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Huib Schoots
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Software Tester - Rapid Software Testing Instructor - Storyteller
Software Tester - Rapid Software Testing Instructor - Storyteller

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Awesome article by Laurent on #ISO29119  

Thx!
Can't we all just get along ? A fable on ISO 29119

In an alternate world, a different group of testers petitioned ISO first, and formed WG666.

A few years later, the ISO 29666 standard was published which, among other things, stipulated  that the testing of software was to be accomplished through a recently deceased member of the species gallus gallus domesticus being swept in a roughly circular motion over any physical embodiment of the software in question.

Although this approach, derided by one faction as "waving a dead chicken over it", was publicized in conference talks and articles over the span of a few years, most of the testing community remained poorly informed as to its advantages, owing to the fees legitimately charged by ISO to cover the high costs of developing the standard. (In this alternate world, unlike in the real world, the working group had decided to use their own procedures to test the standard itself, and thus a great many fowl went into making the standard.)

One PhD level thesis that had examined how software testing was actually done at a number of corporations, and noted some passing similarities with chicken waving, was widely quoted as providing empirical support for the effectiveness of the concepts in the standard. (Clearly this alternate world was not much removed from our own.)

Some testers refused to sign the Stop29666 petition, on the basis of "keeping an open mind to ALL approaches" in software testing.

Some further reproached their testing colleagues who did sign the petition, because their opposition to waving dead chickens could after all only be explained as a result knee-jerk political affiliation (rather than because, well, dead chickens).

And further insisted that the opposition of a vocal minority to the ISO29666 standard was damaging the testing community by "polarizing" it, and called for all sincere professionals to try to "relax a bit" and "get along with each other".

All of these judgments were wrong. Even though this was an alternate world, it was still one where dead chickens didn't help much with testing.

Back in the real world...

On either side of the "contentious rift" opened up by ISO 29119 are human beings. One of the things we tend to do is justify our own beliefs using different standards than we apply to other people - particularly when they disagree with us.

It's too easy to think, when you disagree with someone, "My beliefs are grounded in facts and observations, but your beliefs are only to score points with your social circle and feel good about yourself."

Various commenters on the ISO 29119 debate, both for and against, are guilty of this, some more egregiously than others. Appeals to "take the right attitude" or "just relax a bit" are transparent attempts at painting the opposition as partial and subjective. One might argue that the accusations of "rent seeking" leveled at the authors of the standard are of a similar kind, insofar as they frame the debate as a matter of intent (the authors of the standard, the argument goes, want to secure revenue through regulation rather than through providing superior service). However, the argument based on "rent seeking" is eminently more testable than one based on "not having the right attitude": there is, factually, such a thing as regulatory capture; there is such a thing as manipulation of the ISO processes for private gain, as became painfully apparent in the case of the Microsoft-backed ISO standard for Office XML.

The point of the above fable is to encourage anyone reading up on the debate to apply a "dead chicken test". Cross out anything that you read which does not refer to a verifiable fact; anything that speculates on someone's intent or frame of mind, or expresses motherhood-and-apple-pie sentiments such as "we would like everyone to get along".

Does the approach to testing outlined in the standard yield better results than waving dead chickens around? Does any testing approach demonstrably work better than dead chickens, and what yardstick is appropriate to you when answering that question? Anything that doesn't contribute to answering these, either at the scale of an individual tester or at broader scales (company-wide, industry-wide), you can safely ignore.

For instance, the article at this URL: http://xbosoft.com/iso-29119-useful/ boils down to the following:

 The standard "gives a starting point to add context and customization".

Pretty much everything else is a red herring, or a manifestly false statement. For instance, the claim that "all ISO standards explicitly state that they need to be tailored to the situation and organization". There is an ISO standard determining the paper sizes for A and B series paper; you can bet that this doesn't "state that it needs to be tailored". Or "usually standards are born from nebulous concepts that we need to try to understand better" - this is again a completely baseless generalization. Paper size isn't a nebulous concept, it is simply a matter of reaching agreement, even a somewhat arbitrary one, on something where the details don't matter. In software development, not only do the details do matter, they sometimes seem to be all that does.

Does the standard provide a useful starting point? I've actually read the document, dissected it, and from my perspective as an expert software developer but, technically, a newbie to the world of professional testing, I find it worse than useless. The parts on "dynamic testing processes" - the parts that touch on actually going on with the testing itself, as opposed to burying it under layers of managing or planning or documenting - are a thicket of confusing terminology. Where a simple notion of "test idea" would have sufficed, they introduce "test conditions", "test coverage items" and "test sets". The only purpose these appear to serve is to generate copious amounts of documentation, essentially for the purpose of management oversight.

If you are determined, there are ways of finding the actual text of the standard. It can be a matter of finding yourself in the right place. For instance, universities or large corporations that have subscribed to IEEE's digital library on an "all you can eat" basis. If you happen to be connected to the wireless network of one such institution, as I was while attending the CAST conference, you'll be able to download the documents at no charge.

Get the facts, judge on the facts, ignore as best you can whoever does otherwise.
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