How your personal understanding of “Quality” influences your way of testing

I want to offer you a hypothesis, a proposition that I don’t have proof for. But I believe I’m on the right way.

“Your personal definition¬† of quality influences the way you test.”

Quality is a seven-letter word. I think that’s the only statement that we can commonly agree on. Quality is a very complex matter and I don’t want to go too deep into detail on that this time.

To make my point I’ll base this post on three common defintions of quality, that your personal understanding might be more or less based on.

Q1: “Quality is conformance to requirements.” – Philip B. Crosby

Q2: “Quality is value to someone who matters at some point in time.” – Jerry Weinberg, extended by James Bach, Michael Bolton and Anne-Marie Charett

Q3: “Quality is fitness for use.” – Joseph M. Juran

I want to describe the type of testers that I see behind those definitions. This is based on my mind model, my experience of 16 years and the people I work with and talk to. I know that this number is way too small to be representative. But maybe it is helpful for some, at least it helps me to understand people and their motivations, and their way of working, how projects are set up and so on.

Type “Quality is conformance to requirements.”

Frameworks like iSTQB and PMBoK are based on variations of Q1. And this totally makes sense from their point of view. That way testing is plannable and controllable, and you might even come up with metrics to make quality measurable, based on that definition. It’s a good way to define price tags for testing, which enables schemes like outsourcing testing.
The other definitions would not be able to serve that purpose in a similar way.

Testers with an understanding of quality like Q1 might tend towards test cases and test coverage metrics based on requirements. Waterfall-like approaches (including those covered as Agile) make them feel comfortable and standard test case deduction methods are their daily tools.

Projects and general product development with very specific lists of requirements, standards to adhere to and processes to follow would need a quality understanding like this.
Also people with a background in model-based testing might feel comfortable with this definition.
For concrete implementation projects they need to rely on customers that are able to express their requirements.

Type “Quality is value to someone who matters at some point in time.”

Proper Exploratory Testing in my opinion tends to be more based on definitions similar to Q2. They explore the system under test from different angles, and exercise it based on the findings that they evaluate most important.  Test reports should inform decisions and rather tell a story than produce numbers. They are aware that they are not the customer or end user of the system, but they try to resemble them as good as possible.
I could imagine that people who see themself as context-driven testers might have a quality definition based on Q2.

They understand that context matters most and the usefulness can change over time. This type of tester in my opinion is more aware of potential risks and trying to detect potential risks is more important than covering every edge case possible. They also understand that quality is different for different stakeholders and users.

Type “Quality is fitness for use.”

Approaches like observation, monitoring, testing in production, data analytics and alike belong more to quality definitions like Q3. They want to see that the implementation works in the field. Testing before releasing to production is mostly used to minimize risks of massive failure. Carefully releasing software into the wild and rolling back in case of failure is their preferred way of checking code changes.

I’d assume a trend towards incorporating parts of definition Q2 in their understanding of quality.

Background story

I came to this hypothesis recently when I had to change teams in the same context and room from a customizing implementation team, to the product development team. I did not feel too well in the beginning after the change and I wanted to understand why. It’s not the people or the domain. It’s the way of working or rather the definition of quality you need to apply that defines the context. In my case I had to switch from a Q2-context to a Q1-context. Guess, what I prefer.

Summary

I believe that your personal definition of quality is a fundamental piece of the puzzle how you subconsciously work, how you test, how you design test strategies, how you’d set up a testing project and so forth.

Of course people can adapt to their current context and fulfill the requirements of the job, and do it good. But I assume they won’t feel as comfortable as they could. At least I do.

I need your help!

You made it this far, thanks for staying. I need your help! I would like to know if my hypothesis is worth following up on.
If you have a personal definition of quality, maybe it fits roughly to one of the three examples provided. And maybe you are aware of what kind of context you mostly enjoy working in.
Please let me know, if my generalized description above fits to your personal situation or not.
Thank you!

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