I Don’t Want to Talk about Bugs—Let’s Change the Conversation: An Interview with Janet Gregory


In this interview, Janet Gregory discusses changing the testing conversation from bugs to solutions, why testers need to focus on the actual business, and simple methods that teams can employ right now to measure value and to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

Josiah Renaudin: Today I’m joined by agile testing coach and practitioner Janet Gregory, who’s a keynote speaker at our upcoming STARWEST conference. Her presentation is titled “I Don’t Want to Talk about Bugs: Let’s Change the Conversation.” Janet, thank you very much for joining us. First, could you tell us a bit about your experience in the industry?

Janet Gregory: I started as a programmer when I graduated from computer science in 1991. It was expected that we would test our own code, and the only “independent” testing was completed by our operations group, and that was more about the implementation, if I remember correctly. When I changed jobs, I was appalled at the level of testing “not done” by the programmers and was promoted to QA manager to set up a test team.

When I left that dysfunctional company, I changed my viewpoint dramatically about what a tester’s role was—mostly because I was introduced to agile. Since that time, about 2000, I have been working with teams to help them see how important constant testing is to any product being developed.

Josiah Renaudin: What event or series of events in your testing career made you want to change the conversation from bugs and poor requirements to products and solutions?

Janet Gregory: It’s not necessarily one thing. I’ve been listening to many different people on the subject of value-driven development, and I really like that message. Unfortunately, what I see in many teams I visit is an obsession with counting bugs to measure the product quality. This might be at the management level where they have used that measurement for many years. Many organizations and teams do not know how to quantify success except by the existence of bugs, and to me, that seems to be pointless.

Josiah Renaudin: Do enough testers focus on the actual business, market, and customers they’re working for?

Janet Gregory: I’d like to say yes, that testers understand the business, that they all have the customer’s hat on, and that they understand what problem they are trying to solve. However, in many cases, they are so busy trying to keep up with the programmers that they don’t feel they have the time to spend early in the process.

Josiah Renaudin: How can shifting a tester’s focus from bugs to solutions not only increase quality, but also reduce uncertainty?

Janet Gregory: There are two sides here—perhaps more, but when we think about the problem we are trying to solve and deal with those risks early to build the right thing, often we find that the testing to find the bugs after the product is built becomes less painful. When the team works together with a shared understanding of what product they are building and what the level of quality should be, then most bugs can be prevented. Note, this does not mean that testing after using techniques such as exploratory testing is not required. There will be things that the team did not think of prior to building, and understanding the product will assist those testing approaches.

Josiah Renaudin: What are some simple methods that teams can employ right now to measure value and focus on the positives rather than the negatives?

Janet Gregory: It’s really about educating the team and the business to look at different things. I think when teams start a new feature, they need to work together to get that big picture. Learning to ask questions early—such as "How can we measure success?" or "What is the best thing that can happen?"—this can help focus the team on the positives.

Josiah Renaudin: What’s the difference between a tester’s role on an agile team and nonagile team?

Janet Gregory: I’ve coauthored two books on the subject, so it’s hard for me to put it into a sentence or two, but I’ll try. The biggest difference, I think, is that testers on agile projects are (or should be) involved right from the beginning, testing ideas and assumptions, and then work very closely with the rest of the delivery team to give fast feedback to help make course corrections if needed. This means they not only need strong testing skills, but also good collaboration and communication skills.

Josiah Renaudin: More than anything, what message are you hoping to leave with your audience at STARWEST?

Janet Gregory: Stop, look, and think. Are you doing the same thing you’ve always been doing? Is there some way you can do things more effectively?

Janet GregoryAgile testing coach and practitioner Janet Gregory (@janetgregoryca) is the coauthor of Agile Testing: A Practical Guide for Testers and Agile Teams and a contributor to 97 Things Every Programmer Should Know. Janet specializes in showing agile teams how testers can add value in areas beyond critiquing the product. For the past ten years, she has been working with teams to transition to agile development. Janet teaches agile testing courses and tutorials worldwide, contributes articles to leading publications, and enjoys sharing her experiences at conferences and user group meetings worldwide. Find more information at janetgregory.ca or visit her blog.

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