Words are important
I often practice good and thoughtful wording. We’re in the business of gathering information and supplying it. Working in a business where most people have no deep understanding of what their colleagues do, we need to be able to clarify, even translate information in a way that our recipient can understand the message optimally.

This is no easy feat and requires much practice. That’s why I train myself in it and you should too. At some point this summer, the idea popped into my head that “Test should never be used as a noun”.

Since then I’ve had the pleasure to discuss this on Twitter and Skype with Chris(@Kinofrost, QualityExcellentness), Patrick Prill (@TestPappy), Sarah Teugels(@Sarah Teugels) and James (@rightsaidjames).

This is the conclusion I have come to. (which is not necessarily, what the others have found.)

Shaping of ‘a test’

Consider these two definitions (from Context Driven Testing – James bach)

“Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through exploration and experimentation, which includes: questioning, study, modeling, observation and inference, output checking, etc.”

“A test is an instance of testing.”

To me it felt that the second definition did not bring any value but more likely supported confusion and abuse of the term.

  • ‘A test’ is a countable noun. Which makes it dangerous for (non-)testers who like to attach meaning and value to numbers.
  • ‘A test’ is easily confused with ‘a check’. It’s much too easy to substitute the difficult to comprehend concept with a more simple one. The question: “Could this information impact value to anyone who matters?” is forgotten and replaced with “Can I push this button and is the background blue?”. ‘A test’ involves human interaction, tacit knowledge, interpreting results,…
  • Calling your activity ‘a test’ implicates that it is a thing. Things are tangible and generally mean the same thing. A dog means a dog, even though there’s a few hundred different races. You can further specify what kind of dog it is you’re talking about.
    ‘A test’ involves tacit knowledge, which can’t as easily be expressed.
    In addition, calling it a thing, gives the illusion that it can be repeated. You don’t want other people to misunderstand it that way.

I have been convinced by the aforementioned people that there are indeed cases in which ‘a test’ can be a valuable. It comes with a few caveats though.

– It’s an activity; like ‘a run’ or ‘a play’ it isn’t specific about anything, but gives notion of a certain activity.
– It’s focused on finding important information (to a person who matters).
– It’s requires human intelligence. (tacit and explicit knowledge)
– It’s boundaries are irrelevant. Where it started and where it ended are not important to the concept.

We’ve come up with the following definition, trying to stay true to the nature of Context Driven Testing:
“A test is a human-controlled activity, any activity, that is focused on discovering information that is important to a person who matters”

Which is inclusive with: “Quality is value to some person who matters.”

Conclusion

“When you use ‘test’ as a noun, find a better way to phrase it.”
and if you don’t, be mindful of what it represents.
Which has it’s exceptions of course, like every heuristic.

I’m open for further discussion, but Twitter didn’t take kind to this blog post format.

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