Monday, October 23, 2006

Toward A Test-Driven Culture

We all have to move to a test-driven culture. We cannot think about testing as an afterthought, or as a necessary evil. Testing has to be baked into the culture of software development the same way that testing is baked into Ruby on Rails. It is there right from the beginning, and makes you feel guilty when you DON'T do it. The DNA of software development has to evolve to grow systems with neurons that make it so that a lack of testing feels like sticking your hand into a wall socket; you notice right away when it happens, and you take immediate action to make it stop.

Software testers are considered "lower on the food chain" then software developers or analysts. That means testers are compensated less than their developer or analyst counterparts. Even on many important projects, across both companies and industries, this is still the case. This amazes me, given how much of the world runs on software. If the software that runs your airplane's landing gear, or your electronic voting system, or whatever other ultra-critical system has not been sufficiently tested, lives can be at stake. Despite the fantastic work being done in the area of software quality, and the proliferation of practices that can dramatically reduce the cost of creating and maintaining a system, we still all too often see quality getting shortchanged on required resources.

So testing is good, and we need more of it, surely. But we need to go further, much further. Giving proper attention to test-driven development is great. But even all this is not enough. What we need to do is to apply a test-driven mentality to all aspects of business. Marketers have found that testing and measuring their marketing yields a far greater ROI then marketing based on opinion or theory. Salespeople have been measured by quotas, and the most successful sales organization performing testing for some time.

In particular, we need to move toward management philosophies that apply testing to business decisions, in particular those about processes. All too often, decisions have consequences often than those intended, perhaps failing in one of more objectives. A new process designed to streamline a company, can actually result in adding more burden with less efficiency.

Without the ability to test, management will eventually lose control over itself. With no feedback, failures may be looked at as successes, and vice versa. Management cannot be arbitrary; by carefully adopting a test-driven culture across all disciplines within an organization we can improve both the quality of our work, as well as the quality of the experience we have while doing that work.

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