Software Testing and the Zola Parable

You hear a scream for help through the woods!

With a friend at your side, you storm to the nearby river to find a child floating helplessly downwards.

Without hesitation you both dive in. Fighting against the current you force your way to the child. Holding tight, you gradually pull the her to the shore.

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Before you have time to recover, you hear another cry for help.

Again, without hesitation you both jump in to rescue the second child. Fighting again agains the strong current you reach the child. You’re already getting tired and with great effort you manage to pull her back to the shore. Your friend immediately begins CPR to help the lifeless child.

Just when the child begins to breathe and cough, you see a third struggling child adrift. The two of you can barely keep up at this pace!

Suddenly, when you’re about to jump in, you see your friend turn away and start running.

”Where are you going?!” you demand angrily!

”I’m going upstream to beat up the asshole, who keeps pushing these kids in!” he replies as he dissappears between the bushes.

The story was adapted from a public health parable commonly attributed to Irving Zola. The interesting thing about this story is that it applies to almost any problem you can imagine.

Over the past 15 years I’ve had the privilege to meet with over 2400 people to discuss quality in software projects. For what I’ve seen, the most common problem in projects that are struggling is this — The teams are so exhausted diving into the river on rescue missions that nobody has the time or energy to tackle that asshole upstream.

If you work in a software project, chances are that there are problems brewing.

Every day that you delay the journey upstream to solve those root causes, makes it less likely that you’ll have time or energy to do it later.

The only right time to start moving upstream is now. Even if someone angrily demanded where you are going!

P.S. If you liked what you read and are committed to excellence in software testing, check out the free e-book I set up for download here: — It’s a quick read. I promise it’s going to be worth it.

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