Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Problems and Creativity

I recently posted a tweet
When #testing should we be problem finders or problem solvers? Problem finders appears to think more creatively is this aligned to ET?
This started a few discussions with people tweeting that surely it is best as a tester to be both and that they see their role as being a problem finder and a problem solver.  Some took it that being a problem solver is better since you are looked on more positively.

Francesco @TesterSerendip
@steveo1967 @mpkhosla@JariLaakso @tonybruce77 hence better at finding bugs. Plus you are perceived as one with a positive mindset 
Other that they see themselves primary as problem solvers
Tony Bruce @tonybruce77
@steveo1967 I'm a problem solver, I approach the problem differently#testing
I then made the following tweet:
John Stevenson ‏@steveo1967
@mpkhosla @JariLaakso @TesterSerendip being in a problem finding mode may be better for a tester when testing since you may be > creative
My tweets came about after reading some books and articles on the following subjects

This led to me researching the concept that our mind-set within the field of testing appears to mainly be focused on problem solving and that our default state when testing is be in a 'problem solving' mode.  Very little focus or attention seems to have been placed on using our creative skills and entering a mind-set of being a problem finder.  The more I researched into this the more I felt that in some testing situations especially when doing testing practically we are missing opportunities to think more creativity and we are limiting ourselves when we approach testing with the mind-set of trying to solve problems rather than find problems.

One piece of information I related to was from *James Bach or Michael Bolton in how we should approach session based test management.  When in a session we should be looking for problems, creating new tests and noting things of interest which could be bugs.  We should focus on the opportunities and come back to find out if it is a bug/issue (problem solving exercise) after the session as finished.  The principle of this is if you stop to try and solve the problem you could lose track and focus and your creative thinking will become disrupted.  Einstein is quoted as saying the following:

“We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Which IMO matches the thoughts I have on the issue of problem finding and solving.  Yes we need both but they require different thinking.

This is the key point I was trying to make with my statement whilst we are testing in the context of actually being in a session our mind set should be on problem finding.  Having a mind-set focused on problem finding according to some articles has been proven to be more creative.

“Anyone who is technically proficient can solve a problem that is already formulated: but it takes true originality to formulate a problem in the first place (Einstein and Infeld, 1938).”

“…persons who are likely to innovate tend to have personality traits that favour breaking rules and early experiences that make them want to do so. Divergent thinking, problem finding, and all the other factors that psychologists have studied are relevant in this context.”

“Csikszentmihalyi and Getzels (1971) found that originality was high related to problem finding and discovery oirientation”

“Getzels believed that creativity investigators should turn their attention to and examine problem finding in addition to problem solving”

“Many creative individuals have pointed out in their work that the formulation of a problem is more important than its solution and that real advances in science and in art tend to come when new questions are asked or old problems are viewed from a new angle . . . yet when measuring thinking processes, psychologists usually rely on problem solution, rather than problem formulation, as an index of creativity. . . They thus fail to deal with one of the most interesting characteristics of the creative process' namely, the ability to define the nature of the problem”

“We believe that this neglect of problem finding is a deficiency that is observable in the discourse on problem solving within technology education.”

What I am not saying is that we do not need to be problem solvers; this is part of our role.  I think the subject matter of this article is similar back to a previous article I have written on which mood we should be in to test software  and which gives us more benefit.

In some situations it may be better to be in a problem solving mind set and in others it may be better to be in a problem finding mind set.  Both have their merits.  What I feel I am trying to get across that if you need to create ideas and be innovative you need to have a mind-set that is looking at being a problem finder rather than a problem solver.   However if have a solution to a problem you may want to flip this around.  Then with a problem finding mind-set examine the solution for problems.

To conclude I will repeat what was said earlier by Einstein and Infield
“Anyone who is technically proficient can solve a problem that is already formulated: but it takes true originality to formulate a problem in the first place (Einstein and Infeld, 1938).”
I feel if there is one thing that people take away from this article it is that statement.

