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The Theory of Knowledge helps us learn from our work

To illustrate how the use of theory leads to learning W. Edwards Deming told the story of Chanticleer the cockerel[1]. Chanticleer crowed every morning, and after he crowed he saw that the sun rose. This led him to develop the theory that the sun rose because he crowed, however, one day he forgot to crow and the sun rose anyway. This forced him to revise his theory that the sun rose because he crowed. His knowledge increased because he revised his theory. If he had not had a theory to revise his knowledge would not have increased.

A theory is a prediction of the future based on our experience of the past. 

Dr Deming wrote that “rational knowledge requires theory and builds knowledge through systematic revision and extension of theory based on completion of prediction with observation”[1]

Testers and Test Leads/Managers can use theory to learn. 

As a tester, I may predict that if I test a piece of functionality with a certain test technique I will have a good chance to find a bug. After I have tested that functionality I may have to revise my theory, and because I had a theory to revise my knowledge will increase.

Much of management is prediction. As a test lead/manager I may have a theory that if I make a change to the way testers work it will help them test. When I implement the change I will find out whether the change had the desired effect, and may have to revise my theory. If I have a theory I will increase my knowledge because I will learn from the results of implementing my theory.

Theory is something that we can all use and learn from. An example of this would be that I recently decided to use Boundary Value Analysis to test some functionality. This caused me to reflect on the technique I used, and I now understand better how to apply that technique. If I had not had a theory about how to use that technique I would not have improved my knowledge of it by revising my theory. 

This post describes the Theory of Knowledge, which is one of the four parts of Dr Deming’s System of Profound Knowledge.

More Information about the System of Profound Knowledge:


[1] The New Economics by W. Edwards Deming (1994, p102)


Published by Mike Harris

Mike has been working in testing for 20 years and is the lone tester for Geckoboard. He has been a Test Lead and has also worked as a part of waterfall, lean and agile teams. He has a B.Sc.(HONS) from Middlesex University and is an Associate of the University of Hertfordshire. He has set up and led a Testing Community of Practice and been part of a successful agile transition. He is Vice-Chair of the British Computer Society’s Specialist Interest Group in Software Testing. He also contributed to the e-books Testing Stories and How Can I test This? and has had articles published by the Ministry of Testing, LambdaTest and The QA Lead.

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