I’ve stopped using this phrase: “The role of a tester on agile projects”. There has been endless debate over whether there should be dedicated testers on agile projects. In the end, endless debate doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve been on enough agile teams now to see that testers can add value in pretty much the same way they always have. They provide a service to a team and customers that is information-based. As James Bach says: “testing lights the way.” Programmer testing and tester testing complement each other, and agile projects can provide an ideal environment for an amazing amount of collaboration and testing. It can be hard to break in to some agile projects though when many agilists seem to view conventional testing with indifference or in some cases with disdain. (Bad experiences with QA Police doesn’t help, so the testing community bears some responsibility with this poor view of testing.)
What I find interesting is hearing experiences from people on Agile projects who fit in and contributed on Agile teams. I like to hear stories about how a Tester worked on an XP team, or how a Business Analyst fit in and thrived on an Agile team. One of the most fascinating stories I’ve encountered was a technical writer who worked on an XP team. It was amazing to find out how they adapted and filled a “team member role” to help get things done. It’s even more fascinating to find how the roles of different team members change over time, and how different people learn new skills and roll up their sleeves to get things done. There is a lot of knowledge in areas such as user experience work, testing, technical writing and others that Agile team members can learn from. In turn, they can learn a tremendous amount from Agilists. This collaborative learning helps move teams forward and can really push a team’s knowledge envelope. When people share successes and failures of what they have tried, we all benefit.
I like to hear of people who work on a team in spite of being told “dedicated testers aren’t in the white book”, or “our software doesn’t need documentation”. I’m amazed at how adaptable smart, talented people are who are blazing trails and adding value on teams that have challenging and different constraints. A lot of the “we don’t need your role” discussion sounds like the same old arguments testers, technical writers, user experience folks and others have been hearing already for years from non-Agilists. Interestingly enough, those who work on agile projects often report that in spite of initial resistance, they manage to fit in and thrive once they adapt. Those who were their biggest opponents at the beginning of a project often become their biggest supporters. This says to me that there are smart, capable people from a lot of different backgrounds who can offer something to any team they are a part of.
The Agile Manifesto says: “we value: Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.” Why then is there so much debate over the “tester role”? Many Agile pundits dismiss having dedicated testers on Agile projects. I often hear: “There is no dedicated tester role needed on an Agile team”. Isn’t this notion of a “role” to be excluded from a team putting a process over people? If someone joins an Agile team who is not a developer and they believe in the values of the methodology and want to work with a great team, do we turn them away? Shouldn’t we embrace the people even if the particular process we are following does not spell out their duties?
I would like to see people from non-developer roles be encouraged to try working on agile teams and share successes and failures so we can all benefit. I still believe software development has a long way to go, and we should try to improve every process. A danger of codifying and spreading a process is that it doesn’t have all the answers for every team. When we don’t have all the answers, we need to look at the motivations and values behind a process. For example, what attracted me most to XP were the values. My view on software processes is that we should embrace the values, and use them as a base to strive towards constant improvement. That means we experiment and push ideas forward, and fight apathy, hubris and as Deming said, drive out fear.