Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Emotional Testing - Testing From the Heart of the Business

This is an article from the August edition of the EuroSTAR Newsletter - STARTester, from Ian Londesbrough. You can view the complete newsletter by clicking here and don't forget to subscribe to receive future issues.

In the last few years, testing and quality assurance have started to shake off the preconceptions of geekiness and started to carry more gravitas within organisations. Seemingly always the poor relation to development in the IS profession, testing is finally making it onto the agenda for board rooms, businesses and IS communities. But to claim that testing is "sexy" or "cutting edge" would be to overstate its appeal - if this is the case, how can the technology industry demonstrate its importance to the business decision makers?

Testing, like many other practices in the IT industry, has long been the preserve of logical, structured, “left brain” thinkers - the tech heads. In truth, many of the people who drive business are the creative forces, people who are more “right brain” in their thought processes. Therefore if testing is going to take up its rightful place in driving the development of projects that actually deliver the expected results, then something has to change – it has to be made more appealing to the creative forces within business.

Consider for a moment the difference between left brain and right brain thinking and the types of thought processes they engage in:

Left Brain
Looks at parts

Right Brain
Looks at wholes

There is no doubt that testing professionals need all the “left brain” attributes, but in addition to those, they need to move beyond the robotic, structured motions of traditional testing - both the left and the right side of the brain need to be utilised. This would enable testing professionals to start thinking about business from the more strategic and creative perspectives. It would also help them to gain a firmer foothold in the boardroom, allowing them to communicate the importance and criticality of testing to the right audience.

As we know, testing is required for a very diverse range of products and systems. For example, to test a console game which is designed to stimulate emotion requires both emotional and subjective decisions, as well as random and intuitive assessment of risk. These elements require a mental attitude different to that of the traditional testing professional.

The testing industry not only needs to adopt a “whole brain” approach when testing, it needs to utilise the right side in order to engage with the board and demonstrate the added value and business benefits of testing. Jargon such as “stakeholder buy-in”, “board level sponsorship”, “grass roots support”, is forever being bandied about, but how can the testing and technology industries really engage directors, business users, and staff and make a connection which delivers the value and benefit they expect?

To engage with any of their audiences, senior decision makers in particular, testing professionals need to have a firm understanding of the business requirements. The job of a professional tester is to fulfil the requirements of all stakeholders: from the client and their board through to partners and the tester’s own employer. By fulfilling the requirements, testing is not only seen in a favourable light, but it becomes a “must have” for any project.

In order to engage with their audiences effectively, professional testers need to be connected, from an emotional standpoint, to the business and understand on a cerebral level what the business is trying to achieve. When responding to situations the right side of the brain is the reactive, emotional side – think adrenaline rushes, increasing heart rates – the left side of the brain has a more considered, logical approach. Therefore testers can harness this cognitive process to ensure they immerse themselves in the business, the requirements and the risks and dangers it faces and then use their logical, analytical abilities to come up with testing and quality assurance strategies to meet the business’s requirements.

Traditionally, testers are not always vocal about their work and the positive benefits they are bringing to the business. Using this more emotional approach, throughout delivery of the project, testers need to constantly re-engage and maintain a positive relationship with their customers by communicating and demonstrating how testing has removed the risk from the project and produced success and profit.

The connection between an emotive approach and business and technology issues in a testing environment becomes clear when assessing the success that testing professionals achieve in delivering positive outcomes for the business. Testers who are trapped in the old school thought process of testing for testing’s sake and approaching it from a box-ticking, operational perspective, fail to engage effectively with the business and thus achieve a lesser degree of success. For example they may not understand the importance of capturing information that demonstrates the value testing is bringing to the business.

Using an emotive approach to testing will also enable professional testers to bring the discipline to life – using real life examples of projects that have failed due to shortfalls in the testing and quality assurance procedures will be much more effective than the traditional “death by powerpoint” approach.
If testers can engage the business and technology industry on an emotional level, about the added value and business benefits of testing, then testing will be able to move forward. Once the testing industry embraces the “whole brain” approach, they can assume a leadership role, guiding clients through projects safely eliminating the risk and enjoying much more success than you could possibly have from a traditional, logical and structured approach.

For all professional testers convinced of how critical their role is to the success or failure of IT projects, they need to engage the business at the ideas stage, drill down effectively to determine the requirements from the project and really get to the nub of what organisations and IS communities want. In doing this, disaster can be averted and businesses will start to realise the true benefits of successful projects.

Graduating from Warwick University in 1988, Ian started his career in IT as a Junior Programmer with Barclays Bank. Ian then moved to ICI, which became Zeneca and then Astra Zeneca. Ian has also worked for PA Consulting and prior to joining IS Integration he was the Testing & Release Manager for RWE Shared Services IS (serving npower and Thames Water).

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