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ISO 29119: Red tape or finish line tape

Things have been aflutter in the ISO 29119 world. Several testing pros have been up in arms against the new software testing standards, many of them very vocal in their opposition.

However, as far as I could see, there doesn’t seem to have been such resistance to the ISO 9000 and CMM standards for software development when they were first introduced.

Why then so much fuss over software testing?

Granted that what is currently there in the standards may need (considerable) improvement, and hopefully there will be several revisions in the future. Then again there appears to be a backlash to the very idea of standards per se. The guiding tenet seems to be that software testing is essentially more art than science, not something that can be distilled into a set of standards documents.

Dare I say that some of the furor could be attributed to classic resistance to change? After all who would want to risk change when they have a “good thing going?” One of the detractors said, “ISO 29119 puts too much emphasis on process and documentation rather than the real testing.” But isn’t that what standards are all about: processes and documentation? What is new here?

That the new standards will stifle the creativity inherent in software testing is an argument being made. Yet as this article points out http://www.fastcodesign.com/1664682/5-ways-that-standardization-can-lead-to-innovation, standards can instead help foster innovation. So the answer may not be quite that simple.

Perhaps the issue really lies in the way the standards were developed and the level of participation and inputs that were invited from testing folks at large. It looks to have been a fairly closed process in which feedback was restricted to a select few. Apparently there was no formal mechanism of requesting comments from the outside world.

Conceivably the ISO could have taken a page from the SEC playbook, incorporating elements of the way in which the SEC solicits feedback on new rules. A more inclusive, participative process could very well have been a win-win for all.

At this time, it might be a good idea to step back and look at what software testing is all about.

Standish reports (for 2009) state that as many as 68 percent of software projects either failed or were challenged in their outcomes. Hopefully these ISO standards could help take a bite out of these failure rates by facilitating the raising of across-the-board software quality levels, a proverbial holy grail if there ever was one.

That-a-way all this action would translate to something meaningful and the standards would not be just additional red tape for the folks who are trying to get the job done. Instead they would represent the finish line tape for software testers who combine creativity and tech finesse (no question these are needed) with process maturity (certainly there is debate on this one) in order to deliver sustainable outcomes.

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