While writing the last post that tied into the movie, “The Last Boy Scout”, it got me to thinking that no matter how good you plan, there will be situations you had no way of predicting. One of my all-time favourite characters that could cope with just about any scenario was MacGyver. Now MacGyver wasn’t a physicist, an engineer, a doctor, a chemist, or any other formally qualified professional of any sort that I am aware of, but it appeared that he knew enough of all of these professions to be able to get himself, and anyone he was attempting to save, out of trouble and harm’s way. What a hero. He would have been a great tester.
There is a difference between a “tester” and a “great tester”. Some people are born to it and have a knack for finding defects, detecting root causes, and workarounds. For the rest of us we need to work at it. You do not need to become expert programmers or business subject matter experts but you should try be a little of both. You also need to be careful that you use these skills as part of your job and try to avoid everyone assuming you are the expert as this can pull you away from the testing tasks at hand.
Now let’s try to put this all into perspective with our day to day job by using some of MacGyver’s exploits.
Build a lie detector from a blood pressure cuff, a stethoscope and an alarm clock (Slow Death, S1, E19). A really handy item to have but who needs it during testing? As part of the overall testing process you need to be able to understand a number of things that may be ‘coloured’ by individuals. For example, what is the real severity/priority of a defect? Is it something someone ‘wants’ fixed or something that ‘needs’ to be fixed? When a vendor walks through a prototype and a possible issue is identified, is it “just the hard coding of the prototype” or “something they never considered”? When a business process problem is found is it because the “requirement was misinterpreted” or “an unclear requirement”? What about knowing in advance that something is going to miss a delivery date when everyone is saying “No problems”? Yes, a lie detector would be handy and you can build one! Learn more about interviewing skills, interpreting body language and review techniques.
How about building a defibrillator from a pair of candlesticks, a microphone cord and a rubber mat (The Enemy Within, S1, E15)? This is just the thing to reenergize the team or the project when their spirits are down. Is it really your job? I would have to say yes. If a project or phase dies then all involved are to blame for sitting back and watching instead of doing all that they can to succeed in keeping it alive. Have an off-site meeting, inject some fun through friendly competitions, and reward people for their contributions. A weekly award based on recommendations perhaps (PS: You can only get it if you recommended others). As MacGyver has shown us it doesn’t need to cost much; it just needs to do the job !
A bit of tongue in cheek here but what about a hot air balloon from homemade glue, random scraps of nylon, a metal shed and gas canisters (GX-1, S3, E6)? Use your own hot air to put stakeholders’ minds at rest when something failed but in the scope of the entire project isn’t so bad. This is all about communication and putting things into perspective. Despite what someone might think as mission critical, the test team has managed to complete a number of other tasks, while waiting for a fix to be delivered, that had to be completed. Explain that we are off the ground, out of danger, and still flying towards our goal.
Your hands are tied and you are caught up by deliverables that haven’t arrived; try a catapult to launch acid into a position where it can burn binding ropes (The Coltons, S7, E5). This utilised a cooperative dog, a bottle of sulfuric acid, a yardstick, and a jar. Where do I get a cooperative dog and how is this going to help me? Note that this is only in the context of this post – I would NEVER call any project member an animal but animals can be our companions and friends when you treat each other with respect and communicate well. Try to find someone within the team holding back a deliverable to see what they can pre-release. It can take a lot of time, patience, and reassurance to gain the trust of others to pre-release artifacts that they are responsible for. Like you, they have probably been burned before by others when releasing items before they are finalised. Provide them with 1 on 1 feedback and work together to achieve your goals.
I could keep going like this for ages but I think you get the picture. I saw MacGyver being good at what he did because he never stopped learning through observation and trial & error. He wasn’t afraid to try something that wasn’t in the text books. Yes, I will admit that some ideas were far-fetched and highly improbable but you get the idea.
There are many examples of thinking on your feet that MacGyver can provide us with and it is up to you as a tester to build your knowledge and experience to be able to do the same when testing. What will you do when the next challenge comes your way? Will you cop out and say it’s not your job? Will you call on your own experience and attempt to solve it? Will you try to learn something new that could help now and in the future? You don’t need to be an expert; you just need the ability to look outside the box.
Author: Peter Bolin