The other day, I heard a story about a biology student who was preparing for an in-class experiment. She was so engrossed in the steps that she inadvertently turned a few of the flasks upside down.

Basic common sense would have saved this student a lot of time. But because she was so focused on the individual steps, she completely missed some of the obvious mistakes that were hidden in plain sight.

Personally, I wasn’t there. And I have no way of verifying whether or not the story is true. What I do know, however, is that similar oversights happen all the time – in classrooms and in work environments around the world. We become so tied up in next-step actions and how to’s that we often overlook the bigger picture.

Nowhere is this obsession with protocols more apparent than in the software testing world:

  • New tools and gadgets come along constantly
  • Exciting features and irresistible add-ons are all the rage
  • Innovative methodologies emerge, vying for our time and attention

With each launch, we’ll invest hours, configuring these new systems in an effort to save time or discover cool shortcuts. We become transfixed by bells and whistles in our never-ending quest to find faster, better, and cheaper.

And once we become comfortable with the new workflow, we rinse and repeat (until the next big thing comes along – of course).

The Search for the Best Software Testing Methodology Is a Red Herring

We’re all guilty of the above. Every single one of us.

And each time we become obsessed with the newest craze, we’re breaking one of the cardinal rules of life – successful tactics change with time, but successful strategies are eternal.

This basic mantra applies to education, business, marketing, love, and every human endeavor under the sun. Instead of focusing on hacks and how to’s, we should remain focused on the underlying principles.

In the software testing world, this means regarding methodology as a language – not as a destination. When we get caught up in the grammar and syntax of that language, we miss out on the larger message. Communication and understanding take a backseat to rules and procedures.

These are not just musings. After years of studying software testing groups (of all shapes and sizes), we’ve noticed an interesting trend. The less time you waste on implementation and fashionable methodologies, the better you perform. Every minute spent configuring is a minute not spent “testing.”

So how do you break this cycle? After all, new methodologies definitely have value and the learning process never truly ends. You can’t ignore breakthrough approaches and innovative ways of thinking, can you?

No – you can’t.

But you can start with the end in mind. Rather than focus on the how, focus on the why. What is it that you’re trying to test, and why are these results so important?

In other words, use basic common sense as your starting point (if you need primers on common sense, click here and here).

When you do this, the best methodology usually emerges on its own. In fact, several methodologies might emerge and you can pick the best complement of tools and approaches.

These organic insights are especially common if you adhere to the basic principles of exploratory testing. Constantly expand your questions, broaden your focus, and adjust to new information as necessary.

[Note that this is not a plug for exploratory testing. We genuinely love this methodology – but not for the reasons that you probably assume. Tune in next week when we “explore” exploratory testing and how it relates to the Testuff Suite.]

So my advice to you is build your tests from the ground up. Adjust them as necessary. Allow exploratory testing to run silently in the background. And focus on the results – not on the processes.