One of my tester colleagues and I had an engaging discussion the other day. 

If a test failure is not caused by a problem in the system-under-test, should the tester bother to say the test failed? 

My position is: No. 

If a test fails but there is no problem with system-under-test, it seems to me it’s a bad test.  Fix the test or ignore the results.  Explaining that a test failure is nothing to be concerned with, gives the project team a net gain of nothing.  (Note: If the failure has been published, my position changes; the failure should be explained).

The context of our discussion was the test automation space. I think test automaters, for some reason, feel compelled to announce automated check failures in one breath, and in the next, explain why these failures should not matter.  “Two automated checks failed…but it’s because the data was not as expected, so I’m not concerned” or “ten automated checks are still failing but it’s because something in the system-under-test changed and the automated checks broke…so I’m not concerned”. 

My guess is, project teams and stakeholders don’t care if tests passed or failed.  They care about what those passes and failures reveal about the system-under-test.  See the difference?

Did the investigation of the failed test reveal anything interesting about the system-under-test?  If so, share what it revealed.  The fact that the investigation was triggered by a bad test is not interesting.

If we’re not careful, Test Automation can warp our behavior. IMO, a good way of understanding how to behave in the test automation space, is to pretend your automated checks are sapient (AKA “manual”) tests.  If a sapient tester gets different results than they expected, but later realizes their expectations were wrong, they don’t bother to explain their recent revelation to the project team.  A sapient tester would not say, “I thought I found a problem, but then I realized I didn’t”?  Does that help anyone?


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