Unconscious Limitations to Your Testing


This article examines the limitations to testing efforts that testers unconsciously apply. Limitations such as premature conclusions, assumptions, biases and industry norms can all cut the thinking process short. Suggestions will be offered on how to identify when you are limiting your testing and how to challenge yourself to keep your mind actively thinking.

Testers actively seek out the limitations to their testing efforts. They evaluate the risks, constraints and dependencies across the scope, schedule and budget; then actively plan and strategize to mitigate those limitations to test meaningfully. When hands on with the system they incorporate diverse testing approaches and consider the complexities and risks of the system under test to gather as much quality related information as possible. Despite well intentioned efforts, many testers unconsciously limit their testing efforts. By being aware of the various traps testers can fall into we can start to understand how these traps can be avoided.

The Industry Norms Trap
Norm's are the rules that a group uses for appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. These rules may be explicit or implicit. The software testing industry has many norms that testers may simply accept, limiting the value of testing and the role of the tester. Testers need to challenge themselves to look beyond what they have learned and generally accepted to be their role and the role of testing. Be willing to step outside the box and focus on how the increase the value of testing and embrace the successes and failures that will come with doing so.

The Personal Bias Trap
Bias is a term used to describe a tendency or preference towards a particular perspective, ideology or result, when the tendency interferes with the ability to be impartial, unprejudiced, or objective. 1 Bias can be unconscious or conscious in awareness. Labelling someone as biased in some regard implies they need a greater or more flexible perspective in that area, or that they need to consider more deeply the context. Testers can be biased toward particular methodologies, strategies and tools. Their bias can limit the effectiveness of their testing efforts by preventing them from considering the project context and identifying the "best fit" approach. Broaden your perspective by actively following the industry trends and experimenting with new ideas and techniques.

The Best Practice Trap
Management pressure can often influence a tester's desire to approach their testing efforts with the industry "best practices" to get the job done. The challenge here is that the best practice at Company A working on Project X may or may not have any relevance to what would work best for your current project. Keep abreast of industry trends, however, don't limit and potentially destruct the testing effort by selecting and forcing the implementation of a perceived best practice that might cost your project significant amounts of money and time while reaping limited or worse non-existent benefits.

The Misguided Conclusions Trap
With the onslaught of information in any given day it is easy to conceive how testers may be inclined to take at least some of that information as first hand and infallible. Perhaps the information just seems sound and logical. Conversely perhaps the individual providing the information is in a position of perceived or real authority and/or expertise. The challenge in these situations it that the tester may fall into the trap of assuming the information does not require any further vetting. Testers need to be mindful to always consider the potential that the information is incomplete and would benefit from a line of professional questioning.

The Assumptions Trap
Assumptions are a dangerous thing. We limit our testing efforts every time we stop our thinking process based on our interpretation of the information. This danger sneaks up and catches us even when we believe we are on guard for it. Be wary the next time you think you have “got it” in discussions, meetings, document review, and definitely when

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