Quality is the Responsibility of the Whole Team
Since 2001 we have the agile manifesto in place and since then the whole industry is learning to use agile principles and values in their daily work of software development.
One of the problems I see, is that many who claim to be working in an agile environment have never read or really understood the agile values. While consulting teams or giving trainings, I’ve heard countless times that the Agile Manifesto says everything that is on the right side is what we should not do, e.g. in agile we have no plans, no contracts, no documentation or processes. I got to know a team who lost their software architect in agile transition because architects are not mentioned in the Agile Manifesto. Now they struggle with huge technical issues and there is no one who can help them… But it is not meant to be like this! The Agile Manifesto states that value is in items on both sides, but if we have to choose, we are choosing items on the left over the ones on the right. Logic says we have to have all items of the Agile Manifesto if we want to deliver sustainable software and improve our delivery cycle. The aspect that agile methods wants to highlight is, that documentation, plans or contracts are not the aim of the project, but are supporting tools. The aim of agile projects is always to deliver working software, have valued team members, and promote collaboration with customers and value responding to change.
the whole team approach
The way in which we achieve the values and the principles described in the Agile Manifesto is using the whole team approach. Since it changes fundamentally how we work together in a project, you can say it is a new style of project management in which everyone on the team is held equally responsible for the quality and success of the product.
Professionals in software development know that each development decision is a quality decision as well. The Agile Manifesto sets it as a top priority. Software quality does not depend on the software development model that we use, but on the method how we all together as a team structure the whole software development process. Together, we use tools and activities which support the achievement of high software quality. One of these activities is testing.
what does testing mean?
Everyone around the world knows or can imagine what “software development” or “project management” are, but very few can say what software testing is, how do you do it and, most importantly, why?
10 years ago when I started my career in testing, there was the statement: “everybody can test” with the meaning that you do not need special skills to test. Today I often state myself: “everyone can test software”, – meaning everyone: developers, software architects, product owners, support people and operations – everyone, who can analyse information and build a mental model of it, to discover invisible strings and deviations between software and requirements, business regulations, standards, norms and legal regulations. Testing is an intellectual sport. But we are more used to say: Testing is the process of how we collect information about our product with the aim that, based on this information, the team is able to decide what to do next.
Two types of testing are very important in an agile context: automated regression and exploratory testing. With regression tests we collect information about software features which are already in use by users, and with exploratory tests we are learning about software features that we are currently developing.
If you run tests and your team cannot make decisions based on information your tests collected, your tests are not adding value. If you write weekly reports and nobody on your team reads those, your reports are not adding value. If there are 12,000 automated tests and no one can articulate what they cover, the automated tests are not adding value.
You may still have a tester on your agile team that acts as a coach for testing techniques and does some of the testing, but on an agile team, everyone should be able to collect information about the current state of the software. Remember: quality is the team’s responsibility.
the challenge of change
The essence of the whole team approach lies in the testers, developers, and the business representatives working closely together at every step of the development process. Because the whole team is responsible for success and quality, the whole team or at a minimum, representatives from each specialty – see three amigos – is involved in every consultation or meeting in which product features are presented, analyzed, or estimated. For many organisations and individuals, it can be a struggle.
The first attempt to switch to an agile software development, in my experience, in 90% of cases looks like a 2-week-waterfall development. It is hard to change a person’s way of thinking or collaborating, a company culture or processes already in place. People and companies have to break deep-rooted processes, e.g. working in silos or not listening to junior members. Give it time and recognize people’s fears – it is scary to change! Some fears that people have expressed to me are:
- “How exactly should I support my team members?”,
- “If everyone should be able to test, what should I, the tester, do?”
- “If the whole team decides on issues, what should I, the project manager, do? Is there still a job for me?”,
- “According to our HR guidelines and my job title, I am a senior developer, but I never really understood testing. What will happen if others find out?”
All of those are valid questions and should be addressed.
Janet Gregory and Lisa Crispin were two of the pioneers in agile testing. Many agile testers call their book “Agile Testing” the Bible, because it was the first comprehensive book about testing in an agile context. Today they have the extension “More Agile Testing” and the 3-day hands-on training “The Whole Team Approach to Agile Testing and Quality”, for whole software development teams, with games and exercises on collaboration, planning and agile testing quadrants. I train this course myself because I am convinced that I can give many team members valuable knowledge for the implementation in their daily work. But whether it’s a book or training or reading blog posts or just trying things out for yourself: I encourage everyone to take a look at the whole team approach, because it is an important step forward when the entire team feels responsible for success and quality.