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Note: Before you read any further, let me warn you that you might not be comfortable reading this, esp if you are from context driven school. Have a glass of water, if it helps. This post is not to undermine the contributions of the context driven community. I owe a lot to their wonderful work in terms of learning. So, read the title again. Well, once more!

If we are doing things without understanding the context, we are doing it wrong. The question is, should the context drive you?

A lot can go wrong in the assessment of context itself. Such an assessment needs experience beyond books. It needs evaluation beyond what we see and what people around us are telling. The problem told to us may not be the real problem. The numbers/data shown could be out of context. We can assume that people are not always truthful. We can also assume that statistics can lie too. All this means that context is what you make out of it. Every person on the team would have his or her own version of context. There would be overlaps but none would be exactly similar.

Add to it the personal goals of various stakeholders – managers, testers, product owners, customers and so on. We do work to get paid. Period. There are some saints too. They are fewer in number, so let’s deal with the reality. This means that most of us want to keep our job safe, get highlighted the most, get paid the most. This means that when I am put on a team, there is a long history to the way of doing things. This history includes such manipulations and personal goals reflected in the way of doing things. Your assessment of the true context almost always is in conflict with what people want it to be.

And whose context are we talking of? Are we talking about the context of the problem at hand? Are we talking of customers? Product Owners? Developers? Testers? Managers?… How do we deal with conflicting interests? How do we deal with the trade-offs? What about *your* context? Wouldn’t all these contexts drive your own, unless you are the supreme, the omnipotent, the omnipresent, the almighty?

With the theory of “no best solutions”, it is likely that better solutions than the current way of doing things exist and would be found given enough good effort and intention. What if you have hired to own & extend an existing test automation framework? The context is forcing you to continue with the existing one and extending it. Your assessment of the context says that the team needs a new one created from scratch. What would you do? Act as per the context of why you have been hired? Act as per the context of the problem? Act as per the context of hiring and talk as per the context of problem in forums?

Is the definition of a context-driven tester – “In the perfect perfect world, in the far away planet of Testonia, where I am the king and I can do what I want, where all the creatures would also do what I want, I would always act as per my assessment of the exact and the correct context of the problem, but because that’s not the case I settle down for ………..”?

I know that you have answers to all of the above. I know that most of you would give the obvious answers in the direction of – “doing what is best for the team”. As per me, if you are answering on this note, you are not being driven by context, you are assessing *all* contexts, and using them as a part of your decision making.

In short, if the current context is unhealthy, it’s better if we don’t let it drive us. It’s better to challenge it.

What I’m saying is reflected in the principles of Context-Driven School. What is ironical is that the name of the schools says that the testers subscribing to this school should be driven by context. But the principles indicate that we should challenge the context too.

As one generic principle, when you let one thing drive you, by definition, you are forming a “best practice” and becoming non-contextual. So, when you say you are “Driven By Context”, what you are saying is “Without assessing the context, I would always let the context drive me, whatever it may be”. This statement actually indicates that you have formed a fixed way of thinking. And some English words that you have been challenging in various forums, e.g. “must”, “always” etc, have crept into your core philosophy.

I would like to hear about your thoughts on the subject.

6 Responses to “Know the Context, Don’t be Driven By It”

  1. Shrini Kulkarni

    >>> And whose context are we talking of? Are we talking about the context of the problem at hand? Are we talking of customers? Product Owners? Developers? Testers? Managers?… How do we deal with conflicting interests? How do we deal with the trade-offs?

    All these questions reflect “context driven” thinking as you are thinking deeply and broadly about context. That is a good thing

    >>> What about *your* context?
    What you mean my context? What I feel about the context I am presented? Well … that is part of how I react to the problem. I don’t see a conflict.

    >>> Wouldn’t all these contexts drive your own, unless you are the supreme, the omnipotent, the omnipresent, the almighty?

    they might influence how do I approach the problem with the knowledge of the context of the problem. What and how think about the context of the problem I am solving – is NOT context in itself. It is a variable much like any other context variable – I will deal with it in the same way I do with others. what is the problem here?

    >>>> What if you have hired to own & extend an existing test automation framework? The context is forcing you to continue with the existing one and extending it. Your assessment of the context says that the team needs a new one created from scratch. What would you do? Act as per the context of why you have been hired? Act as per the context of the problem? Act as per the context of hiring and talk as per the context of problem in forums?

    Context does not tell you what do you in advance – that is why it is called context (or simply “situation” in its full dimensional). If you ever thought “context forces you to this or that” then you are thinking in “context” free sense.
    Remember context rarely forces you to take a predetermined path. If you are context driven – you refuse to take a recommended route (build new framework or own and maintain existing) and understand the context (and its variables) then take decision. Here the meaning of context driving the solution or approach is that you are taking an informed decision after understanding the problem deeper and broader.

