Thursday, November 11, 2010

Using the definition of quality as a tool for context awareness

What is quality?
Since testers job is to perform quality assessments, ask questions and provide answers regarding quality, understanding what quality is can help identify dilemmas in our work and put them in context.
My preferred definition for quality is “value to someone” (Jerry Weinberg). Cem Kaner adds the extension “who matters”. Usually I refer to this VIP as a “User”.

Recently, I noticed that using this definition helps identify context and explain the context to others during discussion.
A few examples:

Focusing a discussion on the goal rather than the process.
Process is important, but sometimes process discussions disconnect from the goal. For example, when a bug is opened and there is a discussion about whether it’s a requirement violation or not, providing insight on the User value could help direct the discussion to a productive place. This is also true when a tester spots an issue and is not sure whether it falls under his responsibility to report it – “is there a threat to the value to the users?” is a good litmus test to aid the decision.

Selecting a process
When defining a process, understanding how it’s connected to the value to the user is a good way to examine it. When we define a process it should connect our efforts to the goal rather than disconnect them. A negative example is when mixing between the priority for fixing the bug and the bug Severity. Many times there is correlation between the two, but it will be a good idea to define process that will address the cases when there is a difference between the two (like setting different field for each goal) so the information of the value threat severity will not be replaced by the work plan.

Determine classification of a problem
We face many types of problems. Some related to the quality of the product and some interfere with other aspects of our work, delay our progress or block our testing efforts. When a testability issue is examined in perspective of user value, it can be underrated since our inability to test efficiently is the real issue here, and not the impact of the tested attribute on the end user.
Sometimes there are two types of issues combined together in one problem description. Distinguishing between the value to the user and the other issue, helps provide a clearer explanation.

Overcoming the tunnel effect when setting bug severity
Setting correct bug exposure classification helps the bug life cycle start on the right foot. When a tester tests his area of responsibility and spots a problem, sometimes it’s not easy to relate to the big picture – what will be the impact on the user? Will he be able to recover? Or in other words – what is the threat in terms of value to the user. Answering this question easily directs the bug submitter to specify the correct bug severity.