Test as Transformation – Expectation Management

“One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” – Georgia O’Keeffe

The last installment in my series on how testing and quality engineering can support a digital transformation program is about one of my favorite subjects – managing expectations. But is it possible to improve through expectation management? Yes. In my experience through alignment of our ambitions, business capabilities and operating model limitations you can absolutely improve not only the internal/external perception of our business but also your delivery capabilities.

Why is this expectation management such easy target for transformation? First, in my experience there is frequently misalignment between stakeholder perceptions between each other as well as their IT partners in expectations and reality. Very often the business, IT management, and those actually doing the work will have multiple views on what problems are, root causes, and their opinions will be heavily anecdotal in nature and biased. This can cause disruptive management and business decisions made with “out of focus” views on organizations delivery capabilities and expectations.

“Let us accept truth, even when it surprises us and alters our views.”  George Sand

So how can testing help manage expectations?

Testing should help an organization identify if their problems are complicated or complex. Complex problems involve too many unknowns and relationships to reduce to rules and processes and typically, quality is equated to testing and a management problem. In my experience, because of its complexity, software quality can only be managed, not solved and testers should be providing information and insight into business (not project) risks associated with an organizations delivery and engineering capabilities.

We should also be providing clarity on what testing can and CANNOT do and how automation and tooling fit into our approach. Without opening the pandoras box of “testing and checking”, I think from a professional testers perspective or over 20 years in this industry, the discussion on the difference between a “test” and a “check” is incredibly useful. I have employed it on countless occasions to help IT management and my business partners understand the deltas between how we build, test, and use products as in those expectation gaps defects and systemic failures lurk.

One more area to looking into to help your partners manage their expectations is culture and people. Models of success are most likely emulated (money, time, attention, promotion) including bad behaviors like heroics, waste of company assets, and poor risk prioritization/management. How teams are compensated drive most behaviors, so don’t be surprised with you get what you paid for your big, expensive “test process improvement” program!

Testing is typically subjected to a great deal of organizational dysfunction (cost controls, location strategies, 3rd party risks) and has a direct view of the impact to how we build/test/operate our systems. Reporting this information as operational insights/intelligence as part of an overall approach to risk management greatly increases the value of our test team as well as reducing mismanagement of expectations.

Good luck and happy hunting!

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