Premature Standardization

Back in the day I was quite interested in Industrial Standardization.  It’s a fascinating complement to the more widely discussed business models intended to capture and own a given market.

This morning I’m aroused by word that the ISO is working on standardizing how we test software.  My reaction is “Argh!  Surely you jest!”

A few more reactions.

In all my reading about standards I don’t recall a good check list to help guide when to transition a body of practice into a standard.  There is an excellent list of what drives standardization.  But that’s more about the intensity of the demand, not the quality of the supply of professional knowledge.

There are a few good discussions of failure syndromes around standardization.  James Gosling wrote up a nice short one about how often the demand for quality runs ahead of the supply of skills, which I mention here.

There is an excellent model of what goes wrong when you have intense demand for skills, low professional knowledge, and low barriers to entry.   I’ll quote from my post about that:

“The lack of clear quality measures leads the substitution of alternate sources of legitmacy: pomp, pompous attitude, parasitizing on other sources of authority, advertising, character defamation. (A point which deserves a blog posting of it’s own, but since that’s unlikely I’ll toss in this marvelous line. When this happens you see a pattern: consumers hold the trade in very low esteem but hold their personal practitioner in the highest regard. Where have I heard that before?)”

The effort to standardize software testing came to my attention via Laurent Bossavit’s twitter stream.   Laurent has spent a lot of calories on the puzzle of good software development practices.  You should read his book “The Leprechauns of Software Engineering: How folklore turns into fact and what to do about it.

And maybe you should sign the petition that attempts to slowdown this attempt to prematurely standardize software testing.   Just because we want to have high quality testing practices, skills, and standards does not mean we are ready to write down standards for how to fulfill that desire.  We aren’t ready.

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