In this article I will explore how a tester provides information to stakeholders through information artifacts, and what to think about when doing so.
One of the main purposes of testing is to provide information to stakeholders. This could be in form of bug reports, test reports, verbal accounts or any other way in which information flows from the tester to the stakeholder.
So what traits could we expect this information artifact to exhibit? Let us try to list a few traits that are important:
- Right Level of Detail
- Right Format
- Cost efficient
If an information artifact posses these traits we can at least assume that it will do more good than harm. You can certainly select other (and more) desirable traits but these are the ones that I use when I evaluate information artifacts and their value.
Obviously an information artifact needs to be valuable. But how is an information artifact valuable? I can think of two examples off the top of my head:
- A decision (of value) is taken based on the information artifact
- A bug (of value) is fixed based on the information artifact
Examples of something that is not valuable in my opinion is:
- The information artifact (test report) is providing someone with ease-of-mind or sense of control
- Filling the bug repository with information artifacts (bug reports) that are so unimportant or trivial that they will never result in fixes
An information artifact needs to accurately describe whatever events, states, environments, outcomes, or similar it wants to convey to the stakeholder. An inaccurate information artifact is basically useless at best, and extremely harmful at worst.
If you must create an information artifact for something you have very little information about, make sure to include this uncertainty in the artifact.
So the key message is:
- Don’t create inaccurate information artifacts
- If you must – make sure that the uncertainty of the information is made crystal clear to the stakeholders
Right Level of Detail
An information artifact needs to contain the right level of detail. The tester that creates the artifact needs to understand the information needs of the stakeholders for that specific artifact. The level of detail one stakeholder requires might not be the same as for other stakeholders. Certain artifacts may need to be very detailed to be valuable, while others can have a much higher granularity.
So the key message is:
- Understand the level of detail needed by your stakeholders
- Make sure that the information artifact meets that level of detail
An information artifact also needs to be understandable. The language, the disposition, the abbreviations, the terminology. If a stakeholder cannot understand the information artifact correctly it is of little value, until the information is made available to the stakeholder through additional clarifications.
- Create information artifacts that stakeholders understand, by doing proper research before creating them
Remember that some stakeholders receive multiple instances of the same type of information artifact, and then possibly merge these into a single new information artifact, or extract the information from the information artifact into some tool or repository. In these cases the information artifact needs to have a specific format to be usable to the stakeholder, or at least to save the stakeholder from additional costs in handling the information artifact. Understand what format needs your stakeholders have and make sure you align your artifacts to that format.
- Understand how your stakeholders use your information artifacts and what needs they have with regards to format
- Secure that you align your information artifacts with specific formats if needed by the stakeholder
We could create the most valuable, accurate, understandable information artifact at just the right level of detail and in just the right format – but if the cost of creating this artifact is higher than the actual value of the artifact, the creation of such an artifact is definitely something that should be questioned.
Often stakeholders have little insight into how much it costs to create an information artifact, and they often want more information than they actually use – this is why it is important for the tester to continuously try to reduce the costs of creating the information artifact.
Always consider the value the information artifact provides, and weigh it against the costs of creating that artifact.
- Only create information artifacts when the value of the artifacts is higher than the cost of creating them
- Always strive to create information artifacts that are as cost efficient as possible
So what can we conclude from this exploration of information artifacts?
- Always question the value of information artifacts
- Always make sure that the information artifacts you do create are as valuable as possible to the stakeholders
- Always make sure that the information artifacts you create are as cost efficient as possible
If you do this by making sure the information artifacts posses the traits I described above, or in some other way, is of little importance.