Two weeks ago, I gave a talk at CAST 2014 (the conference of the Association for Software Testing) in New York, titled “Standards: Promoting quality or restricting competition?”
It was mainly about the new ISO 29119 software testing standard (according to ISO, “an internationally agreed set of standards for software testing that can be used within any software development life cycle or organization”), though I also wove in arguments about ISTQB certification.
My argument was based on an economic analysis of how ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) has gone about developing and promoting the standard. ISO’s behavior is consistent with the economic concept of rent seeking. This is where factions use power and influence to acquire wealth by taking it from others — rigging the market — rather than by creating new wealth.
I argued that ISO has not achieved consensus, or has even attempted to gain consensus, from the whole testing profession. Those who disagree with the need for ISO 29119 and its underlying approach have been ignored. The opponents have been defined as irrelevant.
If ISO 29119 were expanding the market, and if it merely provided another alternative — a fresh option for testers, their employers and the buyers of testing services — then there could be little objection to it. However, it is being pushed as the responsible, professional way to test — it is an ISO standard, and therefore, by implication, the only responsible and professional way.
What is Wrong With ISO 29119?
Well, it embodies a dated, flawed and discredited approach to testing. It requires a commitment to heavy, advanced documentation. In practice, this documentation effort is largely wasted and serves as a distraction from useful preparation for testing.
Such an approach blithely ignores developments in both testing and management thinking over the last couple of decades. ISO 29119 attempts to update a mid-20th century worldview by smothering it in a veneer of 21st century terminology. It pays lip service to iteration, context and Agile, but the beast beneath is unchanged.
The danger is that buyers and lawyers will insist on compliance as a contractual requirement. Companies that would otherwise have ignored the standard will feel compelled to comply in order to win business. If the contract requires compliance, then the whole development process could be shaped by a damaging testing standard. ISO 29119 could affect anyone involved in software development, and not just testers.