Thursday, March 1, 2012

With the Context-Driven School "closed" what's next?

This is Part II in a series of entries related to the following quote from the "about page" of hosted by Cem Kaner:

"...However, over the past 11 years, the founders have gone our separate ways. We have developed distinctly different visions. If there ever was one context-driven school, there is not one now..."
If you haven't done so already, I recommend starting with Part I: Is Testing Dead? Dunno, but the Context-Driven School Is

Much like when one completes an educational program at one institution and ponders whether or not to enroll in another program (and if so, which one), or to enter the workforce and continue their learning along the professional development or self-education path, I think it's fair for those who have come to self-identify as members of the Context-Driven School to be asking themselves similar questions.

And much like completing an educational program does not equate to losing the lessons learned (as opposed to the lesson's taught) in the program, the Context-Driven Principles and the lessons many of us have learned by studying in (or, for that matter, rebelling against) the Context-Driven School remain despite Cem's announcement that (in my words) the school is now closed.

As I've said many times before, my life is and has been for as long as I can remember, Context-Driven. My actions and reactions, decisions and non-decisions are all driven by situations and the context surrounding those situations. There are some things about the context of my life, however, that are rather static, and rather common, for example:
  • I need air, sleep and nourishment fairly regularly if I expect to continue living.
  • I need money to provide for the basic needs of my family.
  • I am a U.S. Citizen and therefore must comply with (or at least not get caught failing to comply with) certain rules to avoid the associated consequences (i.e. I pay taxes)
The time that I spent studying in the Context-Driven School helped me to better understand, and to better articulate to others, my actions, reactions and decision making processes more effectively.

The same is true about my testing. What I do and do not test, what methods I employ and what approaches I avoid are all driven by situations and the context surrounding those situations. There are some things about the context of my testing, however, that are rather static, and rather common, for example:
  • I test for organizations that create software and/or software systems to generate revenue, or to help them keep more of the revenue they generate.
  • I am not the sole decision-maker related to the software/systems I test.
  • The organizations I test for expect (but can only rarely articulate) that the testing I do will help the organization create and ship software/systems as quickly and cheaply as possible at a satisfactory level of quality for the software/system to meet or exceed the value to the organization that was anticipated when the decision to create the software/system was made.
The time that I spent studying in the Context-Driven School helped me to better understand, and to better articulate to others, what I do and do not test, and the thought processes behind my choices of methods or avoidance of approaches. Additionally, my time in the Context-Driven School helped me to become a far better coach and mentor to testers, in no small part by providing me with the Context-Driven Principles to use as a sort of a topical outline for lessons I'd have skipped entirely (to the detriment of those I was coaching or mentoring) believing they were as unnecessary as lessons in blinking.

In that light, I thank the Context-Driven School and am sad to see it's doors closed.

but there is another light under which to view the closing of the Context-Driven School that I feel compelled to share. Compelled by my inner tester, my ethics and my unwillingness to knowingly present only one side of a story -- even when it may serve me better to do so. The Context-Driven School undeniably had impact, instigated events and inspired actions that some (maybe many) people reasonably classify as negative. Whether some or any of those were deliberate or intentional side-effects is not particularly relevant at this point (and not at all relevant to the point of this post). Examples of those "reasonable to view as negative side-effects" include:
  • Polarization and bad blood in TesterLand (already well covered elsewhere)
  • A non-trivial number of vendors and service providers spending irresponsible volumes of time, money and energy attacking and/or trying to refute Context-Driven Principles and Supporters in defense of their prized and profitable (though all-too-frequently anti-valuable) snake oil, sold under the label "Best Practices." I say irresponsible because to me, responsible behavior would have been to spend that same volume of time, money and energy working toward making those products and services at least *less* anti-valuable.

    {personal note} I will probably spend the rest of my life using what little influence I may have to encourage all corporate entities to embrace some degree of interest in at least *trying* to add some value to something other than, or even in addition to, their own profitability, but as I noted earlier, there are some things about context that are rather static and rather common. C'est la vie. {/personal note}
  • A not insignificant number of testers misused the Context-Driven Principles to justify taking an excessively idealistic, "high and mighty" attitude about testing -- basically by making them feel they had not only the right, but the duty, to say: "I am the tester. I have evaluated the context and determined X to be the appropriate course of action, therefor you, the employer, shall take this course of action, else I shall blame *you* for all bad things that happen while *I* continue down my a path toward what *I* know to be the one true answer in this context." 
That last point is indicative of the one thing that always gave me pause regarding the Context-Driven School, is the inspiration behind a project that I've been working on, with several collaborators, in the shadows for some time, and is now driving me to share where I'd like to see TesterLand focus on next... Business Value.

