Test Centres of Meh
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The definition of a Test Centre of Excellence (TCoE) can be quite varied. Some are all about governance and some are more concerned with being resource pools and central areas for providing tooling. Here are some thoughts on the former approach.
I’m not a fan of bureaucracy, or more accurately, rules that I don’t want to follow. In my career as a software tester, it always gave me great frustration when I had to test in a fully prescribed, “best practice” fashion. I really hate the term best practice. Yes, there are fundamentals that should be applied - testing as early as possible, continually and intelligently. But let’s face it; the best part of being a software tester is the problem solving. It’s about using your training, experience and the tools available to you and applying them to unique challenges.
It’s for these reasons that I find the notion of a traditional Testing Centre of Excellence baffling. Leaving aside the consultantspeak, Centres of Excellence are clearly set up with the best of intentions. A group of people in your organization probably looked at the amount of issues they were seeing with software deployments and decided that improving the effectiveness of their testing was part of the answer. They were right. However, then they decided that what every project needed was more rules, governance, metrics, and standards - all lessons learned from the troublesome projects they had seen over the years. Here’s the thing, regardless of the approaches your organization decrees, you as a tester are still being told exactly what to do.
The problem with enforcing rules for testing is that software development and testing has moved so far in such a short space of time. It continues to move faster than standards and rules ever could. We build software in ever more ingenious ways to solve complex business problems. This is not only driving the future of your business, but also the economy as a whole. Economic growth predictions are based off an assumption of continuous innovation. Without innovation our economies would stagnate and capitalism as we know it would cease to exist. Indeed, running a centralized test capability can be thought of in the same way as running an economy.
If your organization has a TCoE, I’m going to assume that it’s a pretty big company. All of the projects within your company are like companies within an economy. If you are running a central test capability the decisions you make will determine the rate at which each of your "companies" can deliver and contribute to your economy. You have to decide whether to put the brakes on or to become a little more laissez faire to accelerate delivery and stimulate growth. Do you invest and deregulate or do you apply austerity measures and regulation for a more controlled growth?
Of course, I’m being a little flippant here. In reality, and leaving political ideology aside, one would hope that cost cutting and increased regulation in a real economy would be targeted at those areas least likely to provide stimulus through innovation. It surely has to be the same for the projects in your company and the reason why universally applied rules through a TCoE can be so stifling and un-Agile. The more innovative a new project, the more of a game changer you hope the new delivery to be, the more money you want to make – the more you have to trust your testers. You can’t afford to restrict them. Invest in them, give them the tools to solve a wide variety of problems and give them the ability to innovate. They’re a vital part in creating a flourishing project economy in your company.