By: David Greenlees 

Setting the scene…

Boss = Executive (of some description)

TM = Test Manager

Boss:  TM, I need to know how many test cases you’re going to run during the project.  This website is going to change the world.  I need it to be quality, quality, quality!

TM:  Good morning to you too Boss.  What do you mean by test cases?

Boss:  You know, you’re a TM… the things that your testers follow to check that the requirements have been met.

TM:  Ah yes, I think I know what you mean… at least what you believe test cases to be anyway.

Boss:  What are you talking about?  Just tell me how many there will be.  I’ll use it to work out how long you need to get me the quality I want.

TM:  Hang on, you’re telling me how long I need?  And I’m responsible for the quality?  Anyway, we can talk about that later.  So, how long do I get to write these ‘test cases’?

Boss:  How am I supposed to know?  That depends on how many you’re going to write?  Wow, where did we get this clever TM from?

And so this continues for quite some time until the TM gets sick of it and…

TM:  100.

Boss:  100!  Are you insane?  This website WILL CHANGE THE WORLD!  We need at least 1000!

Anyone been here before?  I’m sure plenty of us have (maybe not in the exact same detail and colour, creative writing makes it more enjoyable for me).  So, how many of you are thinking that our poor old TM has just pulled a number from the abyss to shut the Boss up?  I’m sure some of us have also done this.  However, our TM actually has an idea… well 100 ideas more to the point.

You see, our TM uses test ideas as his definition of test cases.  No way!  You can’t take an industry standard term and apply your own definition, that’s just madness.  Well, our TM is a rebel.  He’s a trouble maker.  Not really, he’s just trying to bridge a gap, to make a common conversation easier.  How?  By giving the Bosses of our world what they want to satisfy their so called need for numbers.

So, how did our TM know that he had 100 test ideas?  He’s spent some time mind mapping this world changing website and come up with the test ideas.  These are based on many things… he’s taken James Bach’s HTSM and used it to guide him through the various elements of the project.  He’s used previous website testing experience.  He’s spoken to some key project people to get their opinions on what will be the challenging parts of the website.  He’s used his brain.

TM:  So Boss, what if I was to tell you that my 100 test cases would provide the same level of coverage that your 1000 would?  What if I was to tell you that those 100 test cases may actually become 200 by the time we’re comfortable with the quality of the website?

Boss:  You’re not making any sense!  Test cases need to be written up front, before you start testing.

TM:  100 already are written…

Boss:  But you’d only be 50% complete if you’ve got another 100 to add later.

The TM goes on to explain himself (he’s had enough fun toying with the Boss’ mind).  He explains how his test ideas are in fact test cases, they are just not as scripted as the Boss’ version of test cases.  He explains the beauty that is critical thinking, and how testers using their brains is a truly wonderful thing.  He explains that all of the requirements will be covered, and also quite easily linked to these test ideas so that the stakeholders concerned with requirements coverage can be assured and comforted.  He shows the Boss a simple Session Based Testing Report which allows (and encourages) this extremely important traceability.

By this time it’s starting to make sense to the Boss.  Although now he’s starting to wonder how these test ideas will be followed by the testers.  How will they know what they’re doing?  Our TM doesn’t want them following test cases.  He wants them to use the test idea as a baseline, a starting point.  He then wants them to use their brains while they explore (in a structured and recorded way of course).  They will likely come up with many more test ideas while testing, and this is great!  As long as they are recorded via some means to ensure they are not forgotten about.  The TM would have a few testers for this, hopefully each with slightly different perspectives to also provide that human coverage that is so important.  After all, humans will be the ones using this great new website!

So how does the Boss get the answer to his original question?

Boss:  So how long do you need for all of this?  I need to get this schedule signed off.

TM:  You have a deadline, yes?  A date which this website has to go live?

Boss:  Yes.

TM:  Well, take that date and head backwards to the date the developers have said the website will be ready to test and we’ll take the time in-between.

Boss:  How did you calculate that?  There’s not theory in that estimate.

TM:  If those are our dates and deadlines, then so be it.  We’ll do the best we can with the time we’re given.  Obviously we’ll engage in risk related discussions as required.  We’ll also highlight areas of concern as soon as they are identified, but our time is our time.

The Boss agrees with the logic.  In fact, he’s beginning to agree with a lot.  Now, what about reporting?  Our Boss is very accustomed to his % complete report which includes some of his favourite colours being red, yellow, and green (the latter being his all time favourite of course).

Boss:  So how am I going to get my % complete report if things keep changing all the time?  I need that report.

TM:  Why do you need that report?

Boss:  I’ve always had that report.

TM:  So what do you do with that report?

Boss:  I look at the section which is red, yellow, or green.  If it’s green then I’m happy, if it’s yellow I ask for more information, and if it’s red I come around and see you as heads may roll.

TM:  So which part of that relates to % complete?

Boss:  Ah… I guess if the % complete is low then we’re in trouble.

TM:  What if I have 10 test cases with only 1 complete.  So that’s 10% complete.  Are we in trouble?  What if I have another week to look at the other 9 test cases?  Are we still in trouble?  How about I give you the colour whenever you need it, and I can give you some commentary along with it to hopefully avoid the need for too many questions.  That could save us both a great deal of time.

Boss:  Hmm, sounds good.  Why haven’t any of my other TMs ever told me this stuff?

I’ll leave that question open.  What would your answer be?

Of course, this is all very made up… however I have had similar conversations in the past.  Isn’t it amazing how much someone can be educated by not just simply providing them with a number when they first ask for one?  Take the time to have a conversation… take the time to educate!

Our Boss is not dumb, not in the least.  He has simply never had this conversation before.  He had an idea in his head which formed his definition of test cases (and the rest of testing for that matter) and just needed this conversation to re-educate that idea.  The power of dialogue unquestionable, please use it.