Posted by: James Christie | December 17, 2013

“This could easily be the testing industry”

My article “Testing standards? Can we do better?” attracted a lot of attention. A couple of weeks after I wrote it I wondered if I’d overstated the case against standards, and the danger that they pose to good testing. I went back to read the article again and decided that it was all entirely reasonable. The case against standards is actually far stronger. I merely touched on a few angles. If you want more meat go to this article I wrote in 2012, and check out the links to Michael Bolton’s work.

I’m returning to the subject today because of an exchange on Twitter (PDF, opens in new tab). I expressed my concern at a possible future in which testing is governed by certification and standards, both of which are mandated by contracts that refer to them. This would be “best practice”. It would be what responsible professionals do, and those who dissent would be wilfully insisting on working in an unprofessional, irresponsible manner. They would be consciously taking money from clients with the intention of doing a sub-standard job.

That’s the conclusion I have to draw from a “white paper” by Testing Solutions Group promoting the ISO 29119 testing standard.

Imagine an industry where qualifications are based on accepted standards, required services are specified in contracts that reference these same standards, and best industry practices are based on the foundation of an agreed body of knowledge – this could easily be the testing industry of the near future.

That is a prospect that alarms and depresses me. I don’t think it will happen so long as good, responsible testers continue to speak out. However, it might happen in the way that Pete Walen suggested in the Twitter exchange; if the standards lobby get the ear of legislators who could mandate that public sector projects must be compliant with standards, or if they decide that non-compliance could be prima facie evidence of negligence.

Well, that won’t happen while I’m in testing. If that future ever comes to pass my career in testing will be over. I have worked in the painful, inflexible and dysfunctional way that invariably follows mandatory, standards-driven contracts. I’ve no interest in trying to do the wrong things more efficiently, or in a slightly more up-to-date fashion. I will walk away without looking back.

The future of testing? Please don’t let that happen. At the very least, don’t let it happen “easily”!

Edit. A petition has been set up in August 2014 to calling for ISO to withdraw ISO 29119 on the ground that it lacks the consensus that its own rules requires. Consensus is defined in ISO/IEC Guide 2:2004 as follows.

“Consensus: General agreement, characterized by the absence of sustained opposition to substantial issues by any important part of the concerned interests and by a process that involves seeking to take into account the views of all parties concerned and to reconcile any conflicting arguments.”

The petition argues, correctly, that there is no consensus. Further, the process did not seek to take into account the views of all parties concerned. The standard reflects one particular view of how testing should be conducted and marginalises those who disagree. If governments and companies insist that ISO 29119 should be adopted, and that suppliers should comply, this will have a dramatic, and damaging, effect on testing and our careers.

I urge all testers to sign the petition.

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Responses

  1. The fact that this thing started in 2007 and has taken 6 years – pretty much 7 now – to get anywhere pretty much sums them up. Jeesh, the ‘test is dead’ meme hadn’t even been born then…

    • Sometimes I think it’s taken so long that it will peter out. However, I’m usually less sanguine. A lot of investment has been put in and there has to be some end product. There has to be payback.

  2. Testing Standards Solutions Group is an interesting position here: at the forefront of creating a confusing, hard-to-interpret, and largely unhelpful standard; emphasizing that it’s voluntary (although the NIST knows how that works; see the second-last paragraph on this page); and then selling the service of interpreting it because it is confusing, hard to interpret, and not so voluntary after all. Ka-ching!

    If anyone from TSG would like to provide a credible reason that people shouldn’t leap to that conclusion, I’m all ears.

  3. It’s interesting to listen to defenders of standards explaining that they’re voluntary and that they acquire mandatory status only if customers, and their lawyers, insist that they should be adopted.

    Regarding standards as being entirely neutral tools that can be used sensible or abused reminds me of gun sellers insisting that their trade is morally neutral. Well, yes. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. I know the argument. However, that is the stance of the standards lobby when they’re on the defensive. When they’re after sales the attitude is very different. Standards represent best practice. They epitomise the professionalism towards which we should all aspire. They are an advance from the chaos, anarchy and lousy quality of the past. “What sort of irresponsible weirdo would want to stand against progress?” is the subliminal message that senior management and lawyers hear. Get the cheque books out. Tell the dissidents to grow up. This is the future.


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