    >>>> I know that you have answers to all of the above. I know that most of you would give the obvious answers in the direction of – “doing what is best for the team”. As per me, if you are answering on this note, you are not being driven by context, you are assessing *all* contexts, and using them as a part of your decision making.

    “doing what is before the team” is a generic context free answer. It even does not qualify for a potential solution leave alone context driven or not. Here is a simple test for you to see if you are context driven or not. If you can decide a solution and how to implement for testing problem before you know what the problem is (as you did in this case) you are not thinking context driven. I would add that context driven tester would even recognize that even this test is a context free solution !!!!

    But assessing all contexts (meaning all variables of a given context) and using them for your decision making is REAL and BEST example of context driven thinking.

    >>> In short, if the current context is unhealthy, it’s better if we don’t let it drive us. It’s better to challenge it.

    BINGO… challenging any existing system, dogma and best practice is core essence of context driven thinking. You are exactly saying that in clear terms. Welcome to context driven thinking. Your thinking that an unhealthy context should not drive us – that in itself is context driven thinking – as you are not allowing yourself driven by something that is “pre-destined” solution.

    >>> But the principles indicate that we should challenge the context too.

    Sure … I hope you have seen markus gartner’s post on CAST conference and challenging context. Do you see such challenging act in other schools? Have you seen any ISTQB guy challenging the practice? can you point me to an example of someone from six sigma or CMM challenging how they work?

    >>>>As one generic principle, when you let one thing drive you, by definition, you are forming a “best practice” and becoming non-contextual.

    Well said. when we say we are context driven that can “potentially” indicate that we are not context driven as any context driven thinker should not be driven by something fixed. But that is only a manner of speaking or it is a paradox.

    I suspect it is a manner of speaking. In any given situation if it makes sense to be “best practice” driven, I think one should go that route. That is context driven solution avoiding a paradox.

    >>>> So, when you say you are “Driven By Context”, what you are saying is “Without assessing the context, I would always let the context drive me, whatever it may be”. This statement actually indicates that you have formed a fixed way of thinking.

    BINGO again … that is the trap what we context driven testers avoid – fixed thinking, prescriptive approach. Being context driven helps me to recognize that and take corrective actions.

    >>>>> And some English words that you have been challenging in various forums, e.g. “must”, “always” etc, have crept into your core philosophy.

    Yes. We recognize that and try hard to shed the practice of using these “lullaby” words. Examples here.

    http://twitter.com/#!/QualityFrog/status/102789217960202240
    http://twitter.com/#!/shrinik/status/102790276065656832
    http://twitter.com/#!/shrinik/status/102790857274556416
    http://twitter.com/#!/shrinik/status/102791171440508928

    Rahul, you started off by mis-characterising the context driven thinking/testing but with you are last paragraph, you have truely discribed and demonstrated what wanted to challenge and beat. What a paradox !!!!

    Shrini

  2. Ravisuriya

    http://twitter.com/#!/testinggarage/statuses/100645519797391360

    I have no opinion on this yet. But I still analyze the ideas or steps. “Driven By Context” this phrase imparts meaning based on what eye view we are looking at it. Might be my view does not match what actually they intended to be so. It is a context again.

    Say in university or college, syllabus portion was not completed as per the syllabus chart for internals. What would the action of professor or lecturer would be? What would be the strategies of students to ensure that what portions will be included for internals?

    Say in a fight against deadly terrorist, commandos fight. What things would they analyze and consider? What techniques they will involve to make more suitable strategy to combat with terrorist? What sub-missions they will involve in such operations that contribute to major mission — to catch or kill terrorists with no (or major) harm to civilians? Will the same approach be applicable in some other place when terrorists attack? Probably not, but it helps to draw the ideas how to attach and envision the mission of operation via sub-missions.

    When I see this, commandos make use of context to learn and use the skills accordingly that gets benefit or lower risk or no risk at all. But risk and loss will always be there.

    I also get a question what if commandos did not read the context or they were not driven by context, and just attacked? Will terrorist too have the notion of context and its happenings? Will they call their previous attack context was most successful, though they were killed or caught besides the damage or risk they created?

    Let us frame the scene – 10 terrorists at different place in a location? Just 3 commandos on this operation to evacuate the terrorists and they are at location. This context or situation drives us to take or strategize the actions for this particular operation’s context. If just attacked blindly probably terrorists have good change of executing 3 commandos in less time. There can be several strategies or approaches to combat these 10 terrorists plotted by 3 commandos. But which one is more appropriate for this context or operation or mission of evacuation of 10 terrorists?

    What would have happen for Kargil war, if army did not read (driven) the context and just fought? What if the same war happens again? Can army use the same strategies, techniques, skills, people and resources? What changes these entities can undergo in time period?

    When we relate this to testing or software testing, how context plays its role? It’s interesting or more rightly fascinating to see the outcomes, which might not be predictable.

