More Testing Please

It was refreshing and reassuring to see the Home Office coming clean about the lessons learned from the failure last year if its Electronic Passport Application system. I can understand the argument for keeping gateway reviews confidential, i.e. that the reviewers might pull punches. But secrecy creates a climate of suspicion and leaves Government departments open to easy criticisms based on fear, uncertainty and doubt. So let’s hope we see more openness in future.

The lesson to be learned by all is that it’s false economy to skimp on testing. Because if the human factor is the soft underbelly of organisations then testing is certainly the Achille’s Heel. Yet few organisations get this. Too often sacrifices are made in the interest of hitting deadlines. But as I’ve said before, you can’t do it by luck and you certainly can’t by ignorance. It takes many times longer than the estimated life of the universe to test all permutations of program path or input and output space for even a relatively simple program. But the sooner errors are discovered then the less damage is done and the cheaper it is to correct them.

We need a lot more functional testing, security testing, usability testing, product testing, configuration testing and process testing. Yet I’ll wager that if you examine the IT policies and standards of any organisation the thinnest area will be testing. It’s quite remarkable that after half a century of professional business computing we still haven’t got the message.