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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Context-Driven Testing - I

I consider myself a member of the Context Driven School of Software Testing.

James Bach is an independent consultant and a leading member of the context-driven school. He just put out a post on the subject last week. You can read it here.

Bach ended the post with this question:

Any decent context-driven thinker can cite at least three scenarios where taking the context-driven attitude would be a bad idea. Can you think of them?

I'll give my answer, but I think there's more to it than that.

My Answer
Offhand -
1) Some companies care more about being stable, predictable, and repeatable than they care about being _good_. Some have even made a reputation offering products and services that may not be great, but are the same, every time. Most Brand-Name American Fast Food comes to mind. No matter where you eat it, a Big Mac is the SAME - every time. Trying to examine the situation and determine the best thing to do is not what the manager wants you to do; he wants you to follow the operations book.

(#2 is not politically correct, but it is my life experience)

2) While the American Front Line Combat Soldier is one of the best trained in the world, there are times when the soldierer needs to obey all orders immediately and to the best of his ability, because there simply is no time to think. Two things that come to mind are when the squad leader points and yells '“Run!'” (which probably means incoming mortars or artillery) or the invasion of Normandy.
Actually, those situations are rare; the American fighting soldier is trained to think and act quickly, to be situationally aware. That said, there will always be a time when an NCO makes a statement with authority and it needs to be obeyed unquestionably or people may die. (This is where trust comes in)

3) Sometimes authors and speakers need to use a bit of hyperbole when making a point. For example 'Any decent context-driven thinker can cite at least three' sounds a lot more emotionally appealing that 'It has been my experience that any decent' or 'All of the decent context-driven thinkers who I have met have' We see the point. (Ok, that one was for grins.)

4) If someone else is falling into a trap of one of the other schools, engaging them in a discussion may fail. What you can do that point is to take a logical position from a different context and adopt it into the current problem. The other person may immediately recognize that you are making a mistake, criticize you for it - and have an 'aha' moment.

5) Sometimes I like to do context-oblivious manual labor to relax my brain.

6) There are some things to which we are context-specific, like 'I am breathing oxygen', that, most of the time are not worth investing our time in thinking about. Of course, throw me in a lake and bind my legs, and my thinking will change.

There's more to it than that
James is doing something really interesting here. This is, in some way, a sort of meta-testing issue; to analyze the ideas he sets to find some execeptions. It's very much like how Alistair Cockburn describes Shu-Ha-Ri, which I have to admit, I originally thought was pseudo-philsophy-babble but am beginning to re-examine. Personally, I'm still more comfortable with the three stages of knowledge or the three levels of audience.

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