Here’s a comment from a Context-Driven tester with more patience than me. (His message is italicized and indented. My reply is interjected in normal text…)

Sami Söderblom writes:

Hi James,

I skimmed your book “Secrets of a Buccaneer-Scholar” and found the same spirit from this post. It was highly inspiring, but it also bothered me a bit. I started to write about this to Twitter (under @pr0mille), but my point was lost quite quickly. Therefore I CHOSE to take the mental effort and explain myself here… ;)

I work in Sogeti Finland. For many it’s a company that doesn’t actually promote integrity. We sell such atrocities as TMap and TPI, and many of our consultants enforce them blindly. Vast majority is unable to tell that they are promoting bad things, because they don’t see them as such. They don’t feel that their integrity is jeopardized. Some have awakened from this dream, but still choose to promote bad things, because their bonuses, career development and ultimately reputation within the company depend on this. They have chosen to lose their integrity.

Yes, it is not necessarily poor integrity to embrace something that some people (like me) think is bad. My model of integrity is based on wholeness of self, and congruence between self as presented to others and self as experienced personally. Therefore: IF I fancy myself an excellent tester, AND I advocate something that I believe is inconsistent with excellent testing, THEN that is an integrity problem. If someone honestly thinks that a “bad” thing is good, it’s a knowledge or wisdom problem, but not challenge to integrity.

I suspect there are people in Sogeti who believe in the value of TMap and TPI. I question their judgment, of course. I wonder if they have ever seriously studied testing. And I know that any of them who decided that TMap should be improved would face stiff resistance from most other people nearby, to the degree that improvement of the model is quite unlikely to occur. But none of that– in itself– is an ethics problem. Of course being intentionally, determinedly ignorant over a period of time is a different matter. I don’t understand how anyone who pays attention to developments in testing in the last 20 years could continue to hold on to such outmoded thinking.

At first I was blissfully ignorant. After gaining experience and trying to apply TMap and TPI to actual work, study them and really understand I started to see the flaws and the fact that they just don’t work. Worse yet, they can seriously harm the organizations they are implemented in. This weighed more on my scale than any bonuses or internal reputation. So I started to rebel.

Bad move.

By exposing that my integrity was more important than questionable company goals, I became open to attacks. I had to spend all of my time making my case, explaining myself to people that could not be convinced. It was a head on collision. Force against force. I didn’t make any progress in changing things for the better.

I don’t generally think of my integrity-related actions as moves in a game but rather as expressions of what I am. I’m not thinking “what do I need to say or do in order to get Sami not to fight me” but rather a three-step process FIRST: “What is true, relevant, helpful, and reasonably non-abusive?” THEN: “What is an effective way to live by that and communicate it?” If I proceed that way, sometimes opposition melts away. If it doesn’t melt away, then perhaps it’s right to fight. Ah, and here is the third step: “IF there is opposition, try to understand it and learn from that.”

Three steps, but none of them is about the ends justifying whatever means that get me what I want.

Sometimes, when integrity seems not to be at stake, I use a strategy of thinking “what does this person want and how can I support him?” Management skills training and years of experience as a husband and father help me have the patience to do that. Then, in a roundabout way without me being in charge, we might end up doing great work. It’s sort of a Taoist strategy, but it takes a lot of patience and time (more than I usually have, in my old age).

Then I remembered my jujutsu teachings. Jujutsu is all about manipulating the opponent via indirect attacks. In jujutsu you never go with force against force. So I changed my approach. I started to play ball. I accepted assignments that were less than optimal integrity-wise, but in them I used grassroot tactics to change things. For example I started to remove all the constraints that prevented people from thinking. I removed expected results from test cases. I simplified test planning. I incorporated roles and made people to talk with each other rather than with systems. I never talked about exploratory or context-driven testing, I never mentioned heuristics, I never bothered people with anything but the actual work.

I flew under the radar.

This sounds like the Taoist thing. Of course, that’s a viable strategy. But are you doing it honestly? “…flew under the radar” and “manipulating” sound like you could be attempting to deceive people.

This is what I meant by the fast food metaphor. A little (polite?) deception won’t kill your integrity outright, but it could make you sick. There are degrees of disguising your intent and methods (“blacker lies” and “whiter lies” shall we say) and I hope you are struggling with these ethical questions as you go.

I find it helpful to ask myself what is in the best interests of the company? Am I taking my paycheck and helping the company succeed on its own terms, or am I a parasite living off its life juices merely for my own gain?

This took some time, some hard days and some dents to my integrity too, but now it has started to pay off. Because I’ve introduced success rather than conflict I now have more and more good or even awesome assignments, and I know how to act in the bad ones. I have even applied these tactics internally and good things are happening as we speak. I cannot talk about all of them, but it’s safe to say that TMap won’t be the same… ;)

It’s too easy to be hasty and send wrong messages over Twitter. I hope you see that I’m far from considering myself as a victim or prisoner. Yes, I work in challenging environment, but I’m choosing to do so. Sometime I’ve thought that I’m doing volunteer work in a conflict area. I believe I can matter and that gives purpose to my work. I want to believe that it builds my integrity too.

You’re using active, responsible language, here. You seem to be taking responsibility. The most impressive part is that you have named yourself and your employer. That seems dangerous, to me, but dangerous is a good way that I admire.

Perhaps predictable for a guy in the midst of a Finnish winter, you seem eager for sunlight!

Ethics Under the Radar

I have heard it called “stealth testing.” Doing the right thing secretly, while publicly following a broken process. I am not completely sure that is what Sami is talking about, but the phrase “under the radar” suggests that he might be.

I have certainly used “stealth mode,” but it troubles me. I ask myself: How would I feel if someone who worked for me was “under the radar” while negating or ignoring my corporate strategy? As it happens I have been in this position several times that I know of. My answer is that I would feel great or terrible depending on what I thought the motive of the person was. I call it “constructive insubordination” when I am disobeyed in a way that honors my intent and my prerogatives as a manager. I celebrate that. It’s like having magic elves working for you. At the same time, it calls into question whether I am being over-controlling as a manager (or father or husband… the same principle works in any situation where you establish a contract with someone to do something for you).