Monthly Archives: August 2013

Context Driven Testing in a Bureaucratic Environment

After taking the Black Box Software Testing (BBST) Foundations course, I decided to try taking a CDT approach with my next project. As it happened, my next client project was part of a larger Enterprise release, at a large bureaucratic organisation, with multiple other test teams already using established testing processes and procedures.

I was brought in as the Test Team Lead with 2 Test Analysts. On Day 1, the Programme Test Manager (PTM)  handed our team an incomplete and out-of-date requirements document, which had been prepared by the development team and signed off by the business (yes, really). This document had been approved by all stakeholders, despite the most pertinent section of the document consisting of only a heading, with no content. This is when I really understood James Bach‘s comment about testers having a super power – the ability to read.

By lunch time I was asked by the PTM how many test cases my team would need for this release. I protested the futility and absurdity of the request (I was more diplomatic at the time). Why is the number of test cases a useful measure, when tests might take 10 minutes or 2 days to execute? If we do write a certain number of test cases, won’t that number be ever-growing anyway as testers learn more about the product? How can I predict total number of test cases using only an incomplete requirements document? But in the end, a number was needed, so I offered to make up a number – 300 test cases. I was frowned at, and told that a more complex product in the same Enterprise release had predicted only 250 test cases, and that surely we would need less than them. I changed my answer to 200 test cases and that got a smile. I felt that I had given the right answer. But my CDT approach was not off to a great start.

Note: I first presented this information at OZWST 1 in the form of an Experience Report.


Posted by on August 20, 2013 in Software Testing


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Observation as a source of truth

Seeing something with your own eyes does not necessarily make it true.

In one of my previous testing roles, I was testing a software application which produced
image output files using custom hardware input devices. While I was working with a
developer at his computer, he opened an image file which exhibited characteristics I
hadn’t seen before when testing this product. I went to discuss the abnormality with our
image processing expert (let’s call him Jon), and he requested a copy of the file to help
determine whether this was the result of a software bug or a hardware fault.

I returned to the developer with this request, and watched as he copied the correct file to
a shared network drive. However, when I retraced my steps back to Jon’s desk and he
opened the image file, he saw only random ASCII characters. Jon said that this was not
a valid image file, and for a while I insisted that it was…

Eventually I returned to the developer’s desk seeking support, only to find out that he
could no longer open the original file on his computer either. Why? It turned out that his
computer had malfunctioned, and the file had become corrupted sometime between us
viewing it and him copying it to the network.

At this point I wondered why I had been questioning one of the country’s leading experts
on digital image processing, over something so basic as whether or not an image file
was valid. I’d been totally biased by the fact that I had observed the image with my own
eyes, rather than thinking logically about what piece of the puzzle I was missing in this

First published here.

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Software Testing



BBST Foundations – Will you take the red pill?

In 2011 I had the good fortune to work for Anne-Marie Charrett, as a Test Team Lead. At the time when other testers were already lining up for her Skype coaching services, I had not yet heard of Anne-Marie or context-driven testing. I still thought that Exploratory Testing meant ad-hoc testing, and that it was impossible to achieve good regression testing without test cases. I think Anne-Marie had a glimmer of hope for me because I held ‘Lessons Learned in Software Testing’ in high regard, and I was genuinely interested in software quality.

Bit-by-bit Anne-Marie managed to lure me away from my false-security blanket of regression test cases and test metrics. Over the course of a few months she left interesting articles on context-driven testing on my desk, suggested that I attend the Sydney Testers meetups, arranged corporate funding for AST membership and held a few re-training sessions for our test team. Eventually I took the leap, and enrolled in the BBST Foundations course to help me understand how I could possibly test the product thoroughly without my regression test cases.


I have heard this course described as “taking the red pill” and I think that’s apt. I found the course very challenging, and I greatly enjoyed debating testing ideas with testers around the globe. Concepts which seemed logical to me before I took the course now seem absurd. To think that I have announced in past meetings that testing was 80% complete, or that a release would take 6 weeks to test because that’s how long it took last time, all seems naive now.

Now I think I have the drive and support to be great at what I do, although I find myself currently unemployed. So the challenge I’m facing is – can I get hired at a company that wants great testers or test managers who use a context-driven approach, even though I’m not quite there yet in terms of experience? Or do I find a job within my previous comfort zone of standard test practices, which is like a favourite pair of jeans that no longer fit me quite right?

Either way, I’m glad that I eventually took the red pill.

(First published here)


Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Software Testing


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Love the one you’re with

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life” – Confucius.

To me this phrase was taunting…

I regularly saw this phrase proven to be true for other people, and it became a background goal for me (which is a convenient term I’ve coined meaning a goal which you think about seldom and do nothing to achieve, eg. Walk the Kokoda trail).

I’ve always enjoyed doing things which I’m good at. Over the years I was successfully advancing my testing career, but all the while I was attempting to figure out what I really wanted to do in life. What do I love to do that I can actually get paid for?

With the help of the online software testing community I have recently discovered that testing can be more creative, engaging and effective than I had thought possible. In the past I enjoyed testing mainly because I was a good tester. Now I look forward to being a great tester because I enjoy what I do.

So the answer to my problem was simpler than I imagined, and it’s along the lines of “Love the one you’re with”.

(First published here)

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Posted by on August 18, 2013 in Software Testing


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