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Why Testers Need to Provide Insight

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Originally posted on the CrossBrowserTesting blog in 2017.


Before becoming a tester, I worked in IT recruitment.  I recruited for a variety of roles, ranging from Marketing Analyst to Category Manager to Head of Analytics.  Time and time again, hiring managers would tell me they were looking for one key thing from candidates: the ability to provide insight.


This is a very powerful skill that I believe testers should also strive towards in order to elevate ourselves from underestimated test case executors to valued consultants.


Sadly, it seems that many testers aren’t doing this.  I hope to clarify what it means to provide insight, and encourage other testers to take up this valuable practise.



What Does it Mean to Provide Insight?


I use the term “provide insight” to encompass both extracting and delivering insight.


Extracting Insight


To me, a tester who extracts insight is one who is able to look at, for example, a set of test results or logging data and find something meaningful and / or actionable in it.  What does it tell us?  What can we deduce from it?  Where do we go from here?


Testers who really want to add value need to recognise that data is just a symptom of something bigger, and take steps to find out what that “something bigger” is.


That doesn’t necessarily mean having all the answers, or making claims without further evidence.  It could mean asking the right questions of the right people in order to find a missing puzzle piece; to uncover an important link or dependency.  It could also mean conducting further tests and spotting patterns that lead to the discovery of an unknown unknown.  It could mean looking at all the pieces and recognising that they are part of the same puzzle, then putting that puzzle together to reveal the bigger picture.



Delivering Insight


Once a tester has successfully extracted insight, they also need to deliver insight to the team, the customer, or other relevant stakeholders.


Delivering insight is more than presenting the data you have and hoping your audience will extract the same insight from it as you have.  Delivering insight is about telling a story and showing people why they should care.


Why is what you’ve discovered important?  What does it mean to the business, clients, and end users?  What are our options, moving forward?  What will be the impact of any action or inaction?


The story of those factors is much more interesting, meaningful, and impactful than the raw data.


In order to provide insight, testers must find each puzzle piece and put them together to create a bigger picture.  They must then tell the story of that picture in a way that inspires decision-makers to make important decisions, and give them the necessary information to do so.  We must act as quality catalysts by revealing issues and their impact earlier, and encouraging decisions to be made earlier, too.



Why Should Testers Want to be Considered Consultants?


Although efforts are being made to “shift left” and take advantage of testers’ skills earlier in the software development life cycle, there still exists a view that testing is an unskilled role, meant for those who lack technical or problem-solving abilities.  In order to change this very incorrect view, testers must do more than execute test cases.  We must show other stakeholders, including members of the team and the business, the wealth of skills and knowledge we have.


One way we can do this is by acting as consultants to provide insight.


Providing insight isn’t about trying to make or even influence decisions.  It’s about ensuring that the people who are making the decisions have all the information they need in order to make the right decisions, and that they feel compelled to do so.


Raw data doesn’t mean anything to anyone until it’s interpreted.  By extracting insight, testers provide a valuable service to decision-makers by using our accumulated knowledge and experience to develop a greater understanding of how that data affects the project.


Think about the working relationship between nurses and doctors.  Nurses work much more closely with patients on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis.  They offer a different level of care and make a different connection that allows them to understand a patient’s condition, response to treatment, and their overall well-being.  They pass this important information onto doctors who then make decisions on how to continue caring for the patient.


Good delivery of insight takes some of the hard work away from decision-makers, who may understand that there is a bigger picture, but struggle to put the pieces together as easily as testers, who touch the puzzle pieces every day.


By effectively providing insight, testers can present themselves as knowledgeable, trustworthy team members with vital information that is needed to make important decisions at an earlier stage, with less cost and / or difficulty.  This, in contrast with a tester who only executes test cases and reports back pass or fail numbers, is someone who is far more likely to be consulted with regarding major or complex decisions relating to the project.  This tester is more likely to see themselves being invited “left” or “upstream” rather than struggling to fight for their place earlier in the development process.


A tester who is considered a software consultant will have their knowledge, skills and experience appreciated, because they provide value that is already assembled and packaged in the form of insight.



Testers Need to Keep Evolving


As technology professionals, we need to keep learning and evolving all the time.  For testers, there has been a lot of talk about adopting some of the skills more commonly found in our colleagues, such as coding or writing user stories.  Those are just some ways to evolve as a tester, and providing insight is another.


However, I feel that testers are in a unique position that gives us an advantage to successfully provide insight.  While developers are also coding and product owners are also writing user stories, no other role in the business is positioned to provide insight as well as testers.  Our job is to interact with the software at different levels, and we arguably interact with the widest range of people within and out of the business.  This gives us the broader understanding of the software, users, and business needs, that is needed to provide good insight.


I think people are yet to realise the value and importance of providing insight, and I encourage any tester who is keen to evolve to start practising now.


With that in mind, I’ve put together 10 Tips for Testers to Provide Insight.


What does providing insight mean to you?  Is this something you’re already working towards?  Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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