McDonald’s Testing

A PM recently suggested to me that “testing should be like McDonald’s”.

So what did he mean? Testing should be bland and uninteresting? Fattening with minimal nutritional value? Served by spotty teenagers?

No, his meaning was that testing should be served the same everywhere, with common ingredients and identical processes.

Now, I don’t mean to knock McDonald’s. As a near-veggie they’re not my thing, but they seem to fill their niche well. But what about other contexts? Imagine if ALL food were like McDonald’s! How would we fulfill our needs for a Sunday roast, a tasty local delicacy or a pleasant evening out?

Why should software development be any different? Don’t different projects have different objectives? Different needs? Different constraints?

Software development features such rich diversity, that there is plenty of room for testing to be like a family meal, a baguette with cheese and wine, or that matter dining at a Michelin star restaurant.

14 thoughts on “McDonald’s Testing

  1. “A PM recently suggested to me that “testing should be like McDonald’s”.
    … his meaning was that testing should be served the same everywhere, with common ingredients and identical processes.”

    Wow, really? I haven’t heard as misguided a proclamation as this in a long time.

    Did he say why he believed this? Does he believe this of anything else in the software development lifecycle, or just testing?

    • Joe,

      Thanks, and yes, really. Sadly, I was so shocked as to be rendered speechless (not a common occurence)…and need to revist this conversation soon. Wish me luck ;-)

      –Iain

  2. Wow! Just wow.

    So sad when you have to deal with ideas like this. I have to deal with pretty bad ideals about testing at work too.

    The best I heard (from another, didn’t happen to me personally) was a new “Black Belt” efficiency expert who told the software lead of a (Boeing Aerospace) project that he knew how to cut half his project expense.

    The lead asked him “How?” and he was told to eliminate testing altogether because “testing is not value added.”

    The lead asked him if he’d be comfortable flying in that airplane that didn’t have the software tested.

    Needless to say, that conversation didn’t go much further….but the software lead sure knew how much “stock” to put in opinions of this “expert” after that event.

    • Michael, many thanks – that was an interesting read – I particularly like the term “testburgers”. It seems that the idea that testing can and should be commoditized is all too common.

      –Iain

    • C’est vrai, et nous avons un exemple récent! The drive towards commoditization and process standardization seems to apply to many areas of human endeavor. It’s not universally a BAD thing – McDonald’s has a successfull business model and serves its niche admirably – but that’s not to say that it can or should be applied universally. There’s plenty of demand for a decent meal.

      –Iain

  3. The missing ingredient here is context. WHY did that PM make such a statement? Is it truly about some form of perceived short-coming in testing unto itself or is the PM trying to denote a frustration (perhaps a common one by PMs) with encountered lack of commonality. How many times have we come up against the Quality Assurance versus Quality Control versus Testing conversation? How many times have we sighed when we have had to describe quality/testing terminology? What is a Test Plan versus a Test Strategy? Perhaps the expression was one of trying to make sense of the whole process. Perhaps this is a quest for efficiency/simplicity. Food for thought?

    • Hi, Paul…

      I like that you leave the questions open. As you point out, we can’t know what the PM meant. I’d like to offer some answers and some theories to those who encounter the situations you’ve raised. Like martial artists, excellent testers are able to respond to the situation and deal with it.

      How many times have we come up against the Quality Assurance versus Quality Control versus Testing conversation?

      Well, lots. The question what kind of problem does such a conversation solve? I have a ready answer for it: testing is neither quality assurance nor quality control. Management is.

      http://www.developsense.com/blog/2010/05/testers-get-out-of-the-quality-assurance-business/

      How many times have we sighed when we have had to describe quality/testing terminology?

      Plenty. But describing what we do is part of the cost of doing business in a role that is largely misunderstood.

      http://www.developsense.com/blog/2011/11/smoke-testing-vs-sanity-testing/

      What is a Test Plan versus a Test Strategy?

      I have an answer (and James Bach teach it as part of the Rapid Software Testing course). A test strategy is the set of ideas that guide your test design. Test logistics is the set of ideas that guide your applicaiton of resources that you’ll need to fulfill the test strategy. Put strategy and logistics together and you’ve got a plan.

      Perhaps the expression was one of trying to make sense of the whole process.

      Perhaps. I think Iain has responded to that. It’s important to note that testing is a tool, an extension of the senses of managers, that they can use to make sense of other stuff.

      Perhaps this is a quest for efficiency/simplicity.

      I’d be willing to bet that it is. Except that the standard, mass-produced meal doesn’t respond well to decidedly non-standard tastes, preferences, and nutritional needs. “Efficiency” and “simplicity” aren’t relevant outside of a particular context, and contexts in software development are never uniform. Testing shouldn’t offer testburgers as a product.

      Food for thought?

      Sure… but that food doesn’t come in a McDonald’s package. It comes as part of an evolving set of skills as we learn and describe our craft. Bon appetit!

      —Michael B.

  4. Thx for pointing me to this Iain. I actually used to manage a McDonald’s store, so this had a double interest for me.

    My response to said PM would have been along the lines… “Do you realise that even a ‘beast’ such as McDonald’s has to deal with contexts? What about cultures that do not eat red meat… you’ll still find good old McDonald’s in those countries.”

    Ah McDonald’s… such grand memories of scripted burger making, long hours, no overtime pay, and quality standards that were ‘really’ important when the local quality control rep. was due in store. Those were the days. ;0)

    • Funny. I was talking to a friend of my daughter recently; he works for Wendy’s. Apparently, when adding ketchup to a burger, they have to draw a “W” with it before adding the top bun. If the inspector catches them doing otherwise, they can lose “quality points” and the franchise can get closed down. I struggle to see the relationship between a ketchup W and quality or the experince of the customer (who most likely will never see it). It strikes me that we have more than a few ketchup W’s in our game.

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