The Embedded Tester

Hat and JacketI hear it a lot at conferences, work meetings, interviews, discussions with managers, etc., the idea of “embedded testers.” The utterances are along the lines of, “Our testers are embedded on development teams!” or “How do we embed our testers with our developers?” It unfailingly puts me in the mind of a reporter from say, CNN wearing an ill-fitting helmet and flak jacket*, standing there as well-drilled troops go about their business. These journalists are working alongside the military, sometimes getting into actual firefights and other dangerous situations, but they’re not part of the team. They are most certainly outsiders with a different agenda (although it doesn’t always work out that way – more on that later).

When we talk about embedding testers – when we use that language – we’re implying that we’re taking a member of a separate Quality Assurance group and dropping them into a team of programmers, much like dropping a reporter into a military unit and sending them to the front line. No wonder testers are apprehensive and no wonder developers are resentful. Just using the phrase suggests a cargo-cult mentality is at work; we show a misunderstanding of the reasons for doing it and whether they’ll even apply in our particular context. And as a manager, when you use this phrase, you’re thinking in the back (or perhaps the front) of your mind that, just like a news organization, you can simply pull that person out of the team and back into the testing pool and the team will be unaffected.

In Agile, testers aren’t “embedded” on teams any more than programmers are, or analysts, or any other role that is needed on the team. To say that they are suggests that this is an option, or a particular strategy you might employ to help with Agile development. It’s not! It’s an essential part of it!

And no, I’m not saying that all testing has to be done by the team. There are reasons why you might want, or be legally obligated, to have independent testers outside of the team. Additionally, you’ll want your users involved in evaluating your work.

So above I mentioned I would talk more about the “different agenda” of embedded journalists. The social science is pretty new on all of this, but it turns out that there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome involved. These people are together under quite stressful situations, and often, in spite of their roles as impartial providers of information, they become overly sympathetic to the point that they glorify the actions of the troops and neglect, or leave out truths related to the enemy combatants. In fact, administrations have counted on this, encouraging embedding in order to provide more support for the war in Iraq.

“Aha!” you say. “This is exactly what managers are afraid of! Testers fraternizing too closely with programmers to the point of hiding quality problems from management! You need that adversarial relationship between devs and testers!” Ok, stop. First of all, shame on you for drawing parallels between software development and war! (ahem) And Second, I *knew* you didn’t really want testers as part of the team! (pwned) Look, Agile teams are perfectly capable of testing their own stuff and pitting testers against programmers is a fast track for making testing irrelevant. You’ll need to establish trust and choose metrics that reflect the goal of the team. Then you’ll have a good team, and not just a bunch of people embedded together.

* It turns out that these days the military won’t spring for such gear – the reporter is responsible for their own. (Then again, maybe that contributes to the lack of fit.) However, it’s not like the military is saving much by doing this.

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  1. #1 by brianstill on April 12, 2012 - 8:53 pm

    Does this mean you aren’t a fan of the shared services model? :-)

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