    In short, if the current context is unhealthy, it’s better if we don’t let it drive us. It’s better to challenge it. Reasonable. But what helps the stakeholder or who matters or what is expected? With the mission we have at hand and working out on this, is a topic we should have more talk on this how to challenge.

    I see for now and understand word ‘Driven By Context’ — the probably more appropriate stuffs we can do to achieve the mission considering variants and factors in situation we are at. And this might not be applicable in other context, but can help to learn the problem like we do in mathematics looking for similar kind of problems that we had solved earlier in class. Saying that it does not mean the same way of solving can be applicable to other math problems. For the present solving mathematical problem we need to find the steps to solve it in its context collecting the details of known and unknown. Hence this cannot be the best way of solving it, but it can be one way of doing or approach that looked more right at that time of context in that problem context assessing the know, unknown, certain, uncertain and relating details.

  3. Rahul Verma

    @Shrini,

    Sorry for the delay in response. We took this discussion to twitter and I was enjoying that.

    Here are my thoughts based on your comments:
    – When I say “you context” or “my context”, I consider you and me human rather than thinking about ourselves as the bookish and ideal saint-like figures. I consider that we are not flawless just like anybody else. This means that when I am into a project, I am driven by a lot of personal interest, values, history, biases and so on. This adds to the already existing contexts that other individuals bring on table and the context of the core problem. Ofcourse everything drives each other. What makes one a good tester is which context drives him or her to what extent.

    I’ve begun to think that context is not singular. We deal with plurality of contexts and each one impacts or should impact our decisions.

    So, there is no problem I am pointing to. What I am saying is that when I say I am a context driven tester, which context I am talking of. Because the truth is that I deal multiple of them and none of them actually drives me or should drive me. I should take a decision based on all contexts that the situation has put before me explicitly or implicitly. Calling it “Contexts driven testing” would be equally ambiguous, because if all contexts are driving me, then what is actually driving?

    – When I was talking of the automation solution, I have mentioned that after assessment of the problem context, I think of a particular solution. Now, it’s not as simple as that! There are other contexts, e.g. people’s context which would drive what actually happens irrespective of what the better solution would be.

    – We are in agreement w.r.t. not thinking of a solution before understanding the problem. I have explained my thought in the above point.

    – As you would observe, we are not in disagreement at all w.r.t. the importance of context, openness of a tester to change, assessment of the problem etc. The point of the post is that when I am challenging the context itself, or rather the contexts themselves, why should I say I am driven by context.

    The underlying theme is that when we say we are driven by something, does this indicate that we are open to challenging the very thing that drives us?

    Thanks for the comments and raising interesting points.

    Regards,
    Rahul

  4. Rahul Verma

    @Ravi,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You have brought a very good example on the importance of context and how one change leads to another and how something which looks bad could lead in ultimately achieving our ultimate goals at the cost of a temporary loss.

    The discussion here is not on the importance of context. I would be a fool if I say so. The discussion is on whether I should call myself a context driven tester at all, even if I give all the due importance to understanding context.

    Regards,
    Rahul

  5. Shrini Kulkarni

    >>> This means that when I am into a project, I am driven by a lot of personal interest, values, history, biases and so on.

    May not be all the time. If you come into the project with preconceived ideas about what to as tester and refuse to consider context “variables” – you are not being driven by the context. As I mentioned, items like personal interest, values, history, biases etc are part of you that you add to the context you are presented. Accept them as part of context and move on. Where is the conflict?

    >>. What makes one a good tester is which context drives him or her to what extent.
    I would say a good tester (as a example not as an universal rule) recognizes the context variables (some personal, some project related) and takes an informed decision about what do to.

    >>> I’ve begun to think that context is not singular. We deal with plurality of contexts and each one impacts or should impact our decisions.

    It might be useful to think of context as something that manifest in terms of multiple variables. As James Bach mentioned – it implies three things broadly Community, paradigm and practices.

    >> What I am saying is that when I say I am a context driven tester, which context I am talking of. Because the truth is that I deal multiple of them and none of them actually drives me or should drive me.

    What drives you or should drive you is personal choice. If you are dealing with multiple contexts or single contexts with multiple variables being sensitive about it (or them) is, to me a context driven thinking.

    >>> The point of the post is that when I am challenging the context itself, or rather the contexts themselves, why should I say I am driven by context.

    challenging context is good and encouraged by context driven community. If you are not driven by context or contexts – what else you could be driven by? Think about that… your post incomplete as you don’t say what alternatives you have if you are not a context(s) driven tester.

    >>> The underlying theme is that when we say we are driven by something, does this indicate that we are open to challenging the very thing that drives us?

    You made your point – now elaborate on what else should drive a tester?

    Shrini

  6. Rahul Verma

    >>>You made your point – now elaborate on what else should drive a tester?

    I’m working on this now. Give me some time. I’d reply to it as a post of its own.

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