Walking the walk, but can you talk the talk?

In my experience, selling testing is a lot harder than testing. Despite being Irish, “the gift of the gab”  eludes me, often leaving me tongue tied and twisted when selling my wares.
Its one of the reasons I have got myself a business mentor.  His main focus has been for me to understand my ‘product’ and my customers.  He’s arguing at the moment, that the word ‘testing’ is not sufficient to draw in my customer base. The reason being, is my customers work in a different paradigm and use different language and so fully fail to comprehend the benefits that testing can provide.

We know as testers that testing can have massive benefits right across the company, and that the information and insight (thanks Joe) we provide is useful beyond the IT development lifecyle.  For example, we know that marketing can benefit from data resulting from performance testing, that legal teams can benefit from any compliance testing we perform.

There is a bit of a trend recently to describe our work in clear terms such as testing and bugs. Where before we perhaps worked in QA, we our now testers. We have ceased to use language such as gatekeepers and milestones. But I wonder in using such limiting language such as testing and bugs does it make it harder to sell testing to these stakeholders? I certaintly struggle in finding ways to bridge the language gap between testing and my customers.

Words such as Quality and Assurance have in a way become tainted and I try to avoid such terminology, but really where does this leave me?  I know for effective communication with my customers (who exist outside the IT world), I need to use their language and describe testing in their terms.

I will give you an example.

I attended a BizSpark networking event recently where a number of Venture Capitalists were present. One concept I’ve been toying with is to provide independent technical reviews on software products for investors and the like.  I know, it sounds a lot like testing, but if I used the word test  and bugs, VC’s eyes glaze over.

So I speak to them using words such as due diligence, audits and risk management.

Does this mean I’m not testing anymore?  Am I now selling insurance as opposed to  testing? Personally, I don’t see it that way, to me the core is all about testing. It’s just that the context has changed, and so the language has.

Perhaps I’m over complicating things here. I’m unsure.  I know that placing testing in their context it makes it easier for them to buy into. Is that so wrong?

I’d really like to hear people’s thoughts on this, it’s a topic that fascinates.

9 thoughts on “Walking the walk, but can you talk the talk?

  1. I see you are another person who recently is seeing this trend increasing in emphasis. I’ve been studying this for the past few years and have some good information on it if you would like it. A key one you should read is: http://www.aclabs.com/SQA_return_wp.pdf, I met Bob Burley (the author) in 2002 at the QAI Conference when he did a presentation called “How to talk to Them”. In it he covered a lot of this information from the standpoint of how a Tester needs to use this as part of their “language” when talking to the C-level people. It was an eye opener and gave me a new tool as a Test Manager to get “buy-in” from the Powers that be (PTB).
    As you have already seen this is something that is going to show up more and more. And as a professional we need to adapt accordingly in order to survive and thrive. An analogy from Sun Tzu is: “To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy” (not a direct quote). Because as you know “Money talks, and B.S. walks”.

  2. Very good observation and something that I’ve been struggling with as well.In the last year our QA team became somewhat of a test team. Now the trend is somewhat reversing again as the PTB found that it is useful to have some people do QA work and that ‘testers’ who were formally QA Engineers could be actually asked to do this job…

    After I thought about what I’d need to become a contractor I realised that I can’t talk the talk. The business language is quite different from the technical and PM one so I’m now brushing up on how to talk with senior managers.
    I like the link to legal with compliance testing and marketing for performance, I’ll mention that to people here as well.

    I find it more difficult in a consultancy world than in a product world as you can argue the value of testing for any given product. It’s more difficult for a ‘solution’ delivered to one client only after which you move on and sell something else to another client. Any suggestions here are more than welcome.

    Jim, thanks for the link, this is exactly what I was looking for as well.

    1. Hi Thomas,
      I think it will always be a struggle to sell testing to people who have either little knowledge or interest in the subject. I think I’m prepared for that.

      What I struggle with is that in the effort to clarify and define what testing is, some of the the language and terms that no-tester people would relate to become harder to use. Just an observation. I could be wrong.

  3. I’m not really comfortable with the idea of testing as “insurance”. I suppose that’s because I spent a long time working in insurance IT, and much of that was spent face to face with the business, rather than in purely technical roles.
    When you view it from the perspective of the insurer, insurance is about spreading risk. You don’t know if one particular car is going to crash in the next year, and motorists can’t afford to take the risk it will be theirs. If you’re insuring 100,000 cars then you’ve a pretty good idea that 10,000 will be in an accident and you can make money from that. The risk is spread across the whole portfolio, but from the point of view of an individual car owner the risk is transferred to the insurer.

