Applying the Switch framework to developers don’t want to write tests–part II

· May 4, 2012

This is the second part (read the first part) of my trying to get inspiration from the Switch book on how to get developers to realize that we also need to take our responsibility for the quality to test. It not just the testing departments problem. As W. Edward Deming put it;

“Quality is everybody’s responsibility”

Last time we took a look at the first principle – Direct the Rider. This time the turn has come to the elephant in the kitchen. The emotions and things that we cannot control by pure will power – it’s time to see if we can Motivate the Elephant.

Motivate the Elephant

The elephant is lazy; he doesn’t want to write more code than necessary or write stuff that probably somebody else will find anyway. Also the elephant will be pushed out of his comfort zone a bit here. Testing code is different, there are new tools to be learned and new ways of writing code that can be challenging to a comfortable elephant that has been on the job for a long time.

Why should he care about testing?

Find the feeling

In this part the Heath brothers talk about making people feel things instead of just understanding them. I have been using a lot of games and simulations lately in my presentations and it’s apparent that those kind of experience-based learning is a much better way to make stuff stick for people.

In this problem context I would love to make people feel the security of being able to change code and refactor it without having to worry about breaking stuff without knowing it. One great way to show that could be to bring down a well tested open source library, such as NancyFx and start to change stuff inside it – and be “saved” by tests that help you see the value of having them.

Best of course if you can show that bugs that was found by the automated tests, when you knew that the code was tested and bug free.

Think about the feeling you want your developers to feel and find a way to simulate that. Make it apparent.

Shrink the change

Here you want to motivate the elephant so that the first steps feels easy. They might even have been taken already.

For us that means that you don’t want to enforce 100% code coverage. In fact – let’s just cover the steps that we take right now. I have 2 simple rules for introducing tests in a non-tested code base:

  1. Agree on that we write a small unit test for each bug that we find. Make sure that the test fails when the bug is present and is green when the bug is fixed. Take the measures needed to get the code under test. Please refer to the Working effectively with legacy code book by Michael Feather for more on this.
  2. Dan North told great story that I often bring up in this kind of situations. Imagine that our code is a big dark scary forest. Now we need to go into the forest and make a small change in a clearing. So to protect ourselves we put small lights on the path we go to get to the clearing. While we’re there we also put out some lights around the clearing for protection. These lights are small unit tests. And the rest of the big dark forest? – We don’t go there! As it happens a lot of bugs appear in the same code base. Pretty soon you will have a great code coverage there. You get there in small steps.

Grow your people

Here you want to create an identity; we are like this.

Start with small steps like; we add a unit test for each ticket on the board. That will trigger a sense of us being testers. Testing is part of what we do.

After awhile you could try to take it further and add automated acceptance tests for the most common, or scary functionality (Gojko calls them face savers). That will even further enforce the identity of us being testing developers.

Finally try to get to place where testing and coding is not two different activities but rather one in two different gears. Developers write tests – that just how it work.

Take a look at any big OSS projects and you’ll find some very well tested code and a culture and identity of testing being very natural. None of those projects have assigned testers to my knowledge – it’s part of the developers job there.


That was the second part of this series. Stay tuned for the final part – Shape the path.

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