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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Context Imperialism

Recently, off the Agile-Testing List, I got into an off-topic, off-list discussion with Ron Jeffries. I figured it was worth posting here ...

To start, Matt Heusser wrote:
Yesterday, I got into a discussion with an Agile tester (Capital-A). Well, wouldn't call it a discussion, really. He said something and I got upset. I mean really upset; the blood rushed to my face, my breathing got faster, my fight-or-flight reaction kicked in, I may have said something I should regret - I don't remember because fight-or-flight was in such fast gear.

What did he say? He declared a given testing practice, a practice that I have used and will continue to use, was "Wrong."

To which Ron Jeffries Replied:
I would like to note, respectfully, that my view isn't that declaring the practice wrong ended the conversation. My view is that you ended the conversation by losing control of yourself. To rephrase what you wish he had said, we can come up with something you might wish that you had said:

A context-driven tester, being told that some practice he uses is "Wrong", might say something like "In my experience, on the projects I have worked on, the benefits that I have seen from that practice have always far outweighed the risks."

Except that, most of the time, they don't. Most of the time, the idea that this specific practice is "wrong" is perfectly fine. It's just that the practice has boundary cases where a tester with experience and good judgement can see that the benefits _do_ outweigh the risks.

Well, of course, you'd have to say whatever you believed. My point was only that you had the option of not breaking off the conversation just because the other guy was saying somethingdistressing. And, of course, knowing you, I'm not surprised that you went back later.

I'm not anti-agile, in fact, I like agile, even with a capital-A. I am instead concerned about context-imperialism; where you take a solution that maps well in a specific context and try to apply it to all contexts.

Yes, I understand that concern. It's important to recognize that weall have some context within which we're comfortable, and outside which we are more inclined to panic. When I was starting with XP, Iwas very afraid to move far beyond the basic practices, because I didn't know what might happen, and within them I felt safe. Now I have a wider range.

As for losing control - perhaps my post was a little over the top. What I actually did was mumble something about context-driven-testing and extricate myself pretty fast. After I had regained composure, I had a discussion very similar to the one you described, (I started out with "Yesterday, when you said this practice was wrong, I think you really meant ...") It went very well. Could I learn to be more thick skinned? Certainly.

Yes. I'm not surprised that you went back, and I'm proud of you fordoing so. (Not that I have any right to be. Still, I am.)

As for being thick-skinned, I'm not sure I'm recommending that. I think it's important to feel ... and then to act in the way most slated to get us a productive outcome.

I'm reminded of what A.E. van Vogt called the "cortical-thalamicpause", a pause that we take between when the thalamus triggersfight or flight, and when the cortex has time to come up with amore sensible response. (I think he picked up the term from some thinker of that time, but I'm not on line to goog it out.)

Whatever we call it, if we can take the moment, either standing there or coming back after walking away, it seems to me that we're more likely to get "what we want" out of the transaction.

I still believe that context-imperialism can be dangerous; it can lead to ignorning very good options while having unrealistic confidence in others.

No doubt. The more aware we are, the better we'll do.

Feel free to copy both these to the group. I think it's interesting stuff, and I bet that others will as well.

If it is more than you need, it is waste. -- Andy Seidl

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