Tester Advocacy Part 3 – Is productivity a measure of value?

Posted on Posted in Everything, Software Testing

There has been an interesting thread going on in the yahoo software testing group to which I subscribe. The topic began as a discussion about software development as art, but was quickly shoehorned into a discussion about productivity. Jared Quinert blogged a response to this recently which got me thinking again about tester advocacy. I haven’t made much progress on the code of conduct front (though the principles for the practise of craft resonate strongly with me), but I think being proactive in the education of others is up there on the list, and the discussion around the meaning of productivity helps to highlight it.

For those that are too time-poor, a potted summary of Jared’s post might read ‘productivity – appropriately defined – is the key to defensible testing. Problems arise where productivity is seen as synonymous with output / effort as opposed to the gathering of helpful information’.

I agree with this, and particularly with the qualification ‘appropriately defined’. I think the danger of (mis)applying the term ‘productivity’ to testing is that the audience expects a ‘product’ at the end. Some sort of artefact that they can point to as proof that testing time was time well spent.

In my experience, the test report is often the thing by which tester productivity is measured. Not necessarily the testing that the report represents, but the report itself. Is it then not incumbent upon the tester to ensure the content of the reporting clearly displays the value of the test effort? Both the actual interaction with the code as
well as the thought and planning that goes around it.

In assisting the creation of a software product, we are generally measured by our productivity towards that end. If the people we are reporting to have a misdirected sense of what productivity means in relation to testing, I believe the responsibility is ours to correct it. How that happens really depends on who you’re reporting to and what they’re looking for.

If the thinking goes ‘a developer produces code, then what does a tester produce?’ – then the tester in my opinion is probably being set up for an unfair comparison. If I were forced to give an answer to that question it might be ‘information’. I want to make damned sure
that the information they get out of the testing I have done is valuable to them in some way. If that makes me a producer of information in their eyes, so be it.

Another way to look at it is to ask ‘If there were no testers, what else would you not have?’ If your audience can’t answer that, then I think your problems are more fundamental than their understanding of what you produce.

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