    Testing isn’t about spreading risk or about transferring risk either, so from my pedantic viewpoint it’s not a form of insurance.

    The owners of applications are carrying the risk, just like uninsured motorists. The owners lack safety in numbers There’s just one application (at least there’s just one at a time) and there’s no insurer to transfer the risk to.

    You can draw an analogy between insurers and application owners, however. The insurers underwrite risks based on their assessment of the risk. In the case of cars they’ve got a huge amount of detailed information about the population of cars and motorists, so it’s not economic, or necessary to inspect individual cars.

    For large commercial risks the insurers use specialist underwriters to look at each separate risk before taking it on. In the case of engineering risks they employ highly qualified specialist engineers to inspect the risk. Then they know what they are taking on, and they will quote an appropriate premium, or decline the proposal.

    Owners of applications likewise have to decide whether they are going to take on the risk by launching the application, or decline the risk by binning the application, or sending it back for remedial work.

    If you’re looking for an insurance analogy for testers we’re the specialist engineers who inspect the risk to let the insurer know whether it’s going to be acceptable or a ticking time bomb.

    Insurance companies wouldn’t dream of underwriting large risks without inspecting them, and cutting back on the inspections so you can close deals faster is comically unprofessional . Owners of applications do it all the time when the launch applications after skimping on the testing, however. Perhaps they need to think of themselves as insurers who’re recklessly taking on a risk they don’t understand. Then they might value us as inspection engineers a bit more highly.

    1. Thanks James, thats an interesting insight into the insurance industry! In some terms it seems Venture Capitalists and Insurers seem quite similar, in how they spread their risk.
      From the way you describe the insurance industry and from that perspective, you are quite right, its not a good analogy.

      My hunt continues..

  4. I’ve been doing a lot of talking with our PTB recently – and noted that I termed things in language they were familiar with. At least, that was the starting point. But my terminology wouldn’t work with a VC…
    What about an analogy to a surveyor – you’re giving a view on the condition of the building/construction (product) with a view to it being “fit-for-purpose”.

    Surveyors usually list their findings with caveats and recommendations, “Didn’t climb onto the roof to inspect the chimney but used binoculars from ground level. Couldn’t gain access to… Recommend re-build of garden wall. Property is in good confition considering it’s age etc, etc..”

    Good condition for it’s age -> anything with a yearly check-up (medical, cars etc.)

  5. The analogy to survey becomes even more interesting when you look at the client. Notice it is the buyer rather than the seller, as is typically the case in IT. I’ve been chairing a working group hosted by Dublin City Council over the last number of years, concerned specifically with quality assurance in the provision of survey services, where I borrowed many ideas from the SQA world. The testing in this case relates to the fitness for purpose of services provided, and is a measure of value of those services. The point here is making the jump from cost to value; Testing is all too often seen as a cost to the vendor, whereas proven reliability is of huge value to the client. I think in the software industry, reliability is undersold, possibly given its horrific track record.
    I think in selling testing, you add considerable value by making all your test results visible to the final client in a well presented format. This is also of value to the marketting team, as they can wave the test results about as proof of how seriously they take reliability. There is also value to the sales and support staff, in terms of having confidence in their product. If risk is a stick, then added value is the corresponding carrot.

    Look at Toyota’s track record in Ireland; the no 1 best selling car by a country mile. After a massive recall due to QA issues, it remains the best selling car. Why? Not because it goes faster, uses less fuel, or has a better stereo system. Nope, it’s because it is successfully marketted as the most reliable car out there. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere.

  6. This has also been raised in the World Quality Report 2009. http://www.sogeti.ie/Documents/Reports/tl_2009_World_Quality_Report%5B1%5D.pdf
    To directly refer to it –

    “Inconsistent terminology:
    Another issue hampering QA is the difference in the terminology being selected. Sometimes
    the terminology that QA uses does not present the same meaning in the business world.
    Therefore the two worlds of IT and business are not speaking the same language.”

    I, too, have been occupied with this thought for sometime. It is definitely something worth investing time in to grasp a better understanding on how to bridge this gap.

    1. Thanks Thomas. I come across it a lot when I talk to business people about testing. It’s fine if they come for a tech background, but any other field requires we as testers to change our language. Thats an interesting document by the way some interesting projections. Something worth commenting on.

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