Independent Interpretation

This content is syndicated from George Dinwiddie's blog by George Dinwiddie. To view the original post in full, click here.

Many organizations segregate their programmers and testers in order to achieve independent validation of requirements.  If the system is tested according to an independent interpretation of the requirements than used for implementation, then errors in those interpretations may be detected. This course of action is obviously prudent when the requirements are handed down to the development organization in the form of a document.It does not, of course, detect errors in the requirements document itself. Nor does it detect errors of interpretation if both the programmers and the testers read the requirements in the same, incorrect way. When there is significant distance between writer and readers, this is distressingly common. It’s difficult work to write clearly in prose. Publishing industries have developed the roles of editor and proofreader to check documents so that erroneous or unclear segments may be rewritten before they’re seen by potential readers. People who write requirements documents are frequently better versed in the desired functionality than in the process of writing them. And, they frequently don’t have so much help. It’s also difficult to precisely interpret the writings of others, particularly of people you don’t know. A word may have an obvious and precise meaning in the context of the business, but an obvious and different meaning in the context of software development. In the fields of literature and law, expert interpreters may spend years or centuries honing a consensus interpretation of the written word. In software development, we rarely have time for lengthy discussion of complicated passages. If the writing is ambiguous or contradictory, faithful interpretation of the intent is even less certain. We often seek clarification of the requirements to back up our reading of the document. Sometimes it’s difficult to get sufficient access to the document authors, and the programmers and testers may turn to each other for what clarification they each offer. I’ve had testers from a different company ask me how my software was supposed to work because they had insufficient access to the requirements document author. Cross-checking the interpretation of programmers and testers punches holes in the wall of independence, of course. This sad state of affairs is a major source of defects in which the software “works as designed” but not as desired. We can do better than this! Instead of the business representative writing the requirements and handing them off as a document, imagine the business representative telling them to a programmer and tester (everyone taking notes as needed to keep things from being forgotten). Imagine the programmer and tester testing their understanding in real time with questions made directly to the business representative while things are still fresh on everyone’s mind. In doing so, they can not only challenge each others interpretation of the requirements, but also the assumptions of the business representative. Together they can hone the requirements to a sharper edge than possible when working separately.

One Response to “Independent Interpretation”

  1. Kelly Waters says:

    Verbal communication is certainly a richer form of communication than written and is more effective than written if the conversation is occurring just as the information is needed. Otherwise it’s a little too easy to forget. Pictures, of course, are worth a thousand words, whether they are written or verbal, so a conversation about a feature just before it’s developed, supported by sketches or diagrams, is probably best – especially if the pictures are low-fidelity hand-written drawings so they’re ever so fast to do and don’t imply that they’re any more precise than they really are.


Leave a Reply

What is 8 + 8 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
Please do this simple sum so I know you are human:)

There are 101 ways to approach anything.
To find the best way, sometimes you need expert help

What People Say

“Kelly revolutionised the way our digital department operated. A true advocate of agile principles, he quickly improved internal communication within our teams and our internal clients by aligning our business and creating a much enhanced sense of transparency in the decisions the business was making. Kelly also introduced a higher sense of empowerment to the development teams...”


“Kelly’s a leading program director with the ability to take charge from day one and keep strong momentum at both a program and project level driving prioritisation, resourcing and budgeting agendas. Kelly operates with an easy-going style and possesses a strong facilitation skill set. From my 5 months experience working with Kelly, I would recommend Kelly to program manage large scale, complex, cross company change programs both from a business and IT perspective.”


“Kelly is an extremely talented and visionary leader. As such he manages to inspire all around him to achieve their best. He is passionate about agile and has a wealth of experience to bring to bear in this area. If you're 'lucky' he might even tell you all about his agile blog. Above all this, Kelly is great fun to work with. He is always relaxed and never gets stressed - and trust me, he had plenty of opportunity here! If you get the chance to work with Kelly, don't pass it up.”


“Kelly is an Agile heavy-weight. He came in to assess my multi-million $ Agile development program which wasn’t delivering the right throughput. He interviewed most of the team and made some key recommendations that, when implemented, showed immediate results. I couldn’t ask for more than that except he’s a really nice guy as well.”


“Kelly and I worked together on a very large project trying to secure a new Insurer client. Kelly had fantastic commercial awareness as well as his technical expertise. Without him I would never had secured this client so I owe a lot to him. He is also a really great guy!”


“Kelly came to the department and has really made a huge impact on how the department communicates, collaborates and generally gets things done. We were already developing in an agile way, but Kelly has brought us even more into alignment with agile and scrum best practices, being eager to share information and willing to work with us to change our processes rather than dictate how things must be done. He is highly knowledgable about agile development (as his active blog proves) but his blog won't show what a friendly and knowledgeable guy he is. I highly recommend Kelly to anyone looking for a CTO or a seminar on agile/scrum practices - you won't be disappointed!”


“Kelly was a great colleague to work with - highly competent, trustworthy and generally a nice bloke.”


“Kelly was engaged as a Program Director on a complex business and technology transformation program for Suncorp Commercial Insurance. Kelly drew on his key capabilities and depth of experience to bring together disparate parties in a harmonised way, ensuring the initiate and concept phases of the program were understood and well formulated. Excellent outcome in a very short time frame. ”


“I worked with Kelly on many projects at IPC and I was always impressed with his approach to all of them, always ensuring the most commercially viable route was taken. He is great at managing relationships and it was always a pleasure working with him.”


“I worked with Kelly whilst at Thoughtworks and found him to be a most inspiring individual, his common-sense approach coupled with a deep understanding of Agile and business makes him an invaluable asset to any organisation. I can't recommend Kelly enough.”


“Kelly was a brilliant CTO and a great support to me in the time we worked together. I owe Kelly a great deal in terms of direction and how to get things done under sometimes difficult circumstances. Thanks Kelly.”