Further reading

  1. Out of our minds – Ken Robinson
  2. Perspectives in Creativity -   By Irving A. Taylor, Jacob W.. Getzels
  3. Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins, and Development – Robert Sternberg
  4. Perspective: Problem Finding and the Multidisciplinary Mind -  Linda Austin
  5. The Creative Vision: A Longitudinal Study of Problem Finding in -  J. W. Getzels, M. Csikszentmihalyi
  6. What's Holding You Back?: 8 Critical Choices for Women's Success -  By Linda Austin, M.D

* If anyone can direct me to a reference where this came from and it was not just a conversation I have had then please let me know.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ethnographic research feedback

Sometime ago I wrote an article about the relationship between ethnographic researchers and testers and how similar they are.  Recently Peter H-L (@Unlicensed2test) on twitter reminded me that I had also presented at the UNICOM  conference on using some aspects of ethnographic research to aid feedback when we are testing and from this I came up with a new mnemonic and a set of testing related social science questions.   I had thought that I had already posted this but it seems I had not.

What follows is taken from the talk I did.

Within the article there was a section that dealt with questions that the researcher should be asking when studying the subject.  I changed this to make it relate to software testing and came up with the following:

  • Substantive Contribution: "Does the testing carried out contribute to our understanding of the software?"
  • Aesthetic Merit: "Does the software succeed aesthetically?" Is it suitable for the end user?
  • Reflexivity: "How did the author come to write this test…Is there adequate self-awareness and self-exposure for the reader to make judgements about the point of view?"
  • Impact: "Does this affect me? Emotionally? Intellectually?" Does it move me?
  • Expresses a Reality: "Does it seem 'true'—a credible account of a requirement'?"

Lynne Mckee has been updating a list of testing mnemonics on her blog site  so I thought about this and came up with the following mnemonic:


From this I created a list of questions under each of these heading that can be used to aid feedback when you have been testing, ideally when you are following session based test management.

Use the following template to do a personal review of the testing that you carried out during the day.
Please try not to answer using yes and no, expand on your reasons for either it being yes or no.
This debrief/review is more about your views, opinions and feelings rather than the product you have been testing.
It should only take you 10 minutes to complete this feedback – try not to write essays.


Personal reflection:
  • Could you have done things better if so what? (Both from a personal and testing perspective)
  • Have you learnt new things about the product under test (That are not documented)?
  • Has your view of the product changed for better or for worse? Why has your view changed?

‘Epistemological reflexivity’ (What limits did we hit?)
  • Did your defined tests limit the information you could find about the product?  (Did you need to explore new areas that you had not defined)
  • Could your tests have been done differently? If yes how?
  • Have you run the right tests?
  • If you did things different what do you think you would have found out about the product?
  • What assumptions have you uncovered to be true/false?
  • Did the assumptions you make impede or help your testing?

  • In your opinion is the product suitable for the end user?
  • In your opinion is the product appealing at first look?
  • In your opinion is the product confusing?
  • In your opinion does the product flow?
  • In your opinion are there any ugly areas?
  • In your opinion does the product succeed aesthetically? Does it meet the image the customer is trying to portray?

(this section is intended to be used to say how you 'feel' about the product, your first impressions, if you answer yes you should provide more details)
  • Does this affect you?
    • Emotionally?
    • Intellectually?
  • Does it move you?
  • Does it cause you negative/positive feelings?
  • Does it frustrate you?
  • Does it annoy you?

  • Have we covered a substantial amount of the key product areas?
  • Has the testing contributed to your understanding of the product?
  • Do you think you have a substantial understanding of the system and sub systems?
  • Does your knowledge of the system have any substantial gaps?
  • Could you easily explain the system to a first time user?

  • Does the product seem 'true'—a credible account of a requirement'?
  • Does the product express what will happen in ‘real’ world?
  • Does the reality of the product match the expectations of the product?
  • Does the product express unexpected ways of working?


To make it easier I have create a MS word document with the questions in which you can download from Google docs here.


Friday, 23 November 2012

Emergent Strategy

How often have you been asked why do we do exploratory testing rather than planned and predicted scripts.  Recently I have been reading some material on corporate planning strategies and how some become successful and other do not and looking at how this links into software development especially from a testing perspective. 

Given that software can be very dynamic and react in some unpredictable ways no matter how much planning we do.  It surprises us and more importantly it surprises the person who created it.  This goes against the commonly held notation that software is predictable since we planned with great care and detail what was going to be coded.  The problem comes is that we are human and may not act in a rational way and this is reflected in our creations.  

