Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chess and Testing, Strategy and Tactics

I spent an evening reading Rikard Edgen's et al. book (in Swedish) about Test Strategy and I keep thinking, that we're confusing and mixing strategy and tactics. From a small note in the book referring to strategy of chess, I wondered into Wikipedia to read a little more about chess and picked up a few realisations.
Tactics are move by move, whereas strategy is about setting goals and long term plans for future play. 
A lot of the Edgren et. al book is about tactics - a huge collection of potential tactics. Knowing tactics is very relevant for the potential success in the game of testing. If your selection of tactics is very limited, your testing is limited. But tactics are not strategy.
Strategic goals are achieved by the means of tactics while tactical opportunities are based on the previous strategy of play. 
The article about strategies of chess did not describe strategies very successfully. And it was the same with examples of test strategies. Looking at them, they appear as lists of selected tactics, founded in an analysis of the product, most often not documenting the why part of the selection. Strategies and tactics are intertwined. 

I particularly liked the quote from Wikipedia article:
"Strategy requires thought; tactics require observation" -- Max Euwe
Observing what happens to your testing after a move you make in testing is not an easy skill. But building further into strategy is even more difficult. For each tactic, it's not just the what and how of the individual idea that guides testing - it is also the skills/knowledge for the person performing testing based on that idea for successful completion with the right results. Observation is needed in testing for both the information we're supposed to deliver and for the choice of next tactic to apply.

And the Wikipedia article on chess strategy offered yet another piece of advice.
In chess, one needs to become 'master' before strategy knowledge becomes a determining factor in game outcome over tactics. Many chess coaches emphasise study of tactics as the most efficient way to improve one's results. 
This leaves me thinking that it would appear to be also this way in testing. Perhaps we should focus on outlining and teaching tactics instead of strategy. Perhaps we already are, at least with Edgren et al. book.

Building skills for strategy is building awareness of tactics, so that you end up with choices to make that you need to think about in longer term. After every tactic move, you're better equipped to make also strategic conclusions about overall moves if your ability to observe is in place. Strategy lives, and with testing, there are perhaps quite few strategic choices that are set in stone so that changing direction with later learning would not be possible.

Chess has a defined end, testing does not. Thus in testing, you need to actively think about the choices - what comes first, what gets left out? And if you find something extremely relevant very late in the project, it could still get included.

If test strategy is "the ideas that guide test design", isn't test tactic "an idea that guides test design"?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting perspective! As a National Master in chess, and testing professional, I feel strategy is more important to succeed in testing than tactics.

    You might be able to use tactics for a quick win, but most complex testing projects today require strategy, forethought and planning (e.g., surviving the opening/middlegame to get to an advantageous endgame) in order to be successful.