I’m a written-test-case hater.  That is to say, in general, I think writing detailed test cases is not a good use of tester time.  A better use is interacting with the product-under-test.

But something occurred to me today:

The value of a detailed test case increases if you don’t perform it and decreases when you do perform it.

  • The increased value comes from mentally walking through the test, which forces you to consider as many details as you can without interacting with the product-under-test.  This is more valuable than doing nothing.
  • The decreased value comes from interacting with the product-under-test, which helps you learn more than the test case itself taught you.

What’s the takeaway?  If an important test is too complicated to perform, we should at least consider writing a detailed test case for it.  If you think you can perform the test, you should consider not writing a detailed test case and instead focusing on the performance and taking notes to capture your learning as it occurs.

An import bug escaped into production this week.  The root cause analysis took us to the usual place; “If we had more test time, we would have caught it.”

I’ve been down this road so many times, I’m beginning to see things differently.  No, even with more test time we probably would not have caught it.  Said bug would have only been caught via a rigorous end-to-end test that would have arguably been several times more expensive than this showstopper production bug will be to fix. 

Our reasonable end-to-end tests include so many fakes (to simulate production) that their net just isn’t big enough.

However, I suspect a mental end-to-end walkthrough, without fakes, may have caught the bug.  And possibly, attention to the “follow-through” may have been sufficient.  The “follow-through” is a term I first heard Microsoft’s famous tester, Michael Hunter, use.  The “follow-through” is what might happen next, per the end state of some test you just performed.

Let’s unpack that:  Pick any test, let’s say you test a feature to allow a user to add a product to an online store.  You test the hell out of it until you reach a stopping point.  What’s the follow-on test?  The follow-on test is to see what can happen to that product once it has been added to the online store.  You can buy it, you can delete it, you can let it get stale, you can discount it, etc…  I’m thinking nearly every test has several follow-on tests.

We never have enough of them.  They never mirror production.  They never work.

My opinions at my current company:

  1. Who should own test environments?  Testers.
  2. Who should build test environments?  NOT testers.  DevOps.
  3. Who should request test environments?  Testers.
  4. Who should populate, backup, or restore the test data in test environments?  Testers.
  5. Who should configure test environments to integrate with other applications in the system?  NOT testers.  DevOps.
  6. Who should deploy code to test environments?  NOT testers. Whoever (or whatever) deploys code to production.
  7. Who should control (e.g., request) code changes to test environments?  Testers.
  8. Who should create and maintain build/deploy automation?  NOT testers.  DevOps.
  9. Who should push the “Go” button to programmatically spin up temporary test environments?  Testers or test automation.

Fiddling with test environments is not testing work, IMO.  It only subtracts from test coverage.

I’m a Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson fanboy.  In this video, he pokes fun of a common view of scientists.  A view that when scientists think they’ve figure something out, they stop investigating and just sit around, proud of themselves.  Neil says, “[scientists] never leave the drawing board”.  They keep investigating and always embrace new evidence, especially when it contradicts current theories.

In other words, a scientist must trade closure for a continued search for truth.  “Done” is not the desired state.

As a tester, I have often been exhausted, eager to make the claim. “it works…my job here is done”.  And even when faced with contradicting evidence, I have found myself brushing it away, or hoping it is merely a user problem.

Skilled testers will relate.  Test work can chew us up and spit us out if we don’t have the right perspective.  Don’t burden yourself by approaching test work as something you are responsible for ending.

Acceptance Criteria.  When User Stories have Acceptance Criteria (or Acceptance Tests), they can help us plan our exploratory and automated testing.  But they can only go so far.

Four distinct Acceptance Criteria does not dictate four distinct test cases, automated or manual.

Here are three flavors of Acceptance Criteria abuse I’ve seen:

  1. Skilled testers use Acceptance Criteria as a warm-up, a means of getting better test ideas for deeper and wider coverage.  The better test ideas are what need to be captured (by the tester) in the test documentation...not the Acceptance Criteria.  The Acceptance Criteria is already captured, right?  Don’t recapture it (see below).  More importantly, try not to stop testing just because the Acceptance Criteria passes.  Now that you’ve interacted with the product-under-test, what else can you think of?
  2. The worst kind of testing is when testers copy Acceptance Criteria from User Stories, paste it into a test case management tool, and resolve each to Pass/Fail.  Why did you copy it?  If you must resolve them to Pass/Fail, why not just write “Pass” or “Fail” next to the Acceptance Criteria in the User Story?  Otherwise you have two sources.  Someone is going to revise the User Story Acceptance Criteria and your test case management tool Acceptance Criteria instance is going to get stale.
  3. You don’t need to visually indicate that each of your distinct Acceptance Criteria has Passed or Failed.  Your Agile team probably has a definition of “Done” that includes all Acceptance Criteria passing.  That being said, if the User Story is marked Done, it means all the Acceptance Criteria passed.  We will never open a completed User Story and ask, “which Acceptance Criteria passed or failed?”.


After experimenting with a Test Case Management application’s Session-Test tool, a colleague of mine noted the tool’s overhead (i.e., the non-test-related waiting and admin effort forced by the tool).  She said, I would rather just use Notepad to document my testing.  Exactly!

Notepad has very little overhead.  It requires no setup, no license, no logging in, few machine resources, it always works, and we don’t waste time on trivial things like making test documentation pretty (e.g., let’s make passing tests green!).

Testing is an intellectual activity, especially if you’re using automation.  The test idea is the start.  Whether it comes to us in the midst of a discussion, requirements review, or while performing a different test, we want to document it.  Otherwise we risk losing it.

Don’t overlook the power of Notepad.

Whilst searching for ways to measure the value of test automation, I read Doug Hoffman’s (I’m sure classic) Cost Benefits Analysis of Test Automation paper.

The first several pages were great.  He discussed intangibles that should be left out of an ROI calculation like an immediate reduction in perceived productivity of the test organization as the automation is first developed.  He went on to list the falsely expended benefits like the automation of existing manual tests.  Then he compared fixed automation costs like scripting tools to variable automation costs like test maintenance

Finally, Doug got to the formulas.  After careful analysis of some 30+ factors, one can start calculating automation ROI and efficiency benefits.  I rubbed my hands together and excitedly turned the page.  Then…I think I puked into my mouth a little as I saw the following:




In the end, I latched onto one powerful statement Doug made, almost in passing, he said:

If the benefits of automation are required, then the ROI computation is unnecessary, the investment is required…it’s an expense.

If the benefits include reducing risk by performing automated checking that would not be possible by humans (e.g., complex math, millions of comparisons, diffs, load, performance, precision), then say no more…

I don’t want to suffer through the computations.

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