You must really be a sucky tester.

I’m kidding, of course.  There may be several explanations as to why an excellent tester like yourself is not finding bugs.  Here are four:

  • There aren’t any bugs!  Duh.  If your programmers are good coders and testers, and perhaps writing a very simple Feature in a closely controlled environment, it’s possible there are no bugs.
  • There are bugs but the testing mission is not to find them.  If the mission is to do performance testing, survey the product, determine under which conditions the product might work, smoke test, etc., it is likely we will not find bugs.
  • A rose by any other name… Maybe you are finding bugs in parallel with the coding and they are fixed before ever becoming “bug reports”.  In that case, you did find bugs but are not giving yourself credit.
  • You are not as excellent as you think.  Sorry.  Finding bugs might require skills you don’t have.  Are you attempting to test data integrity without understanding the domain?  Are you testing network transmissions without reading pcaps?

As testers, we often feel expendable when we don’t find bugs.  We like to rally around battle cries like:

“If it ain’t broke, you’re not trying hard enough!”

“I don’t make software, I break it!”

“There’s always one more bug.”

But consider this, a skilled tester can do much more than merely find a bug.  A skilled tester can also tells us what appears to work, what hasn’t broken in the latest version, what unanticipated changes have occurred in our product, how it might work better, how it might solve additional problems, etc. 

And that may be just as important as finding bugs.

Hey testers, don’t say:

“yesterday I tested a story.  Today I’m going to test another story.  No impediments”

Per Scrum inventor, Jeff Sutherland, daily standups should not be “I did this…”, “I’ll do that…”.  Instead, share things that affect others with an emphasis on impediments.  The team should leave the meeting with a sense of energy and urgency to rally around the solutions of the day.  When the meeting ends, the team should be saying, “Let’s go do this!”.

Here are some helpful things a tester might say in a daily standup:

  • Let’s figure out the repro steps for production Bug40011 today, who can help me?
  • I found three bugs yesterday, please fix the product screen bug first because it is blocking further testing.
  • Sean, I know you’re waiting on my feedback on your new service, I’ll get that too you first thing today.
  • Yesterday I executed all the tests we discussed for Story102, unless someone can think of more, I am done with that testing.  Carl, please drop by to review the results.
  • I’m getting out of memory errors on some test automation, can someone stop by to help?
  • If I had a script to identify data corruption, it would save hours.
  • Paul, I understand data models, I’ll test that for you and let you know something by noon.
  • The QA data seems stale.  Don’t investigate any errors yet.  I’m going to refresh data and retest it today.  I’ll let you know when I’m done.
  • Jolie, if you can answer my question on expected behavior, I can finish testing that Story this afternoon.

Your role as a tester affects so many people. Think about what they might be interested in and where your service might be most valuable today.

“Golden Master”, it sounds like the bad guy in a James Bond movie.  I first heard the term used by Doug Hoffman at STPCon Spring 2012 during his Exploratory Test Automation workshop.  Lately, I’ve been writing automated golden master tests that check hundreds of things with very little test code.

I think Golden-Master-Based testing is super powerful, especially when paired with automation.

A golden master is simply a known good version of something from your product-under-test.  It might be a:

  • web page
  • reference table
  • grid populated with values
  • report
  • or some other file output by your product

Production is an excellent place to find golden masters because if users are using it, it’s probably correct.  But golden masters can also be fabricated by a tester.

Let’s say your product outputs an invoice file.  Here’s a powerful regression test in three steps:

  1. Capture a known good invoice file from production (or a QA environment).  This file is your golden master. 
  2. Using the same parameters that were used to create the golden master, re-create the invoice file on the new code under test. 
  3. Programmatically compare the new invoice to the golden master using your favorite diff tool or code.

Tips and Ideas:

  • Make sure the risky business logic code you want to test is being exercised.
  • If you expand on this test, and fully automate it, account for differences you don’t care about (e.g., the invoice generated date in the footer, new features you are expecting to not yet be in production). 
  • Make it a data-driven test. Pass in a list of orders and customers, retrieve production golden masters and compare them to dynamically generated versions based on the new code.
  • Use interesting dates and customers.  Iterate through thousands of scenarios using that same automation code.
  • Use examples from the past that may not be subject to changes after capturing the golden master.
  • Structure your tests assertions to help interpret failures.  The first assertion on the invoice file might be, does the item line count match?  The second might be, do each line’s values match?
  • Get creative.  Golden masters can be nearly anything.

Who else uses this approach?  I would love to hear your examples.

Invigorated by the comments in my last post, I’ll revisit the topic.

I don’t think we can increase our tester reputations by sticking to the credo:

“Raise every bug, no matter how trivial”

Notice, I’m using the language “raise” instead of “log”.  This is an effort to include teams that have matured to the point of replacing bug reports with conversations.  I used the term “share” in my previous post but I like “raise” better.  I think Michael Bolton uses it.

