“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. (The paper has been removed from the TSG site, but it is still available on the site of the author, Stuart Reid (PDF, opens in new tab).

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.