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The Ethical Role Testers Can Have

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Testers should step up outside of only doing quality level verification and be the ambassadors of ethical change, said Michal Buczko at TestCon Europe 2019. Ethics and integrity are becoming more and more important. Ensuring that employees understand appropriate ways to address daily ethical issues can have a major impact on your project outcome and your relationship with customers.

From the outside perspective, it looks like all project decisions are either technical or business-driven, but it is just a matter of tweaking the context a little, and suddenly that decision is also an ethical one, said Buczko. He gave some examples:

If developers have coverage metrics on unit and integration test levels, and if we decide to mark the quality gate at a lower level than 100%, then is it ethical to have it lower? If testers build a set of designs and then during implementation or execution they cut the scope with a risk-based approach? Sometimes we justify it with priority or a project timeline, but deciding on the scope reduction is an ethical decision.

Setting the stage for ethical behavior will challenge the relation between first-line management and technical experts, as Buczko explained. He mentioned that there has to be trust, open communication, and no issues that seem to be too low level or small should be ignored. All daily dilemmas should be heard and investigated, and people should feel supported to say out loud what they feel. They have to have the freedom to propose solutions, if they try to fix the issues they should feel company support for their initiatives, Buczko said.

Buczko suggested that testers start with being honest and having trust in their line manager and project manager. "If you have that, then you can speak up about what you see and how you feel," he said, "which is a great situation for testers to expand their impact on the products and solutions."

InfoQ interviewed Michal Buczko who spoke at TestCon Europe 2019 about how to organize ethical QA rules in an organization. InfoQ interviewed him about daily ethical issues that developers and testers have to deal with, the role testers can play when it comes to ethics, ethical disconnections between people and the organization, and working with daily ethical dilemmas.

InfoQ: What example can you give of daily ethical issues that developers and testers have to deal with?

Michal Buczko: The implementation progress and test results reporting is a challenge on the ethical level; how easy it is for companies like software houses to try to make them better-looking just by tweaking those. It’s something for developers and testers to think about, whether they allow that to happen or not.

InfoQ: What role can testers play when it comes to ethics?

Buczko: The QA role is set up between business and technology; we clarify the ambiguity and see the trade-offs. We should give a clear voice to ethics and push the need for change if any non-ethical decisions are made. We could educate and encourage project teammates to push for the right choices, and be the guardians of a high ethical level of our work.

InfoQ: You spoke about having an ethical disconnect between people and the organization. Can you elaborate on how that can happen and why organizations need to prevent it?

Buczko: This is something that happens inside an organization’s culture. Some companies feel like people are focused only on doing their technical speciality and earning money, but people’s needs have changed. They want to belong to their organization’s culture. They want to be supported by management and they have to feel that their personal ethics and company culture are aligned.

There is a constant need to fit into the work, as opposed to just performing what is in your job description. Employees should work together and do what’s needed to deliver. We as managers need to embrace our employees’ attitude to step up and promote their proactive approach. We need to allow teams to have an impact on the organization with regard to ethical and cultural aspects. If we demand that employees adapt themselves to the company they have joined, they will leave at the first sign of there being a gap between the company’s goals and their personal goals. On the other hand, if we build teams with people who ignore the company culture and just want to earn money, then we will not be able to attract outstanding people who want to work with us.

InfoQ: What’s your advice for working with daily ethical dilemmas?

Buczko: We need to be brave, propose solutions, be proactive. Managers need to support employees’ proactive attitude and their efforts in implementing proposed solutions. If we, as employees, wait for the organization to fix the problem, we must be prepared for many failed experiments, as the managers only see part of the problem and might not fully understand its source.

In addition, organizations should speak openly with their employees, listening to their problems and giving them the freedom to act and be proactive.

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