Applying ETHICS in Testing
IT projects and IT professionals have often focused on the technical rather than the human aspects of what we do. It is all too easy to lose sight of why we work to create new technology to serve people and to solve problems that people have.
In quality assurance and testing, this technical focus is apparent in the perception of the skills and training required to be a tester. The desire to acquire skills in using tools is overwhelming in comparison to the demand for development of softer skills. This has been driven by a number of factors that have emerged over the last decade or so:
- Significant improvements in test management and automation applications
- The range of tools available
- Demand for smaller, more frequent deliveries of code and the move to agile software development
- The perceived reduction in costs that can be achieved through automation
Perhaps the most significant of these points is the last one. As testing has become commoditised the clamour for automation has grown and this has fuelled a belief that any tester worth their salt must have the ability to use tools to deliver this. We call this tick box certification.
Certification in the use of particular tools has become an objective without necessarily being combined with an understanding of when we should and shouldn't use tools.
"By applying ETHICS in testing we ensure that technology has Human Quality."
- Rich Rogers, Principal Consultant AccessHQ
AccessHQ recognises the many benefits of tools and automation when applied in the right circumstances. We also recognise that technical skills on their own are worth little - as the saying goes, "a fool with a tool is still a fool". Through our recruitment and our professional development programs we ensure that technical skills are coupled with traits that help us understand our customers and also help them to understand us. We focus on the people that are served by technology.
There are six traits or characteristics described below which we believe should be encouraged and developed in all QA professionals. These can be applied to quality assurance professionals, but also to our approach to assurance and testing. To help remember these, we use the acronym ETHICS:
The ability to see things from the point of view of another, or to put yourself in the shoes of another, is essential for a tester. If we believe that testing is simply a case of proving that requirements have been met, then we make a critical (and often false) assumption that the requirements we test against accurately capture the customer's expectations. To test effectively we must be aware of the real expectations of the customer and when testing we must constantly ask ourselves whether these expectations are being met. Empathy is also essential in our relationships with the people we interact with. Understanding for example, the pressure that a developer may be under or the expectations placed on a project manager helps us to foster a friendly working relationship and facilitates collaboration.
It is easy to forget that our customers and colleagues do not necessarily have the inclination or the time to understand the intricacies of testing. We have a responsibility to get important messages across succinctly. At AccessHQ, one of our core principles to Human Quality is “Communicate Clearly”. We use visual aids and we avoid jargon, which is often exclusive rather than inclusive – it acts as a barrier to understanding. Perhaps most importantly we can ask people about their priorities and concerns and make sure that we provide clear information and updates which address these. Reporting is a powerful tool when used properly – not providing pages of statistics for the sake of it, but instead identifying risks through proper analysis of test results and presenting these findings in a manner which is easy to interpret.
There is a fine line to be walked between having the confidence to speak up and the humility to recognise when there are others who are better placed to comment or make a decision. The IT industry has its fair share of self-appointed experts who believe they have seen it all and done it all. We should be brave enough to acknowledge when we do not understand something or do not have the expertise required to get something right. Being aware of limitations is not a weakness – it is a strength and enables us to identify where we can learn and develop new skills. It also ensures that we bring in the right skills to deliver the best outcome for the customer.
Much of what we do in testing is the application of common sense and we can make a difference by doing simple, but sensible things. Intuition goes further than this. As we learn techniques, apply these techniques and experience different situations we begin to act instinctively. We know what the right approach to take is, given the circumstances. We begin to anticipate difficulties and recognise what steps we can take to respond. We should have the confidence to act on this intuition, perhaps by raising concerns to managers, or perhaps investigation through further unscripted testing. This is quite different to blindly following test scripts.
If we are not inquisitive we are unlikely to be successful in testing. The desire to explore and investigate is a characteristic that drives individuals and teams involved in testing. When coupled with tenacity, the results can be spectacular. Curiosity has another benefit – the desire to learn. Many testers are passionate about learning and recognise that we can always discover new things in a fast moving industry. Broadening our horizons allows us to make informed decisions about how we focus our energies on learning and where we can use our knowledge for further innovation.
Acting with honesty and integrity is critical in building trust. Testers are often in a unique position to make objective assessments of a product or change. Sometimes the findings might be contentious or unpalatable but if we are trusted then at the very least, people will listen. Over time a relationship of trust can develop to the extent that testers can influence whether or not an implementation goes ahead or what changes should be made to meet customer expectations. To reach this point we must act with integrity and professionalism in everything that we do.
At AccessHQ, we ask our consultants to consider these six characteristics in the way that they go about their work
We ask our managers to consider them in our approach to projects and engagements. We encourage all professional testers to do the same in the hope that we can bring Human Quality to the way we all work in the future.