So what is the best way to do software testing?  

The purpose of testing is to learn things about it and the best way of doing this is to experience it and learn by do it.  This is best summed up by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

 We are better at doing than learning. Our capacity for knowledge is vastly inferior to our capacity for doing things – our ability to tinker, play, discover by accident.

Within the corporate strategy world I have discovered that this appears  to have a  name  'emergent strategy'  (or realized strategy).  Looking more into this I found the following link

One of the most interesting part of the above link to me that I noticed was the following sentence:

Emergent strategy implies that an organization is learning what works in practice

Is this not similar to what we attempt to do when doing exploratory testing?  We try to learn about the product and what is working or not working by experiencing  it?

An interesting point made in the article is the following statement

Mixing the deliberate and the emergent strategies in some way will help the organization to control its course while encouraging the learning process.

This appears to link back to an  article I wrote about  hybrid testing and having a mixture of scripted checks and  exploratory tests.

So to go back to my first statement about the purpose of exploratory testing.  To me since we cannot predict everything that the software will do the only way to understand what it will do and to learn is to explore it and that is the purpose of exploratory testing.  To uncover information that may prove to be of value to someone who matters.

 I may need to look more into emergent strategy a little more.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Place your bets

Having recently completed reading the excellent book “The Click Moment” by  Franz Johansson (@Frans_Johansson).  I was amazed by how much of the material written in the book appears to relate to software testing.  The principles of the book are about creating opportunities in an unpredictable world and not about putting in hours and hours of practice.  The author explains that if there are fixed rules and these rules do not change too much then the 10000 hours rule of practice works  .  However the author points out we are living in a world in which the rules are always changing and unexpected (random) things can and do happen.

Some of the statements made in the book appear to have a correlation to the current state of software testing and the various “schools”.  (The scripted vs the exploratory debate).  The first thing that caused me to think was some of the comments on planning  and how this stifles opportunities for random events and for uncovering new and exciting things.  

For example Franz stated the following

…In fact, it might mean that the plan is outdated before you even start to execute it….”

I have often experienced this within companies that believe that we can plan upfront and know all we need to know to write scripts before we actually use the product.  I have seen test plans which when I start doing some testing are hopelessly out of date and then spend unnecessary time trying to retrofit what I am experiencing when testing with what the plan is saying.  Doing this makes me take my eye of the ball and miss chances to find out what could be important information.

Franz then makes a statement which could be taken directly from why we need to do exploratory testing.

“..As ironic as it may sound, it actually pays to schedule time to do something unscripted and unplanned. We need to leave enough room in our day to explore things that are not connected to our immediate goals. We need to free ourselves up to become aware of hidden opportunities and expose ourselves to significant click moments. Leave some flexibility in your schedule. Then, make sure you use the flexibility to explore something unrelated to what you are doing or to follow up on a curious idea you have been considering”

This offers so much potential for uncovering new and valuable information without the restrictions of following someone else’s thinking.  This way of testing in my world can lead to many serendipity moments.

So how can we help to make this happen in software testing?  Is there anything we can do to help create more of these moments of randomness?

Franz within the book gives 5 great tips which may encourage more serendipity.  I have listed the tips below and give a description of how this could apply to exploratory testing.

1. Place Many Bets 

Having a single exploratory testing mission which can consist of an infinite number of tests (bets) is surely much better than having a single scripted test in which you are only placing one bet.

2. Minimize the Size of the Bets

Instead of spending lots of time creating a test script based upon assumptions do the minimum required to do some actual testing and time box your testing sessions.

3. Take the Smallest Executable Step

Do the minimal amount of planning you can do to enable you to do some exploratory testing.  We need to stop thinking if we write detailed test scripts and plans before we really know anything that this will lead to us uncovering lots of information about the system.

4. Calculate Affordable Loss, Not ROI

We still believe that there is a justifiable, measurable cost in planning ahead and creating detailed test plans and scripts.  Which we then discover are outdated and very costly to maintain but we insist they are useful because someone else may use them in the future.  Instead look at creating lots of test ideals using test models and heuristics  which are cheap to create and if of no use can easily be discarded once we uncover more information when testing.  We should be looking at testing and its cost effectiveness from what can we afford to throw away if our assumptions are wrong.

