Software testers should be test pilots. Too many people think software testing is the pre-flight checklist an airline pilot uses.
The checklists airline pilots use before each flight are critical. Checklists are extremely valuable tools that help assure steps in a process are followed. Checklists are valuable in many professions. The Checklist – If something so simple can transform intensive care, what else can it do? by Atul Gawande
Sick people are phenomenally more various than airplanes. A study of forty-one thousand trauma patients—just trauma patients—found that they had 1,224 different injury-related diagnoses in 32,261 unique combinations for teams to attend to. That’s like having 32,261 kinds of airplane to land. Mapping out the proper steps for each is not possible, and physicians have been skeptical that a piece of paper with a bunch of little boxes would improve matters much. In 2001, though, a critical-care specialist at Johns Hopkins Hospital named Peter Pronovost decided to give it a try. … Pronovost and his colleagues monitored what happened for a year afterward. The results were so dramatic that they weren’t sure whether to believe them: the ten-day line-infection rate went from eleven per cent to zero. So they followed patients for fifteen more months. Only two line infections occurred during the entire period. They calculated that, in this one hospital, the checklist had prevented forty-three infections and eight deaths, and saved two million dollars in costs.
Checklists are extremely useful in software development. And using checklist-type automated tests is a valuable part of maintaining and developing software. But those pass-fail tests are equivalent to checklists - they provide a standardized way to check that planned checks pass. They are not equivalent to thoughtful testing by a software testing professional.
I have been learning about software testing for the last few years. This distinction between testing and checking software was not one I had before. Reading experts in the field, especially James Bach and Michael Bolton is where I learned about this idea.
Testing is the process of evaluating a product by learning about it through experimentation, which includes to some degree: questioning, study, modeling, observation and inference.
(A test is an instance of testing.)
Checking is the process of making evaluations by applying algorithmic decision rules to specific observations of a product.
I think this is a valuable distinction to understand when looking to produce reliable and useful software. Both are necessary. Both are done too little in practice. But testing (as defined above) is especially underused - in the last 5 years checking has been increasing significantly, which is good. But now we really need to focus on software testing - thoughtful experimenting.
Related: Mistake Proofing the Deployment of Software Code - Improving Software Development with Automated Tests - Rapid Software Testing Overview Webcast by James Bach - Checklists in Software Development