The Promise

Our focus as testers is on finding issues in the product/application. And it is a good goal to pursue. Step back a little and think… Is there a greater goal? If so what is it?

A product is sold on the promises that marketing makes to its customer base. And a custom application is also sold on the promise of the value it delivers to the business. The greater goal is “The Promise”. And these promises are based the expectation of end users.

When we test a system, we are in fact checking the unwritten promise of the development. That of ascertaining if there are defects that may derail quality and break the promise of good working software. But that alone is not enough. As end users we have expectations that have been built on the promises by marketing folks. And these go beyond the mere good working software. These are about ‘how it enhances my experience and could make my life better’. My life at home or office depending on the product!

So we need to elevate our thinking to a higher level. As one who is responsible for “Ensure that we deliver on the promise”. Of ensuring that the expectations are indeed met. That expectations are meaningful and are indeed value adding.

But it is difficult due to the bias. The bias of knowing deeply about the system. When we test a system, we get to know the system in detail and over time “get used to” the kinks. The kinks that may ultimately derail the promise. The kinks that messes up expectations.

The difficulty is in shifting to the view of being an end user and then evaluating the promise. The difficulty in quietly getting acclimatised to challenges in implementation, to becoming numb to the lack of clarity of the pristine promise and and therefore not doing a stringent job as expected. Kinda like the “Stockholm syndrome”. And this is but natural. So what can we do about this?

How can we get this job done? Let us step back a little and see how we get any job done. We can get a job done by (1)Doing it ourselves or (2) Facilitating to get it done. In this case the ‘doing it by ourself’ seems to pose the challenge due to bias. So maybe we should resort to (2). By facilitating to getting this done.

Before I get to the details, let me explain the genesis of this this article. In a recent customer engagement with a startup company, the conceiver of the product was the Founder & CEO of the company. He was keen that the testing team understand his vision of the product that he has been communicating to his prospective customers and investors so that they can deliver his vision. And he spent a good half day explaining his vision to the team before they commenced testing.

After a few weeks of testing, when the test team had a review with him, he was keenly questioning as to how the high level scenarios related to his promise. And I could see that test team was finding this difficult. Difficult to clearly elucidate how they are assessing his promise because some of the key information to evaluate the promise were indeed unclear/missing. And the test team did not now how to fill this. And the team thought that it was solely their responsibility to find this information. And this was related to kinds of information used in a query, their usage patterns, data volume and finally perception of patience by the end user.

And then is when it dawned that being a facilitator would help. Facilitate by enabling the product conceiver (in this case the CEO) to make the promise testable. Promises do commence by being vague initially, and it is the job of the test team to crystallise it. By building a straw-man, and then working with key stakeholders to identify the elements (of the promise) and then making it clear.

It is not the activity of doing it oneself, but by actively facilitating the thought process. And this is very iterative. In this case, this could be identifying elements of the usage, the situation in which this would be used, the deployment over the next 6-12 months and therefore the potential volume. Being a tester who is very aware of the product and its current limitations, it is necessary to understand this bias and therefore let the other stakeholders figure this out. And play the active role of a facilitator. Of dis-engaging and ensuring that biases do no come in the way. Of elevating and become mature. It is about “The Promise”.

So next time, do look for defects but keep the larger goal in vision. And remember that it is not always about “doing”, but also about “facilitating”.

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