I think that the Context-Driven Principles are brilliant in their universal applicability, but (to me) the single mention of "Product" is a far too subtle reference Business Value, which I believe to be the Context-Driver that is both most important and most common across the overwhelming majority of testers. In other words, I believe that with few exceptions:
  • Testers are employed by organizations who reasonably expect that the employed testers will provide value to that organization
  • The value testers are employed to provide relates to helping the organization create and deliver software/systems that are intended to either generate revenue or enable higher profit margins from revenue generated by other products/services, as quickly and cheaply as possible, without sacrificing quality to the point of undermining the revenue-related goals that led to the organization to initially fund the creation of said software/system.
  • Tester's primary value contribution is expected to result from testing.
Unsurprisingly, I'd recommend that testers employ a Context-Driven approach to delivering Business Value, but as this blog entry is already epic and "A Context-Driven Approach to Delivering Business Value" sounds like a fabulous title for my next installment, I think I'll close here for now.

Stay tuned, more to follow soon.

Scott Barber
Chief Technologist, PerfTestPlus, Inc.
Director, Computer Measurement Group

Co-Author, Performance Testing Guidance for Web Applications
Author, Web Load Testing for Dummies
Contributing Author, Beautiful Testing, and How To Reduce the Cost of Testing

"If you can see it in your mind...
     you will find it in your life."


Russ Poole said...

We see eye-to-eye in almost all respects. However, I think, based on the currently available information, that calling the context-driven school "closed" at this point is perhaps an analogy that sends an unintended message.

The doors of a church may be locked, a government building destroyed, laws passed, books burned, websites taken down, organizations outlawed and demonstrators shot, but ideas cannot be killed as long as beings that think about them still exist.

The school of thought was outlined as a framework of ideas to encourage thoughtful discussion, and the notoriety of those who choose to associate themselves with this set of ideas is no longer as important. Organizationally speaking, perhaps there will be a schism, splinter group or simply a gradual evolution. Behind the scenes, the disagreements may be eventually be resolved. We simply cannot know at this point.

But, as you note, the community of testers can continue to think about and discuss the ideas, such as business value. The quandary is that everyone who participates in this conversation thinks the implementation of their ideas will contribute to business value (and in the proper context, each may be correct).

Does our perception of business value match with that of the actual business(es) with which we have a relationship? How do we distinguish between what we value and what the business(es) value? Once identified, how do we reconcile the differences? Can these perceptions change, on one side or both, and in what context? Who should be driving these changes? Should these perceptions of value change? Are they capable of being changed? How do we know when business value is increased? Is it possible and do we have the resources to efficiently measure business value and compare one method or practice against another? Are these measurements valid? How do we know?

Are these questions not already being asked within the context-driven and broader software testing community?

Unknown said...

To be clear, I'm not making the declaration, rather using an analogy to discuss the declaration made by Cem on the "about page" of Cem followed-up that statement in a comment on Markus Gärtner's blog here.

I think you ask good questions. I guess much of my thinking revolves around my belief that addressing these questions in the broader software testing community is not enough. These are business questions that deserve attention at all levels of an organization -- especially the "C" level. I believe that much of the reason that testing (on average) is so much less valuable and effective than it could be is due to the fact that testers are being asked to do a whole lot of non-value-adding & ineffective things by micro-managing superiors who know nothing of the value testing *could* provide.

The "trickle effect" is that over the years, the propensity of testers have come to believe either that what they are being directed to do is valuable, or that they have a better idea of what is valuable to the business than the leaders of the business. Both are faulty premises. The leaders of a business *do* (by definition) know what is best for their business... what they don't know is how to communicate that in a way that testers know how to convert to associated value.

The questions aren't the problem. It's the communication & education gap that's the problem... well, in my opinion anyway.

Lisa said...

I learned a lot from the practitioners behind the CDT 'school', though the school itself kicked me out saying that I don't know anything about testing. I didn't care if the schoolteachers disliked me, I still get value using what I learned from them. IMO the whole idea of "schools" IS polarizing and not productive. We're not in high school anymore, we don't need cliques. We need diversity, we need to learn everything we can, and experiment to see what helps each situation.

Pete Walen said...

I've been thinking about this, and may write to a greater extent in my own blog later. However, With full respect to the principals and principles involved, I wonder if, once created, such a thing can ever go away or close?

As you mentioned, those with a superior air, I find would have a superior air no matter what the situation. Those who demand X because it is /context/ are also, in my mind, likely to demand Y because without Y you can not be /Agile/.

You can see examples of this in religion. Some group will proclaim to represent the Traditional Orthodoxy, some other group will represent some developmental aspect.

In that light, I believe we have been seeing this for some time. You and I had a conversation similar to your point of Business Value at CAST2010. It is a point that many people, Context or Not, simply do not recognize.

People become so entrenched in the I AM RIGHT! view that other peoples' needs get lost in the shuffle. Caution and care must be taken to make sure that the /context/ of the situation is not lost, no?