The Power of Communication: Testing for non-testers

I was fortunate enough to attend the annual TestBash held in Brighton where I met great people and shared interesting stories about their on-going testing journey. It is always lovely to be reminded just how friendly and supportive tester communities can be.

One particular workshop caught my attention; ‘Talk About Testing by Not Talking About Testing’, by Keith Klain, Martin Hynie and Vernon Richards, emphasised the importance of communication. The workshop explained how testers need to improve their communication with leaders and decision makers outside the world of testing. Sharing our own stories, it soon became apparent that we all assume too quickly that those outside the testing sphere understand immediately what we’re trying to explain, when in fact this is rarely the case.

Taking this on board, this blog endeavours to appreciate the client management’s point of view, appealing to their interests and understanding by explaining ‘Testing’ in terms of quality, time and cost.

Quality

Testers can often get caught up in delivering the product, without thoroughly thinking about the client’s goals. When communicating your work to the client, consider what the client’s definition of quality is, that way you and the client will be on the same page when it comes to the projects outcomes and goals.

The following points are some examples of quality criteria:

  • Functionality
  • Performance
  • Scalability
  • Maintainability
  • Usability

These provide markers by which to measure your client’s views on quality. This in turn will help you to plan the types of testing that is required, and evaluate which tools would be best in achieving this.

Time and Cost

It is often difficult to describe testing from a cost/time perspective to non-testers. In order to improve this communication we need to make testing activities (including any associated tasks) more transparent.

Lets consider the development and delivery process. Between the DevOps movement and continuous delivery and deployment, where does testing fit into this rapid cycle? The following diagram from Dan Ashby’s blog explains how testing’s role has evolved and is now integrated not only in the development cycle but also in operations.

A traditional testing phase no longer exists in continuous delivery, it has been replaced by continuous testing. When we explain a testing effort, we need to explain how testing activities continuously occur. This will help stakeholders understand how the testing time is allocated as an integrated part of activities not a separate set of tasks after the development is completed. In order to communicate testing from the time and cost point of view, transparency of our activities along with a well-defined operation process is crucial.

Power of Communication

My takeaways from this workshop apply to any communication. Many of our perspectives are based on personal experiences or values. When we get highly invested in what we work on, a personal attachment to our work, or a passion for our profession may become an obstacle to communication. When we have got an opportunity to discuss what we do, it’s important to make sure the right message is conveyed. However, a self-centred narrative does not benefit the situation. We all need to remind ourselves that it is OK to have different opinions. Knowing and understanding different perspectives help us to have open dialogue and handle the communication appropriately.

So why do we need to take on board everyone’s perspectives and encourage communication?

We need to learn empathy and work hard at understanding the position and perspective of others involved in the conversation. I believe by communicating with empathy, we can build trust and respect, and create a safe environment which encourages us to work on problems collaboratively.

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