Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Agile Testing Days 2015: There Are No Agile Testers - There Are Testing Facilitators

I had the opportunity to attend Agile Testing Days 2015 in Potsdam. It's been the second time. And again, there haven been great sessions, inspiring talks, eye-opening chats. But still there is something that bothers me. If you following my blog post you might have noticed the "There Are no Agile Testers" blog posts:

To say the least they have been received a bit controversially. Many testers felt personally offended. I could understand this to some extend. A year has passed since then and the idea circulated in my thoughts. I was trying to understand what really bothers me about the agile tester thing. I'm not sure I'm done with it yet. But new aspects revealed themselves. 

The thing that bothers me the most is the fact that by just bringing testers to agile teams does not solve the issues we've had with the development and QA departments. Testing still comes last in the development cycles and tends to be skipped or blamed for being a bottleneck. This is nothing I made up, but something that has been said by testers at the conference. In a way the testers in agile teams establish a silo just as the developers do. Developers rely on testers to get quality into the product and complain if testers do not manage to handle the amount of user stories done for coding stories tends to be faster then thoroughly testing them.

Over the years I became more and more opposed to silo thinking in teams. This discomfort still grows. I try to find ways that could help to overcome this dangerous tendency. My experience from many years shows that whenever a teams starts to separate into silos team performance, quality, and outcome drop dramatically. The teams start to dissolve and I've even seen teams to dissect.

A second aspect that I grow ever more uncomfortable with is the fact how developers are pictured as guys not willing to test, not willing to care for customer needs, not willing to care for quality. A great many developers may fit this description. But another great many developers care for concepts like Continuous Delivery, Lean Startup and DevOps. Both of them are heavily relying on being responsible and accountable for ones quality. Developers show that they are willing to produce stable, high quality code that covers actual customer needs. That they are willing to measure customer acceptance and to act accordingly. That they are willing to ship to production as often as possible. I reckon (a new generation of) developers understand(s) pretty well that they are no longer sitting in the basement coding all day long without ever bothering themselves with any consequences their work might have for the world around them.

For quite some time now developers proved to be no good at testing. Whether they are just testing agnostics, arrogant my-code-will-not-break guys or anything you might think they are doesn't count. Testing did not take place in a way and amount that would have been desirable. Because of that QA people had to be hired to clean up the mess they left behind. But no one bothered to tackle the root cause: Improving quality of the code from line one. This would have meant one has to deal wit these strange guys in the basement. So, an opportunity has been missed. The mere existence of a QA department that made up for the mistakes developers made encouraged them to code even more carelessly. There simply has been no need to do otherwise.

It is time to reverse this development. Now, as developers develop a sense of responsibility testers are urgently needed to share their knowledge and experience gained over so many years of testing. This knowledge has to be shared with developers. Testers are urgently needed to challenge developers to take testing beyond unit testing seriously. There is far more to testing than that as one could learn form "Agile Testing" by Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin. 

Me, being a developer for most of my professional life, I would wish if not expect from testers that they make testing an integral part of a developers daily business. Testers in agile teams have to become test facilitators. There is no way around that. If an agile team would be staffed with as many testers as you would need to make sure all user stories are covered with acceptance tests, all new code is covered by unit and component tests, all security, usability, performance and you name it what test are required up to thorough exploratory testing one could easily end up with maybe 3 (or more?) testers per developer. Would this be the way you would like to go?

In my humble and honest opinion we would need to tackle the problem from two sides.

1. Testers Coach Developers

Testers gained insights on lots of different aspects of testing including experience of typical hot spots especially when it comes to integration testing. Testers would need to pair with developers to support them when writing these kinds of tests figuring out what test cases are needed and how to best test them. It may be that while doing so testers become familiar with development itself and eventually cease calling themselves a tester. I would consider this a great achievement for our industry when testers did their coaching job that well that developers are able to do the necessary testing and former testers turn to writing code themselves. In a way we would have to call them all Agile Engineers. Then Continuous Delivery and DevOps would fully unfold their potential.

2. Testers Provide Automation Frameworks

Not all testers would like to turn to bare development. I would propose another direction for them. Many developers do not care for security or performance testing because there are no frameworks and no infrastructure available that would perform these tests reliably and easy to write and evaluate. Any of these frameworks needs to be made available in build and test pipelines. If they are not available that way they will hardly be done. Developers need to be urged into writing  these kinds of tests by making this unavoidably easy. Whether or not these frameworks have to implemented from scratch or could be bought. Someone has to set them up for use in pipelines. Someone has to educate developers of how to utilize them.

3. Testers as Integrators

Developers tend to be off by one, so am I. There is a third category of testers. The ones that never ever wrote a line of code and are not fond of doing so at all. There are businesses that have to fulfill legal requirements with respect to quality assurance. There businesses that built huge products with millions lines of code contributed by teams not at all co-located to each other and often enough not well connected. Products like that tend to have integration issues and no one feeling responsible for them. These are areas testers in a more classical sense still would be needed without the urge to turn into developers.


Testers in agile teams should try to see themselves as coaches and facilitators to spread the art of testing. Developers need to be educated and enabled to do lots of testing on their own while and before writing any code. Developers need to learn to look at what they do from a users side in order to enable them to decide in favor of a users needs.

Testers could provide frameworks for automated security, performance, product life-cycle testing and alike. These frameworks have to be made available to developers in their daily work to make these kinds of testing an integral part of coding well before a user story is labeled DONE.

The tasks testers will face in the future might change. For some this change may even be dramatic. But I think we could not afford moving on as we did before. It is time for Developers 2.0

Read also:
On Coaching Agile - What I've learned from being an agile coach
On Sporadics - How to deal with intermittent tests in continuous delivery
The opinions expressed in this blog are my own views and not those of SAP


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