Here are a couple problems with said credo:

  1. Identifying bugs is so complex that one cannot commit to raising them all.  As we test, there are countless evaluations our brains are making;  “That screen seems slow today, that control might be better a hair to the right, why isn’t there a flag in the DB to persist that data?”.  We are constantly making decisions of which observations are worth spending time on.  The counter argument to my previous post seems to be, just raise everything and let the stakeholders decide.  I argue, everything is too much.  Instead, the more experience and skill a tester gains, the better she will know what to raise.  And yes, she should be raising a lot, documenting bugs/issues as quickly as she can.  I still think, with skill, she can skip the trivial ones.
  2. Raising trivial bugs hurts your reputation as a tester.  I facilitate bug triage meetings with product owners. Trivial bugs are often mocked before being rejected":  “Ha! Does this need to be fixed because it’s bugging the tester or the user?  Reject it!  Why would anyone log that?”.  Important bugs have the opposite reaction.  Sorry.  That’s the way it is.
  3. Time is finite.  If I’m testing something where bugs are rare, I’ll be more inclined to raise trivial bugs.  If I’m testing something where bugs are common, I’ll be more inclined to spend my time on (what I think) are the most important bugs.

It’s not the tester’s job to decide what is important.  Yes, in general I agree.  But I’m not dogmatic about this.  Maybe if I share some examples of trivial bugs (IMO), it will help:

  • Your product has an administrative screen that only can be used by a handful of tech support people.  They use it once a year.  As a tester, you notice the admin screen does not scroll with your scroll wheel.  Instead, one must use the scroll bar.  Trivial bug.
  • Your product includes a screen with two radio buttons.  You notice that if you toggle between the radio buttons 10 times and then try to close the screen less than a second later, a system error gets logged behind the scenes. Trivial bug.
  • Your product includes 100 different reports users can generate.  These have been in production for 5 years without user complaints.  You notice some of these reports include a horizontal line above the footer while others do not.  Trivial bug.
  • The stakeholders have given your development team 1 million dollars to build a new module.  They have expressed their expectations that all energy be spent on the new module and they do not want you working on any bugs in the legacy module unless they report the bug themselves and specifically request its fix.  You find a bug in the legacy module and can’t help but raise it…

You laugh, but the drive to raise bugs is stronger than you may think.  I would like to think there is more to our jobs than “Raise every bug, no matter how trivial”.

(Edit on 10/1/2014) Although too long, a better title would have been “You May Not Want To Tell Anyone About That Trivial Bug”.  Thanks, dear readers, for your comments.

It’s a bug, no doubt.  Yes, you are a super tester for finding it.  Pat yourself on the back.

Now come down off that pedestal and think about this.  By any stretch of the imagination, could that bug ever threaten the value of the product-under-test?  Could it threaten the value of your testing?  No?  Then swallow your pride and keep it to yourself. 

My thinking used to be: “I’ll just log it as low priority so we at least know it exists”.  As a manager, when testers came to me with trivial bugs, I used to give the easy answer, “Sure, they probably won’t fix it but log it anyway”.

Now I see things differently.  If a trivial bug gets logged, often…

  • a programmer sees the bug report and fixes it
  • a programmer sees the bug report and wonders why the tester is not testing more important things
  • a team member stumbles upon the bug report and has to spend 4 minutes reading it and understanding it before assigning some other attribute to it (like “deferred” or “rejected”)
  • a team member argues that it’s not worth fixing
  • a tester has spent 15 minutes documenting a trivial bug.

It seems to me, reporting trivial bugs tends to waste everybody’s time.  Time that may be better spent adding value to your product.  If you don’t buy that argument, how about this one:  Tester credibility is built on finding good bugs, not trivial ones.

About five years ago, my tester friend, Alex Kell, blew my mind by cockily declaring, “Why would you ever log a bug?  Just send the Story back.”

Okay.

My dev team uses a Kanban board that includes “In Testing” and “In Development” columns.  Sometimes bug reports are created against Stories.  But other times Stories are just sent left; For example, a Story “In Testing” may have its status changed to “In Development”, like Alex Kell’s maneuver above.  This normally is done using the Dead Horse When-To-Stop-A-Test Heuristic. We could also send an “In Development” story left if we decide the business rules need to be firmed up before coding can continue.

So how does one know when to log a bug report vs. send it left?

I proposed the following heuristic to my team today:

If the Acceptance Test Criteria (listed on the Story card) is violated, send it left.  It seems to me, logging a bug report for something already stated in the Story (e.g., Feature, Work Item, Spec) is mostly a waste of time.

Thoughts?

While reading Duncan Nisbet’s TDD For Testers article, I stumbled on a neat term he used, “follow-on journey”.

For me, the follow-on journey is a test idea trigger for something I otherwise would have just called regression testing.  I guess “Follow-on journey” would fall under the umbrella of regression testing but it’s more specific and helps me quickly consider the next best tests I might execute.

Here is a generic example:

Your e-commerce product-under-test has a new interface that allows users to enter sales items into inventory by scanning their barcode.  Detailed specs provide us with lots of business logic that must take place to populate each sales item upon scanning its barcode.  After testing the new sales item input process, we should consider testing the follow-on journey; what happens if we order sales items ingested via the new barcode scanner?

I used said term to communicate test planning with another tester earlier today.  The mental image of an affected object’s potential journeys helped us leap to some cool tests.



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