core values, and to me the most important value in CDT is contained in the sentence:

It’s about doing it right, not about doing all the right things.

Why would anyone wan’t anything else?

(Thanks to @jlottossen for reviewing this post and for suggesting several changes to the original version.)

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