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Tuesday May 1st 2012 11am

Quality Matters

Software Test and QA Testing
Note:  If your company produces software that you give away to users for free, with revenue funded by advertisers, this blog post might not be relevant.  My hope is that it is relevant to enough people to be interesting.  If that's you, read on ...

A few years ago, before "is dead" was cool, James Bach did a couple of insightful blog posts called Quality is Dead, part one and part two.  It's hard for me to compress such a complex subject into a quick summary line or two, so I encourage you to read the posts -- but in a nutshell, James was concerned that the ephemeral element of 'quality' was getting short shrift in our society.

I am concerned too.

I was concerned, years ago, when we had quality problems with our products, management decided to "invest some developer time".  Specifically, we were to work with tech support.  This does not mean we were bug fixing,  or figuring out what was wrong, just sitting down with Tech Support through a couple of calls, talking about their feelings about the product, building some empathy.

Perhaps that's not the most charitable interpretation of what happened, but it was how I felt at the time.

At the meeting after the sit-downs, our manager told us that we had "improved perceptions."  I replied that it would be nicer if we improved reality, ya know?

Then he said the dreaded words: Perception is reality.

And, in a sense, I suppose, he was right.  The way people perceive the software (or anything) impacts how they see the world.  If they perceive a problem, it is a problem, at least to them.  As far as that goes, I suppose, that's right.

... still ...

Eventually there comes a point where you start to believe the reality you are projecting -- and you run the risk of falling off the cliff you told everyone wasn't there.  When this happens, it may end in a courtroom or on C-SPAN - Enron, Worldcom, and the Tyco scandal all come to mind.  For all of these huge crises that destroyed the economy of entire cities, I suspect they usually started with someone arguing for something a little untrue, claiming "You've got put your best foot forward, after all."

Truth

You can fool yourself into believing the fuzzy front end of the project is done, and even that the coding is done.  It's a little harder these days with modern methods, but if the developers are in on the game, not so much.

Then the tester says it doesn't work.

"Percept your reality" all you want, if you release the thing, and it doesn't work, the music will stop.  The reality distortion field will break ... and your team, your company may find itself having stepped off a cliff.

Sometimes, testers stand in for Truth when no one else will. 

We have to.  We know that if we let this one slide, the Truth will come out, and someone will ask "Why didn't QA find those bugs?"

Other times, the truth can not be heard.  Perhaps the company will go out of business if we fail to ship, or someone further up the chain makes the decision to ship anyway. (Note: If you work on life-critical software, and refuse to accept "ship it anyway", and lose your job over it, look me up.  I'll try to help.)

And, when that happens, you can expect a story like this one.

BATS Markets

BATS Markets is the third largest US commodities trading outlet -- right after The New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ.  It has planned to begin acting as a real exchange, both offering and trading stock on it's own board. 

The first stock BATS intended to offer was to be it's own Initial Public Offering.

Only when the stock was introduced on March 17th, there was a bug.  The symbol went from $16 to pennies in seconds.  BATS had to stop trading that day; by the end of the following week, the Board of directors removed the CEO of his title as chairman of the board, and was appointing and independent chair.  Forbes has the story and commentary.

A software 'glitch' that destroys your stock, and your exchange, on the day they go live?  That's kind of a big deal.

It's not just BATS

In another FORBES Story, a profile of Amazon, the author points out Amazon's performance metrics, including one that is very illustrative.  It seems that a one-tenth of a second hit to web site performance is correlated to a 1% drop in sales.  Brian Noggle, whose twitter handle is @QAHatesYou, broke the story for the test community and added some analysis on his blog.

It doesn't take a genius to figure this out.  At many companies, many of the ones we work for, as ephemeral as it is, Quality correlates directly to better outcomes and increased revenue.

You do not need ROI numbers to come to this conclusion.

Quality may be struggling, but if we can tell the whole story, I have to say, I think in some sectors, it has a fighting chance.

Oh, and one more thing: Has anybody else noticed that FORBES keeps coming up, again and again, with good coverage and analysis of breaking stories that are relevant to our community?

(Compared to what I was reading from them in 2011, it's a huge improvement.

Real coverage of testing relevant information in the mainstream media, and it's substantially improving over time?

Somebody pinch me.


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