Testing on Dune (Part 2)

Previously I highlighted a passage in Frank Herbert’s Dune that mentioned testing and said it was the first of two. This is the second passage:

Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife—chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now it’s complete because it’s ended here.”

—from “Collected Sayings of Maud’Dib” by the Princess Irulan, in Frank Herbert’s Dune

Testing isn’t explicitly mentioned this time, but most testers who have been around the block a few times will probably recognize why this caught my eye. Often it feels like there are an infinite number of things to test, and the only way testing can be “done” is by putting down the knife.

Is there any testing that the “attitude of the knife” doesn’t apply to?

Of course, we like to attribute more agency to ourselves than that. Maybe we say our testing is complete when we’ve tested all the aspects described in our well-reasoned test plan. You know, that perfect test plan that takes into consideration all the stakeholders’ needs, the risks involved, the impact to the users, and timeliness required to arrive at just the right amount of testing for this particular context. At the end you can push back from your terminal and say, “Yes, I tested everything I set out to test. Everything about it has been validated and verified to the extent reasonable, and I’m not just saying that because we’ve run out of time.”

But then again, did you not come up with your test plan or strategy knowing how much time would be reasonable to spend on this? Did you know that the knife was going to come down on a certain day? Did you have a sense of the tolerance of your stakeholders, and balance that against the risks?

We all know that exhaustive testing is impossible. Most of us probably realize that exhaustive testing isn’t the goal anyway, and not just because we don’t have infinite time. The knife has to come down sometime, and our testing will be complete because it ended.*


  • Though… does anybody ever finish testing anything? Short of moving on to another product or company entirely, I don’t think I do. Maybe we don’t live on Arrakis.

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