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Tom Warner

Testing for success – Borrowing from software development

The methodologies used in software development can help us to transform our organisations in unique ways.

It’s not uncommon for methods and systems of thought to transfer from one area or subject to another. Agile methods have steadily migrated from the homeland of software development to powerfully inform cultural change and innovation in many organisations. Bearing this in mind, here’s another approach from software development that we could use in the way we run our organisations: Test driven development.

Test driven development

Test driven development proposes that we ‘test first, create second’. We should, as software developers or otherwise, outline what we expect first in the form of a test. This test will then fail until we create the solution that allows it to pass. We then create the solution and the test passes. This process continues with new tests, and new solutions, until we have met all our expectations for the thing we are creating.

We have now created a body of work that regularly tests whether it is fit for purpose. This approach allows us to change our implementation of the solution as much as we want as long as we still meet our expectations, or more succinctly, our tests for success continue to pass. This process is called refactoring.

Testing our organisations

Just as agile methods allow us to “fail fast, fail often”, if organisations implemented a test-driven culture full of refactoring, we also could know when those failures happen quickly. Ultimately, test-driven methods could allow us to change the workings of our organisations with freedom and agility, while holding us to account to what our expectations for success actually are.

For example, imagine we agree as an organisation the following expectations, or tests:

As our organisation:

  1. We should create meaningful value for our clients
  2. We should all be happy on a daily basis
  3. We should be very profitable
  4. We should make a positive difference to the world
  5. We should not compromise our integrity


These expectations are the organisation, but over time and in the face of broad change and transformation internally, one or more may no longer pass. That’s ok, but it’s not the expected behaviour of the organisation. The key thing to remember here is that all tests must pass to successfully deliver on the expectations of the organisation.

Failing and passing every day

Imagine if large organisations, and even governments, regularly held themselves to account with core expectations, with a method that encouraged this agility to change and transform all the time. I’m not talking about at the AGM and behind closed doors, I’m talking about on the ground, while the refactoring of the organisation is happening in small parts.

This refactoring is the really powerful part. Our organisation could add or merge teams, adopt radical new technology, fundamentally change the core business or even, if appropriate, make redundancies. Change could be seen as the opportunity to realise those expectations more clearly, to pass those tests more efficiently and with more confidence, rather than as a dive into the unknown. That’s the kind of change that is progressive and meaningful, and the kind of change that we want to see in our organisations.

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