In the beginning there was consumption...
It all starts with the consumption society in which we, software testers, live.
An average consumer, willing to spend some money, asks for a certain custom product.
Being a consumer for quite a while, and having the experience of buying standard products, we know a price and an exact scope of what we're going to get for our money.
When I for example go and buy a car, I know exactly what I'm going to pay, how my car will look like and when I'm going to receive it. The same goes by the way for a book, cd or even a software package.
So our problem, of testing being a process, begins exactly here. We are all very familiar with the trade of standard products. But there is a big difference between standard products and custom made products. Many clients and suppliers are not very competent in buying or selling such a non-standard, custom product.
And even though you think your car is customized when you have carefully chosen your options and colour - you just configured your car with the standard options and colour a supplier provides for this car. If you disagree, go to the garage and try to have an integrated GPS with bluetooth module, traffic board recognition and rear-driving camera, ESP and ABS system in a 1992 Opel Corsa and you'll see what I'm talking about.
When testing is required, we're talking mostly about new product development. We're going to build or integrate something that we never built or integrate before. So this is NOT a standard product that we can just take off a shelf.
What we seem to like to omit, is the fact that in custom software production, we're going to make something for the first time. We might integrate with components that aren't there yet, using technologies we haven't been using yet, working with people we have never seen before. There are a lot of unknown factors here.
So how do we need to buy or sell a custom product?
When we sell or buy something that does not yet exist, we don't want to find out that what we wanted is not really what we needed on the moment we spent all our money. We want to verify step by step and have the possibility to learn and steer and even more, get a good understanding about the real cost of the complete product we're asking for.
What we need to do is learn quickly, as we will be making false assumptions on cost or complexity, forgot about important things and maybe had some misunderstandings on all different levels. We have to keep our eyes open, and our focus sharp. Is this product that we're building fit for purpose? Are we on the right track? We better find out that we made a mistake before we spent all those millions.
So ideally we plan, build and act in small iterations. Each iteration gives us time to act and learn so that we can adopt in order to do better during the next iteration. Testing is a part of acting and is taking place in close cooperation with all stakeholders and is therefore a important driver of the learning and improvement of the team.
We buy and sell by building a solid trust relation between buyer and seller that gives room for continuity and results after a couple of iterations in a very clear view on budget, scope, planning and their respective interferences.
Process VS Learning
Now what is a process?
A process is a series of predefined actions that produce something or that lead to a particular result.
Processes tend to always start from the same starting points, with known input and the output of a process is also known.
Processes are used to streamline factories and service companies that offer standard products or services. We don't want those people, building cars, delivering lettres or producing cd's to learn and improve. They have to follow the process. We want them to work effectively and at a minimal cost.
When building custom products, it is close to impossible to have a concrete view on any standard process to follow right from the start as there is no routine yet, that could be the base for a process to be put in place. On the contrary, there are many unknown factors in input, actions to be taken and even outputs.
This does not mean that no agreements can be made about communication and cooperation.
By learning and improving, processes and procedures might be put in place during software development. But those processes and procedures will be very specific and tailored to the people and the context of this piece of software that is being built.
I would like to claim that testing can not be performed successfully by only following any standard process. Quality of any custom made software product can not be guaranteed by following any process. Good and effective testing requires expertise, knowledge, experience and skill.
During testing, it is the learning curve that can lead to creation of specific processes that can be applied within projects, programs or cooperating teams. But it is the learning curve and close stakeholder cooperation that leed to less issues in production, not any process.
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