The Pursuit of the Unreplicable Bug

ghostbusters.gifI’ve been recently testing a web-based application that produced a very interesting defect. It seemed that in one particular screen, a user (with the right combination key strokes and mouse clicks) could actually enter a supposedly uneditable error message field and enter text! At first i wasn’t able to repeat this behaviour but with the words from a James Bach article ringing in my ears about “…ignoring unreproducible bugs at your peril”, i logged it waiting for the right opportunity to attack it.

I had already spent time looking for this ‘bug’ but figured that i would put it to one side and come back to it with fresh eyes and clearer thoughts. Interestingly enough, the developers caught hold of this bug and attempt to replicate in their dev environments – i was even ‘challenged’ in a joking way that if i couldn’t reproduce the bug within 5 attempts then it didn’t exisit!! Oh, did the competitive urges come out then! (This was done in good spirits – we have a tremendous rapport between developers, testers and BA’s). However, it was another developer that found the key/mouse strokes that generated the bug and we discovered that it was a validation error on that web page!

So what were the lessons learnt?

  1. Exploratory testing found this bug – some may say that discovery was a ‘fluke’ but scripted testing would never have picked this bug up.
  2. Fresh eyes and a clearer head can aid tremendously in trying to replicate a bug (especially one discovered late in the day!)
  3. Having a rapport with developers helps in solving bugs – personal agendas and politics are put to one side for the greater good of the ‘team’
  4. Working alongside developers generally breaks down communication barriers (percieved and physical)
  5. Unreproducable bugs ARE best ignored at ones own peril – in this case finding this bug lead to a tightening of field validation for the application
  6. Bugs are bugs are bugs…testers find them, developers fix them, buisness decide what they want done with them – never give up on trying to replicate bugs that are difficult to reproduce!
  7. Teamwork – i honestly believe the power of many can be greater than the power of one
  8. It’s tremendously satisfying finding a bug that is difficult to find and reproduce – the testing equilivant of a three-pointer!

Insufficient Testing

F-22 RaptorsIs a test team ‘liable’ if the product/software fails in some way? A recent post to the Software Testing Yahoo groups forum brought this to light and got me thinking.

Jared Quinert – a proponent of ET from Australia said “…a lack of testing – that insufficient testing requires some co-conspirator to cause a project to fail?
Sadly, nothing stops people trying. Googling ‘”insufficient testing” project failure’ goes some way to demonstrating this.”

So i did….try googling “insufficient testing” and see what comes up. There are, according to Google, 493,000 references to insufficient testing. This then begs the question – What is insufficient testing?

I worked recently within a test group that was fixated on exhaustive testing – they literally wanted to test everything and anything (and with good reason i might add – the situation i.e. context – surrounding them was NOT conducive to a co-operative approach. The harder the test group tried the more they got blamed.) It was hard to changed that mindset because they had litteraly been burnt in the past. What this meant was a huge overhead in terms of time. This group is the opposite of insufficient testing because they wanted to do everything.

However, it is a fact of life (this has been well documented in a number of articles, blogs etc) that software testers cannot find everything. Software is complex (ask NASA), software can be daunting and despite testing things do go wrong – just ask the US Air Force

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“While attempting its first overseas deployment to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on 11 February 2007, a group of six Raptors flying from Hickam AFB experienced multiple computer crashes coincident with their crossing of the 180th meridian of longitude (the International Date Line). The computer failures included at least navigation (completely lost) and communication. The fighters were able to return to Hawaii by following their tankers in good weather. The error was fixed within 48 hours and the F-22s continued their journey to Kadena”

Was this fault because of insuffcient testing or was it the result of other factors? In my experience of failed projects, insufficient testing usually isn’t the cause rather a lack of cohesion between PM, vendor, BA’s, developers, testers – each group assumed a territorial stance and placed their ego in the way.

As Gen. Colin Powell (ret) says ” never let your ego get so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.”

Often there was some sort of conflict or barrier (whether declared or otherwise) that existed in which the leadership group was unable to break through. Disharmony in a project team will definitely achieve less with more.

So then is insufficient testing clearly a fault of the test team?

 Sometimes it is.

If the team was not aligned to the Project goals and was off on their own agenda then yes. However, if there are external influences involved then insufficient testing may be a symptom of a bigger problem.