I’m having a virtual panel discussion on April 9th with Venkat Ramakrishnan of Ministry of Testing Bangalore. We’re going to talk about quality engineering, specifically about quality as perceived by the stakeholders of the product or service. Follow the link to register – or read on if you want to know a little more!
Here’s an exercise for you in two simple steps:
1) Think about the project or system you’re working on. 2) Then try to put yourself in your users’ shoes and say this out loud:
“The test of the system is the satisfaction it gives me. There isn’t any other test!”
Do you feel worried, happy, hopeful, or confident? All three?
I recently worked on a project where we drew a definition of quality as a three layer pyramid. In the middle we put what we knew important about the system: The calculations, decisions, and processes it was implementing had to be correct and follow the rules defined for the domain in which the system was to be implemented.
Below that level we elaborated the many requirements for the system from its specifications.
That’s quality, you might say, and that was in fact our first intuitive reaction: If the system is correct, adhere to requirements and rules, then that would mean that the system is of good quality.
Of course there would be other important things too: Usability for example. But usability would be consequential of correctness since users are important for correctness as they are inputting data into the system, and otherwise using the system.
However, we thought a little more about that, and then we decided to put something else on top of all the correctness and requirements: We put “Happy Users” on top of the pyramid. Everyone in the project wanted happy users, and it was clearly more than a mission. “Happy users” is a quality of the system.
This took some courage as making users happy is really difficult. Robert Pirsig defined quality as the event in which the subject realizes the object. Put in daily langauge terms what he meant was that quality is cognitive, relative, even emotional, and that quality is something you experience and probably even feel, it in a moment working with a product.
Quality is thus not in the product in itself, but something that happens.
Will correctness make a user happy? I sure hope so! But I know from myself that sometimes I’m not happy with correctness. I can become frustrated when people follow rules. Yes, you read me right.
For example I remember the times when I have received a parking fine because I did not notice the parking rules in the area where I was parking. My first reaction has always been anger against the meter man, then anger against the person who hid the sign, and finally anger directed against those who made the rules, put the signs up where I did not notice them, and hired the meter man to issue the fines.
Pirsig also said:
The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility it’s right. If it disturbs you it’s wrong until either the machine or your mind is changed.
He was talking about a motorcycle, but it applies more or less universally, I think. The final test is in the satisfaction.
Satisfaction and happiness depends on a lot more than corretness. It depends on things like implementation, clarity, communication, reflection, and education. Just to name a few things that comes to my mind when I think about what helps me when I’m trying to make myself happy about something. For example being accepting that I got myself a parking fine. What are my feelings? Why might I feel them? What can I do? (Probably nothing except paying and moving on with other, more important things in life.)
So think of the motorcycle as a metaphor for the system you’re working on and then try to relate to the following two statements: The test of the system is the satisfaction it gives the users and stakeholders. There isn’t any other test.
Please join Venkat and I to discuss if there are ways to engineer happy stakeholders in software systems, and what the role of testing might be in this.
Registration for the event is necessary. Please go here: