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CAST 2009: Taking a new look user acceptance testing, an interview with Michael Bolton

User Acceptance Testing (UAT) is a part of most testing plans and projects, but when you ask people what it is, they have a hard time defining it. You quickly find that it isn’t obvious what user acceptance testing means.

I talked to Michael Bolton about his views on UAT this week. He’ll discuss that topic at next week’s Conference for the Association for Software Testing (CAST). When the subject comes to UAT, Bolton said, there’s a lot of miscommunication. “The same words can mean dramatically different things to different people,” he said. He want to help user-acceptance testers “recognize that it’s usually risky to think in terms of what something is, and more helpful to think in terms of what it might be. That helps us to defend ourselves against misunderstanding and being misunderstood.”

Bolton has been teaching software testing on five continents for eight years. He is the co-author of “Rapid Software Testing,” a course that presents a methodology and mindset for testing software expertly in uncertain conditions and under extreme time pressure. He’s also a co-founder of the Toronto Workshops on Software Testing.

Bolton says the idea for his CASTsession first came from a message on a mailing list. In the list, someone suggested the following user acceptance test-driven approach to developing a product:

  • Write a bunch of acceptance tests before writing the program
  • Write the program
  • When the acceptance tests pass, you’re done

“Now to most testers that I know, this sounds crazy. It occurred to me that maybe we should explore alternative interpretations of ‘acceptance tests’ and ‘done,’ but maybe we should also explore the business of exploring alternative interpretations altogether.”

“The language issue has always interested me. Back when I was a project manager for a really successful commercial software company, I noticed that some people weren’t saying what I thought they meant. Others were saying things that I was pretty sure they didn’t mean. I’ve done a paper on user acceptance testing, and I’ve done some classroom work on it, but this is the first time that I’ve taken it to an audience like CAST. “

Bolton wants his talk and his work in this field to trigger discussion. To learn more about his point of view and join that discussion, check out his CAST 2009 presentation. If you can’t make it to Colorado Springs, you can find Bolton’s past articles and conference presentations on his website. You can also follow his work as it unfolds on his blog or via Twitter.

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