Is ISO 29119 useful?

On a regular basis, I get questions from customers or our sales folks whether we have any software testing certifications. The answer is no, and I usually follow up with explaining that we also do not plan on acquiring any such certifications unless it becomes an unavoidable business requirement. And in that case, its explicit purpose will be to satisfy contracts, not to improve our testing.

Multiple standards cover software testing, some general and some in specific areas. The latest thing is ISO 29119, which aims to replace several older ones.

I’m a big advocate for standards. Standards are awesome, in scenarios where they are useful. A good standard ensures interoperability between products created by different vendors. A bad standard fails at ensuring such interoperability. I have not worked closely enough with ISO 29119 to decide whether it’s a good or a bad standard. My argument is that the point is moot, because interoperability between vendors is not necessary in testing.

Thus, I argue that ISO 29119 is not useful.

There’s certainly a lot of useful content in ISO 29119. Many of the standard’s requirements are things I consider good practice in most contexts. But as a standard for testing, the only thing it is really good for is discouraging thinking. It lets the testers, test managers and the customers off the hook by letting them ask “do we follow the standard” rather than “do we test well enough”.

When a customer asks about our testing practices before entering into a contract (as they should!), I’d much rather reply by explaining what we do and how we do it, rather than pointing to a set of instructions we follow. And if the customer would rather have an ISO number instead of the engagement of the testers, it is not quality they care about.

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