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Are Testers the Bug Police?


Are testers the bug police? Even in Agile?

Well, sort of.

In the 1820’s, Sir Robert Peele changed policing forever. Men joining the newly founded Metropolitan Police in 1829 were given a booklet which refined Peele’s ideas into nine principles.

Most of these principles are relevant to software quality in modern organizations. The one I find especially important is the seventh, part of which says: “The police are the public, and the public are the police”. This is true of quality in agile. Everyone on the team has a duty to quality, just like every citizen has a duty to uphold the law.

The principle says more, that: “the police are only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties … in the intent of community welfare.” We, the testers, are just like everyone else, but we are paid to spend all our time improving quality. Quality is everyone’s job, from rookie programmer to CTO. Our job is to cooperate and collaborate with them, every day, to make it easier for everyone to create software with the highest possible quality.

The first principle says that the mission is to prevent bugs and technical debt, which is true. But it is the ninth principle that is most important. The test of police efficiency is the absence of bugs and technical debt, not the visible evidence of action in dealing with them. When management come to judge the testers and quality of the product, what is important is the coverage and the current assessment of quality, not how many bugs were found, or test cases written or run.

Tellingly, seven of the nine principles are about the police cooperating with the public and being unable to do anything without respect and cooperation from the public. Of course, we must always have the respect and cooperation of our colleagues. We cannot improve quality without it.

Testers aren’t the police, but the principles of policing can be a useful guide to improving the quality of the software we make.

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