5. Use Passion as Fuel

This is so important people with a passion for what they are doing are the drivers of opportunities.  This type of person is one where if they get stuck or falter they pick themselves back up, dust themselves off and look for ways around the problems.   These are innovators, the people who can radically change the market and improve what is already there.  There is a need to employ more of these passionate types of people in the world of software testing.  I am getting fed up of the 9-5 testers, the ones who have no desire to learn or improve themselves, the ones not reading this blog.

I do recommend that anyone involved in software development read this book it gives some great advice of how we can adapt what we do and how we think to improve our chances of delivering successful projects. 

PS No I am not being paid by Franz for writing this 

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Testers should learn code

At the Eurostar conference in Amsterdam  Simon Stewart (@shs96c) presented a keynote on Selenium over the years

During the key note Simon made the following comment

"If you are testing the web you absolutely need to be able to code"

Now I am sure that out of context this could be taken in many ways and Rob Lambert has produced a very good discussion on this same subject here which takes on both sides.

I will add is that Simon did follow this up with the following line.

"If not become a specialist so you can add value"

This led to some interesting exchanges on Twitter (search for #esconfs) in which people came down on either side. I had concerns that people would only hear the first bit and this could cause barriers to some great people being able to be involved in testing just because they have no interest in coding or even wanting to learn to code.

IMO I am not sure about this statement and it caused much debate after the key note.  If you have an interest in learning code then do so otherwise do something that can add value. The discussions continued during lunch and the rest of this article is my own thoughts on this subject.

After talking to Simon afterwards it appears his message had got taken the wrong way.  He said it is helpful to code and that if all you do is test (check) scripts then you may not have a job.

My concern is forcing people to code if they have no interest could be a block from great people wanting to enter the world of software testing.

Dot Graham stated the following "Lose a good tester but gain a poor programmer".

I am not convinced that everyone needs to code, it can have its advantages but there is another perspective. If you do not understand the code you may test in a different non-confirmatory way.  You may be able to ask the difficult questions of why did you do it this way and made it complex?  You may not have a bias built up from your coding experiences and knowledge.  I think for some it can be useful but insisting on it is a very dangerous path to follow.

Some of the discussions that followed went along the lines that if testers refused to learn we should not employ them.  This is where I had a WTF moment.....  I have not said anything about testers not wishing to learn what I was saying was some people may not have an interest or a knack for coding or find it impossible for whatever reason to grasp.  However they make one hell of a tester and show a great thirst for learning new ways to exercise the software that are novel, unique and valued.  This was the second point that Simon was making and sadly appeared to have been missed.  As long as you can find ways to add value then you can be a tester.

I am afraid that a statement of this sort can be used as a filter to prevent people entering this great world of software testing.  There are many other things that IMO testers could learn about such as grounded theory, anthropology, social sciences, humanities, creative arts and the list goes on.  There are some great testers who have learnt these things and should we prevent them for working as software testers because they have no desire to learn code?

I will finish this on a positive note and that it was great to chat with Simon even if our views are slightly different and that he is a very thoughtful and  passionate person.  I look forward to meeting up again sometime  in the future and finding another topic to discuss.

PS Thanks to Rob Lambert for being the referee!!

(edited some of the grammar :o( )

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Some good ideas to aid testing in 7 sentences

I was asked to do a small talk in the community hub at Eurostar 2012 test conference on the following topic:

The best test technique in seven sentences

which I changed to the following

Some good ideas to aid testing in 7 sentences

Since it might be best just for now.....

Some people have asked I post the presentation somewhere so here it is.


...all the information you can, both verbal, non-verbal and written.


....the system to learn about what it actually does rather than what you think it does.


....and communication is important, you need to talk to everyone.


..all information provided or uncovered by exploring this is your evidence.

CONTEXT crucial, all your testing should be driven by the context at that time.


...and engage your brain, testing is all about thinking.


