Eliminating Uncertainty: Is Your Testing/QA Proactive or Reactive?

When it comes to software testing and QA, a lot of companies are reactive—achieving quality almost entirely through the individual heroics of their own testing team.  But, while this approach may be effective, is it really sustainable in the long run?  Moreover, how can a proactive approach mitigate those inherent risks?

Eliminating Uncertainty: Is Your Testing/QA Proactive or Reactive?

Photo courtesy of Patrick (Creative Commons)

When it comes to software quality, testers oftentimes get stuck between a rock and a hard place. In a lot of organizations, they’re often tasked with the impossible—finding critical defects with nothing but savvy intuition and ruthless determination. 

It’s late.  You’ve just crawled into bed and your body is begging you for sleep.  It’s been a long day; ten hours at work (not including the 4am wake-up call, letting you know something crashed) busting your tail to keep your company’s software systems afloat.  And then there’s your second job: driving kids to and from practices/dance/meetings, cooking dinner, helping with homework, and, in your “free” time, running personal errands.  Your bedding is warm and soft; you’re out almost as soon as your head hits the pillow.

That is, until a few moments later, when tiny hands shake you from your slumber.  Your young child stands before you, trembling wide-awake from a nightmare.  While you know you should put them back to bed, your exhaustion gets the better of you—you let them sleep in your bed for the night.

Decisions like these aren’t born of mere convenience; they’re born of necessity.  And when you’re in “survival mode”, living to fight another day is just about all you can do. 

In a way, it illustrates a challenge we all face: balancing the benefits of being proactive with the convenience of a reactive approach.  While the proactive choice is almost always the “right” decision, its steep commitment often makes it secondary to more pressing concerns.  As such, we file those things away; taking easier, “stopgap” solutions and promising ourselves we’ll deal with the real cause of the problem at a later date.

If you work in software testing/QA, odds are you deal with this very subject every single day.

When it comes to software quality, testers oftentimes get stuck between a rock and a hard place.  In a lot of organizations (especially those without formalized testing practices), they’re often tasked with the impossible—finding critical defects with nothing but savvy intuition and ruthless determination. 

And while some of these testers may succeed more often than not (in which case, their company’s software quality is most likely solely due to their herculean efforts), that seat-of-the-pants, ad-hoc mentality isn’t sustainable in the long run—it’s survival mode.  Whether it’s through a lack of adaptability (without processes or documentation, testers can have a hard time testing different environments) or the loss of your expert testers themselves (causing their invaluable expertise to evaporate into thin air), those companies’ luck will eventually run out.

But therein lies the rub: most testing/QA teams know that already.  They’re just so deep in the weeds that they can’t respond to anything other than the crisis at hand.

When you deal with the same repetitive issues that testing teams do, day-in and day-out, you can’t help thinking about how to solve the greater problem at large.  Unfortunately though, cold reality tends to set in soon thereafter: you don’t have the time, nor does your department have the resources, to implement any kind of long-term solution.  In the end, you go back to doing what you’ve always been doing—reacting to whatever crisis comes next and forgetting how much better things could have been had you taken action. 

We’ve all been there.  And, quite frankly, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So how do we break this vicious cycle?  How do we make time to get better?  The answer is fairly simple, (and one that our CEO has written about in detail): you’ve got to commit to it—if you’re not intentional about making time, you won’t ever do it.  After all, nothing breeds complacency like contentedness.

So, whether you’re determining how to solve the problem in-house or engaging a third party (like hiring a vendor to assist with testing or a consultant to help with process improvement) , remember that the opportunity is in your hands.  In the end, it all comes down to discipline.  Just like your children aren’t going to become self-sufficient on their own (yes—one day with diligence, they will sleep in their bed the whole night), your software quality isn’t going to magically improve without action.  No one ever said that that the right choice is the easy one, but the rewards it offers make it a route well-worth taking.

Isn’t it time to stop surviving and start thriving?


Mike Hodge
Lighthouse Technologies, Inc
Software Testing | Quality Assurance Consulting | Oracle EBS Consulting

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