Sunday, 15 November 2009

Monty Python and Software Testing Myths

After reading a post on Matt Heusser's blog mentioning a discussion on "Zero Defect Software" I immediately started thinking of this as one of the "Holy Grails" of software development.

This was then a natural progression (for me) to then start thinking about the film "Monty Python and the Holy Grail", Holy hand-grenades to battle the things stopping us from reaching "ZDS", Monty Python in general and other silly analogies, etc, etc.

There! You've just seen divergent thinking in action!

Use of analogy?
The monty python films & sketches tackle sacred beliefs, assumptions & taboos - things you shouldn't question the truth of.

But, can you say that to a software tester?

Yes, but don't expect them to not question what's put in front of them - as long as the questioning is about learning, understanding the different perspectives/applications and not just being critical for the sake of it!

So, monty python, ZDS and holy grails started me thinking about "testing myths" and how I might apply elements from their work to help achieve or dispell those myths.

It's seems unlikely to say that software testers can learn from Monty Python, but I think I'm seeing some parallels (it's not exactly proof by contradiction, more dis-proof by absurdity!)

For anyone not familiar I've attached some Monty Python youtube search 
options so you can view at your leaisure..

Myths and the Monty Python Answers

  • Zero Defect Software
MP: The holy hand-grenade can be used to combat obstacles to getting there!
(youtube search:  monty python and the holy grail holy hand grenade)

  • Quality can be tested into the product
MP: This is the dead parrot sketch. "No it's not dead it's just resting" - no matter how serious the bugs/flaws it can be denied/improved afterwards.
(youtube search: monty python dead parrot sketch) 

  • Test Certifications are necessary for testers
MP: This is the King Arthur discussion with the peasants on systems of government - he is king because of the lady of the lake, no other logical reason or demonstrated ability.
(youtube search: monty python and the holy grail systems of government) 

  • Testing is Easy / Anyone can be a tester
MP: Maybe this is the Life of Brian syndrome - an innocent passer-by is mistaken for the messiah. Ignorance and misinformation play a part in incorrect conclusions.

  • It's possible to test everything
MP: Could be the same answer as for "testing is easy". As a different answer: This is the Mr Creosote approach to eating - he doesn't get full, eating and eating until he eventually explodes. (Yes, it's not possible to "test everything")

  • Testers are the Gatekeepers of Quality / Quality Police
MP: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!" If you try and ship early we'll get out the comfy chairs!
(youtube search: monty python spanish inquisition)

And finally...
For all those unicorn questions Monty Python's The Life of Brian has a good answer for tolerance: "Blessed are the cheesemakers!"

Remember, the ideas are silly, but then so are the myths - what a perfect match!

I extracted some of the myths from Renjini S. & TestingGeek.

Got any "new" myths? Maybe there's a need for a follow-up...


  1. "Presentation vs. Result"

    I once wrote:
    "It sometimes seems more important to present a result, than to reflect on what the actual result is. It can also seem that it is more important which tools that are used, than what the results are."
    and Henrik Emilsson came up with the comparison to Monty Python's "Ah, I see you have the machine that goes ping" (from The Meaning of Life)

    When looking at more Monty Python analogies, I found that this was covered by Rob Sabourin at STAREAST 2008: "Monty Python's Flying Test Lab" (download available with PowerPass)

  2. Good comments Rikard - I like the analogy!

    I've seen the outline of Rob Sabourin - he was using MP as an approach to testing, eg "Spanish Inquisition" -> "always expect the unexpected"

    I'm using analogies with MP & "myths" about testing -> ie "silly/non-logical/absurd similarities".