Cutting the Ends Off the Roast

“Because we’ve always done it this way” is an answer that always needs investigating. There is a classic tale about this:

A newlywed couple is settling into married life when one partner notices that the other always cut the ends off large pieces of meat before putting them in the oven. They ask, “Why?” and are told, “Because that’s how my mom always did it.” They ask the mom why, and she says, “We had a small oven, and that was the only way I could fit a roast in.”

Stories like these can be a useful reminder in many situations.

Why This Code?

On software projects, we should always investigate the history and reasoning for things before writing a spec or code. Automating something that doesn’t really need to be done might make that something run faster and/or cheaper, but you’ll still be wasting time, money, and effort. (You could use the Five Whys to dig down and find out the real reasons.)

Why This Test?

You can apply this principle in a lot of ways during software testing. For example:

  • Don’t follow the intended flow or instructions on screen. It says, “Please enter the validation code.” But what if you don’t? What if you press the back button or hit refresh or enter the wrong one?
  • Maybe you always start testing using an old Android phone “because problems always show up on Android.” But if a new iPhone model has come out and there’s a new iOS beta release, it might make more sense to test on that one first. Maybe the designers have just finished a redesign for larger phone screens.

Why This Practice?

When a new person joins your project, team, or company, take the opportunity to reflect on your routines. New people are sure to have plenty of questions about why you’re doing things, ranging from, “Why do you double click the button?” to “Why did you quit and restart the app halfway through the survey?” to “Why do we have a standup at 10 am?”

If you are unable to give a good answer to a question, you might have found something you’re doing because “that’s how it was always done.” It might make sense to carry on doing it, but at least you’ve examined why you’re doing it.

It’s a good idea to occasionally ask yourself, “Why am I doing this, and why am I doing it this way?” If the answer is, “That’s how I’ve always done it,” dig deeper. Otherwise, you’ll miss the opportunity to make things better.