Why Impartial Testing is a Non-Negotiable

Reducing the Risk of Project Shortcomings

Project teams usually do their own (early) Partial Testing, which consists of unit and function testing. Unfortunately when the early phase is completed, the same project team may be tempted to go on and test their own projects’ component, system, and regression. This testing phase; however, should really be completed by a third set of independent eyes. See the table below for fuller descriptions of the described.

Table 1.1: Testing Phases in the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
Table 1.1: Testing Phases in the Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

The Galaxy Note Disaster

A good example is that of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics rushing to market with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphone (see Figure 1.1) in August 2016.

Figure 1.1: Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone
Figure 1.1: Galaxy Note 7 Smartphone

The device was tested in their own lab, unlike other cellphone manufacturers who use third party labs certified by the U.S. wireless group. As it turned out, many of the lithium batteries in Galaxy Note 7 phones overheated and burst into flames. Samsung ended up pulling the plug on this product two months in. Three million phones were recalled globally. This disaster greatly hurt the reputation/profitability of Samsung, as well as the economic development of South Korea (the company makes up about a fifth of South Korea’s annual exports). Eventually, Samsung hired outside investigators, who found that some batteries were irregularly sized or had other manufacturing flaws that caused overheating.

Benefits of Impartial Testing

The following are some of the many benefits of having impartial testing under separate control:

  • In the long run, it’s more economical for testing to be performed by an objective third party (for example, Underwriters Laboratories). If the project team does their own testing, they usually don’t have the right mental attitude. Finding flaws in one’s own work is usually counter to the human mind.
  • Testing groups often have excellent experience and certifications. Certifications for software testing can be from the International Software Testing Qualifications Board (ISTQB.org). A board like this offers a testing certification program known around the world and boasts more than 360,000 certified testers. Furthermore, they have better testing tools, debuggers, tactics, and techniques, which should lead to predictable quality.
  • Despite what you might think, the turnaround time for third party testing can actually reduce time to market because the testing group specializes in testing and are expert in their field.
  • Performance testing by an impartial party not only ensures a product does what it’s supposed to do within an acceptable time, but also can identify if/when a product does things it’s not supposed to do.
  • Impartial testing groups know that stress testing and destructive testing is an important area to explore! They will push a component or system beyond the limits of its specified requirements to determine the load under which it has bottlenecks and/or how it fails. This validates error management routines and ensures that a software or product functions properly even when it receives invalid data.
  • A third party will conduct usability testing to make sure the user interface is easy to use. They are experts and understand what is important for successful implementation and user satisfaction.
  • If there is confidential data involved, security testing will be done to make sure hackers can’t find any backdoor ways into the system.
  • Data for customer quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC) will be provided, as well as a full review of functionality and processes. This can help to identify potential cost savings!
  • Last but not least, impartial testing records may be useful in future legal proceedings (for example, patents and product liability claims).


Partial testing should be completed by the development team before impartial testing starts, and these activities must be planned, anticipated, and have a trackable process. Impartial testing is all about reducing the risk of project shortcomings. It increases your chances for overall success and for having a satisfied client. With impartial testing, you’re also reducing operational life costs, which is a valuable investment to make! Partial and Impartial testing is about the total test plan, and defining the process and criteria for checking conformance to requirements (that of, the deliverable product or its components). Formal customer satisfaction surveys should always include a section on testing, and acceptance evaluation should never be left out the post project review.

When Samsung rushed to the market with the Galaxy Note 7 smartphones, they were circumventing their own quality control process—acceptance decisions, re-work, and process adjustments. Ultimately, they paid a high price (about 5.5 billion dollars) for their non-conformance. Even more so, they hurt their reputation for quality. Note: the new generations of the Galaxy Note (versions 8-10 and their sister smartphones) have more battery space, thicker walls, and go through more intensive testing. In fact, Samsung now uses Underwriters Laboratories to certify new smartphone devices.

People are likely to pay more for higher quality—or even the perception of higher quality. The lesson to be learned? Crisis management is much more expensive than risk management!

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Written by Ronald Smith
Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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