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T.E.A.M. Tuesday Articles 

Verification Before Validation

By Justin Simmons - Sep 12, 2023

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In the field of software engineering, there is a clear distinction between two key terms that are used to identify when a system has been designed and completed successfully. Much like anything we set out to pridefully accomplish, our goal is to develop a plan, execute it, and hopefully receive positive feedback on what we produce. For an example of how this process applies in many capacities, we could pose the question: what does software design and the outfit we choose to wear tomorrow have in common?

In both cases, we will seek some level of verification and validation on our execution. Certainly, the terms apply differently between software requirements and clothing choices, but we should be aware of the commonality and understand the meaning behind these two often misused words. The gravity they possess can have a powerful influence on the decisions we make and cause lasting effects on our performance.

In everyday language, we hear ‘verification’ or ‘validation’ used interchangeably. Although representing similar actions, they actually compel us in very different ways. Veering from the technical sense of the words, I’d like to redirect to where we may hear the terms utilized more regularly. Recognizing our daily process is comprised of many supporting roles, the way we apply either of these terms (consciously or subconsciously) is important to be aware of.

Seeking to ‘verify’ or ‘validate’ that which we wish to produce may sound like the same thing but at their core enable a fundamental difference. In the process of verification, the objective is to confirm a plan which is set to achieve a goal. Regardless of the task's complexity, our mind orchestrates a plan for everything we do. This sequence of operations provides the ‘how’ to complete the mission. The verification of proper execution will be predicated on how well we define a set of instructions required to follow such plan.

When it comes to validating, this is where things begin to take on a more subjective role. Validation exists to identify whether or not the product created meets expectations. Naturally, this practice can expose insecurities or even hurt people's feelings. The potential for emotional impact causes us to pay most of our attention to these end results and can distract us in ways that counteractively impact our overall performance.

‘The proof is in the pudding’, is a shortened saying of the original quote “The proof of the pudding is in the eating” -Don Quixote. This statement is meant to remind us that the only way to judge value or quality is to try the product. Validation is the judgment zone of our creations, which is why it can spark wildly varying emotions.

There is an interesting experiment where parents will ask their kids to write a sequence of operations to make a peanut butter and Jelly sandwich. Each child individually must write down the steps for how to make a PB&J. Once written down, the parent is to follow the steps exactly and make no assumptions in the process. Needless to say, there will be plenty of gaps in scope and rarely is the sandwich completed in full form based on the instructions.

Now the interesting part is the reactions of the children. Knowing what they want as the end result, each child serves as their own agent of validation. Bread lacking peanut butter or missing jelly will not suffice. If the two ingredients make it onto the bread but cover the exterior of the sandwich instead of the interior, this too would be seen as a failure. Whichever way the construction of the snack becomes botched, the frustration observed in the children will be highly evident.

Watching their parents follow the careful instructions they created only to miss the mark on the final product is a painful reminder of how important communication is even in the smallest tasks. The most impactful portion to observe, however, will be when the parents reach the end of the instructions and show signs of disappointment based on the quality of the sandwich. The parent's validation or lack thereof often triggers far more emotion than the frustration felt throughout watching it be made incorrectly. Perhaps if more emphasis was put on verifying the instructions they detailed ahead of time, the end result would hold a greater reward. Instead, most of the focus is put on getting to the product quickly, causing a lack of attention and detail put into the process of achieving the goal.

This is an example of how verifying the way we do something should absorb most of our attention and in doing so, the results will speak for themselves. We want to embrace the process more than the product because without verifying what we want to accomplish, we greatly reduce the chances of the product coming to fruition. If our creations don’t produce results, there will be nothing to validate.

When thinking in these terms, there is a distinct correlation between the satisfaction felt upon obtaining a product and the validation received upon acknowledgment by others. We want to be mindful of where we’re spending our time and the purposes for doing so. All too often we get hung up on the emotions derived from validation and lose sight of why we want the thing that’s being validated in the first place.

Imagine before setting out to complete any task we stopped and considered in detail, all the steps required for completion. Beyond the efficiencies to be gained, we may also discover questions associated with steps that we can investigate ahead of time and be more prepared. The process of verifying what is needed to accomplish our goals is critical to establishing realistic expectations. Without the ability to verify a solid plan of action, we risk flying blind to the destination and this lowers our chances for the positive validation we all seek.  

Taking the topic full circle to provide a personal point of reference, before meeting my wife I might have been willing to fly a bit more blind at times knowing someone wasn’t always there to call me on it. Luckily, I tend to be process-driven by nature but now I recognize something more about myself through her positive feedback. I realize when I spend most of my time verifying what I’m focused on, I tend to consider more factors including her advice, and in return gain valuable perspective. As a team, her opinion holds great value and by taking the time to ensure our collective expectations are aligned, this also strengthens my personal process. The beauty in doing so is I never have to waste time seeking her validation, I simply achieve it by default upon following through with our goals.

This is the sweet spot, where action and creation come together symbiotically. Suddenly the process we design has the power to evoke validation. Knowing we’re taking the right steps in life will provide self-confidence and satisfaction to keep moving forward with our plans for the future. Be honest with yourself on this topic and evaluate why you want to achieve the things you’re currently pursuing. Goals set to fulfill dreams and aspirations will come from within and are then supported by loved ones who believe in us. If the goals are merely designed to gain the validation of others, the origin of this desire may warrant deeper consideration. We all want to feel some form of acceptance or praise for the things we work hard to create but the creation should remain the driver, not the approval.

Positive feedback for a job well done is inherently motivating. Always strive for this level of performance but remember to be the first person to acknowledge your achievements. Self-affirmation of doing something good isn’t just healthy, it's empowering.

As we seek to accomplish our goals, we must remember who is setting them. Before anyone can recognize you for accomplishing something, you need to decide to take action for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to tell you that your action is great, you can do this on your own. Feel confident in your ability to do the work that makes your creation the best it can be. Win, lose, or draw, validation resides within these valiant efforts.

Once we decide to do the things that are important to us, motivation tends to follow eagerly. From here, we must develop a plan and verify the steps needed to be successful. Prioritizing tasks and being mindful of the necessary allocations of Time, Education, Adversity, and Manifestation in the pursuit of these goals will help fortify our efforts. It's ok to question the process, improvements are always a possibility. This is why we must stay open to feedback but willing to think for ourselves. The evolution of our ideas and creations inevitably relies on our ability to evolve. Are you ready to discover the power of your mindset? 

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