The Triumph of Process Over Purpose

W10     Start Time : 12:00     End Time : 12:45

WATCH: James introduces his talk (with Eduardo)

I will talk about two projects I worked on as test manager. The first was meticulously planned and documented, following best practice and IEEE829 based client standards. Everything was approved by Quality Gates, in which client and supplier established that the documentation was “excellent”.

On the second project we didn’t have enough time to prepare, so we improvised. It was stressful and frustrating. We could have done a much better job if we’d had more time. Both projects were one and the same. The first was the official project, which appeared in the documentation. The second was the actual test execution.

So much effort had to go into beautiful, formal documents that there was insufficient time to prepare for the particular problems that we would face in testing. It was a fast moving project, with a strong emphasis on accessibility. These issues were secondary to the need to conform to standards and best practice. The slavish attention to standards and documentation did not assist the testing; it was at the expense of testing. It was the triumph of process over purpose, and it was far from the only time it happened in my career.

This is a problem in many fields. I will explain the dangers inherent in devotion to rigid processes and standards. That leads to goal displacement, stifles innovation and rewards conformity. It can also provide a smokescreen of “professionalism” while a dominant, damaging culture rules unchallenged. Organisations need people who bring clear thinking to confusion, who stand up to point out what is wrong and how it could be better.

If testers are to be truly valuable we must tell it like it is. Neglecting this duty damages our profession. We should ensure the whole organisation is clear about our true goals. We must always expose the culture behind the smokescreen. Leaders do not have to be all-powerful figures. They can be anyone who makes a difference, even testers. Leadership means ensuring our true purpose always triumphs over process.

  • Speaker

  • James Christie - , Claro Testing, UK

    James is a self-employed testing consultant with 31 years’ IT experience. Before moving into testing he spent six years as an IT auditor, so he has experience on both sides of the fence. He has also worked in information security management, project management, business analysis and development. His experience helps him understand the relationships between different specialisms.

    He is particularly interested in links between testing, auditing, governance and compliance. He spent 14 years working for a large UK insurance company, then nine years with a big IT services supplier working with large clients in the UK and Finland. He has been self-employed for the last eight years.

    View this year’s programme here.