The following book review was presented by Peter Morgan, Principal Consultant at e-testing at Eurostar in December 2003.
Critical Testing Processes by Rex Black. Aug 2003.
Paperback, pp 571. Addison Wesley.
I have headed my reviews “Books – Building upon the Success of Others”. This is because if it is possible to take somebody else’s experience, or very often painful lessons, and distil beneficial information from this, the activity moves all of us forward as testing professions. I want to learn what has worked and what has not worked for others, and adapt this to the testing that I am involved in right now.
In the closing remarks at EuroStar last year we were encouraged to take a packet of seeds being distributed, and go away and plant them, nurture the seedlings, see them grow, and then use the results. THAT is what I am hoping to achieve in these three sessions; introduce you to three books that I have found helpful. However, in these cases, you have to go away and buy your own seeds (the books). Whilst on the subject of seeds from last year, I thought that I would let you see how I got on. I had three seeds in my packet, all were planted and one of which took root. You can see me looking out of an upstairs window holding the flower. Unfortunately, honesty means that I must show you the second slide, indicating my youngest son (on the left) helping to hold up the plant.
Published in August this year, I had to make sure that one of my books was up to the minute. Rex has honed some of his articles and his teaching / seminar work into this volume, but there does not appear to be too much overlap with his previous well-know book (Managing the Testing Process).
Entitled “Critical Testing Processes”, this book is in four parts, being over 500 pages. Each of the four parts describes some of the key processes from the title, there being 12 in all. You may, like me, be only able to count 11, until you realise that the 12th is made up of other eleven processes – a META process. The four parts, incidentally, are easy to remember; Plan, Prepare, Perform and Perfect.
I cannot hope to do this book justice in a short slot, but I will try. Initially, there is some discussion about what testers do. I like the concise four points that are brought up.
Find bugs that get fixed
Find bugs that don’t get fixed – but are known
Run tests that mitigate risks
Guide the project through providing timely, accurate information
Briefly, I want to mention some points from the ‘Plan’ and ‘Prepare’ sections. “To fail to plan is to plan to fail” is a very salient point. Especially in the early stages of the software testing effort, there are tremendous amounts that are not known. However, inactivity is not an option. Calculating return on investment is introduced in a chapter entitled ‘It is not what it costs, it is what it saves’. Several topics are recurrent throughout the volume. Both risk assessment and estimation are imprecise – the more you do them the better you get. This does not just involve these activities repeatedly from project to project, but also repeating them and revisiting them within the same project.
I am concentrating on some personnel matters from the section on ‘Prepare’. You get the impression that Rex has done a lot, and worked in a whole variety of situations. However, there is not the prescriptive approach, more items that you may wish to consider. There are pointers aplenty to the work of others, both books and material available on the internet. Good individual testers and a good test team do not just happen, they have to be planned and crafted. Attitude is key to this approach, both the attitude of individual testers, and of the test manager.
The author likes lists, and checklists. Some of the tables can be difficult to read (small print), especially when frantically trying to read the book to do the review, in early September 2003. In all of this though, the experience of Rex shines through. This is especially true in the on-going case study, throughout the book.
The case study works very well, and has a myriad of teaching points that can be and are brought out. There are parts of the testing effort on the Sumatra project that go well, and some lessons to be learnt. I found that the story-line made we want to read on at times. However, I am left with one small puzzle. There is a funny half sentence (on page 368, if you are really interested) where the female system administrator agrees to work part of the weekend with the male test manager “perhaps more willing that she otherwise would have been”. I wonder what that is about?
I would suggest that this is the kind of book you would have on or near your desk, and reach for frequently. It will do you good, and has a good mix of theory, and the worked practical application in every day situations. There are many situations where you will be pointed to other sources. I did find one of the web links referred to be the subject of either web-rot, or a typographical error, but I also found many that were very helpful, and gave me the bigger picture. There are a few instances where parts are repeated, but this aids the reader, rather than irritates, at least in my case. Even though many pieces have appeared elsewhere (including EuroStar 2002, and in The Test Practitioner, of which I spoke yesterday), the book reads like a book, rather than a set of linked articles.
So, you have seen the seed packet. Go and buy seeds for yourself, plant, water, nurture and see them grow.
Peter Morgan, Principal Test Consultant, e-testing ( Pmorgan@etesting.com )