Takeaway: Ask “Over what time frame?”
When to use?: As always, it depends. I usually ask “Over what time frame” when I seem to be agreeing with multiple sides of an argument.
“Over what time frame?” is a powerful question to set context, especially in early stage software and/or recently formed teams. Why? Because the quality of a solution is heavily influenced by the time frame over which it needs to be delivered.
Obvious? Not always. Smart, competent people agree on a problem but argue over the solution without clarifying that time frame is the primary reason driving their choice of solution. Sometimes business wants home but development proposes the bushes. As a tester, you can likely prevent a ton of errors early on by
1. clarifying expectations
2. anchoring why the solution is being chosen
3. getting a feel for what business/users mean by ‘quality’ of the solution
If this is your first time trying this, be warned that there are plenty of non-answers. You could hear vague non-answers like: short term, medium term, long term, fairly early on, at steady state, as soon as possible, fairly urgently, its a priority, etc. One way to handle this, is to follow up with a thoughtful ‘Hmmmm … I need some clarity. What do you mean by short term?’ or ‘I am assuming short term is within the next one month. Are we all on the same page ?’
What is the context for this post?
I believe some software bugs are born outside of code. I believe testers should try, where possible, to prevent potential bugs before a single line of code is written. Testers can play a big role by continuously asking context, polling for expectations and explicitly communicating assumptions and potential risks about the software. This post is one in a series of tools, questions and tactics that testers can use to set better context.