May 5, 2007

Not Gonna Bow

Posted by Ben Simo

Individuals and interactions
over processes and tools

Working software
over comprehensive documentation

Customer collaboration
over contract negotiation

Responding to change
over following a plan

- Agile Manifesto

Neary 400 years ago, Francis Bacon challenged the status quo in scientific thought in “The New Organon”. James Bach recently pointed out some interesting quotes from this work that apply to software testers. I agree.

Bacon argued that placing our preconceived beliefs over what we observe causes great harm. He went so far as to describe these harmful preconceived notions as “idols”. Bacon put these idols into four categories:

  • Idols of the Tribe: Errors common to mankind.

  • Idols of the Cave: Errors specific to each individual’s education and experience.

  • Idols of the Market Place: Errors formed through association with others — often due to misunderstanding others.

  • Idols of the Theater: Errors formed from dogma (institutionalized doctrine) and flawed demonstrations.

All of these exist in software testing. As testers, we should be questioning these “idols”, not worshiping them. Sometimes questioning them may prove them right.

Bacon did not ask anyone to abandon their beliefs without cause. Instead he asks that we not make them idols capable of leading us to ignore what would be obvious if we weren’t looking through the distorted mirror of our idols.

A modern day simplification of Bacon’s arguments may be the Agile Manifesto. We should not let our idols of process, documentation, contracts, and plans prevent us from accomplishing the desired goal. Process, documentation, contracts, and plans are only good in as much as they help. They should not prevent us from seeking improvement.

In some ways I believe that the promotion of testing folklore is the result of an industry-wide desire to show that we are mature — as mature as the engineering of physical products. I believe that eagerness to demonstrate maturity helps lead to the implementation of bad processes and cerfifications. Ironically, enforced process (see the bottom of the FSOP cycle) works best for the immature and gives the impression that anyone that can follow the process can test software.

Don't get me wrong. Process and documentation are good things that help even the smartest people when appropriately applied.

"The only thing that interferes with my learning is my
education." - Albert Einstein

We need to seek continual improvement. It is sad that process and certification often become idols that overshadow the real goals.