Act like a detective and DETECT your bugs

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Making the most of the conference experience


Since it is so close to the Eurostar conference in Amsterdam I thought I would post a conference related blog. #esconfs @esconfs -

I had planned to do this blog article a few weeks ago when I posted on twitter about the point of conferences is not all about the tracks but about the conferring. Many thanks to Rob Lambert The social tester for spurring me to complete this post together with his great A quick guide to Eurostar 2012

What?  You have not read it yet!!!  Then please stop reading this and go and do so…… (There Rob plug over with I expect the cheque to be in the post tomorrow or at least buy me a drink at Eurostar!)

This article is not going to be a “you should do this or should do that” and follows some of the messages that Rob states in his article. I remember my first conference (many, many years ago) and how it can be very intimidating.  It is even worse if you are little shy or a quiet type.

The best value you can get from a conference is not from the tracks or the keynotes but from talking to other people and conferring.  You soon learn that the problems you face in your day to day job are similar to others. This may help you to feel that you are not alone and that the issues you face are normal.  It is so easy within our profession to become insular and trapped in our own bubble.  Conferences gives you a great opportunity to see that the issues you experience are common and others are facing the same problems.  This is a great part of attending conferences to discuss these issues with others and sometimes you may discover solutions which could help you resolve the problems you are facing.

There are many ‘strong’ characters in the software testing community and some can appear to be very intimidating.  Try not to be scared and approach them, maybe just listen to begin with; this is what I did at my first few conferences and I felt too nervous or inferior to even think about taking part in the conversation.   It was at one conference when, what I would consider, a high profile figure within the testing community  asked for my thoughts about a topic I was listening to with a group of people.  So I said what I thought and the person took what I said and said this was a great example of the point being made.  This made me feel good and that I had something worthwhile to say.  This one encounter at this conference changed my whole perspective of the testing community and spurred me to start writing this testing blog.  So the conference can change you and encourage you in unexpected ways.  (Thanks Michael B – your encouragement has led to all of this from your keen observations)

At the conference lookout for non-conference social meets they are sometimes advertised on twitter.  You are not on twitter?  Please do join twitter it is a great way to interact with the whole testing community worldwide. I am @steveo1967 on twitter if you want to find me.  Others are word of mouth so it is important to socialise with people at a conferences.

Do not attend every single track at the conference doing so will exhaust you and place you under a lot of pressure.  Take some time out to reflect on  what you have attended maybe even write it up on a blog or as notes to follow up at work.  Even better take some time out to visit the expo or the great sights around the venue.  A conference is not about the number of tracks you attend or making sure you fill all your time with attending lectures.  I tried to do that for the first few conferences I attended and it did not work I had no time to reflect on what had been said and forgot so much useful information.

I have met many wonderful people at conferences and some of them have gone on to be close acquaintances that I have regular contact with even inviting them to my home.  All it takes is a little courage to try and get involved; this is so difficult to do for some but very much worth it.

I would say to that who are regulars at conferences if you spot someone on their own please try to approach them and introduce yourself. At the Eurostar conference this year there is a new concept called the community hub,  which is being hosted by Peter Morgan.  I recommend that you come along and practice doing a little socialising.

ENJOY YOURSELF – it seems strange to say that but I have seen so many people come to a conference with a unhappy face – they have come because they have been told to or feel like an outsider.  Make the most of the conference by taking part and becoming a part of the community.  The testing community can be intimidating for an outsider but if you take those first wobble steps to becoming a part of the community then it welcomes you with open arms and lots of support.

You never know you may meet someone at the conference who changes your life or at least makes you think in a different way.

In memory of Ola Hylten whom I first met at a Eurostar Conference

Thursday, 9 August 2012


Whilst researching for a recent blog article on science v manufacturing and testing I came across an interesting article about scientific standards called the RESPECT code of practice and I made a mental note to come back to this since I thought it could have some relevance to testing. The article can be found here and a PDF version of the code can be located here:

The purpose of this article is to look at each of the statements made about what socio-economic researchers should endeavour to and my thoughts on how it may apply to testing.

The first paragraph is the one that drew me to the article in the first instance.
Researchers have a responsibility to take account of all relevant evidence and present it without omission, misrepresentation or deception.
It is so interesting how this is closely related to the responsibility of the tester when carrying out testing.  We have a duty to ensure that ethnically and morally we provide a service that meets these responsibilities. 

The bit that stood out  within the main body of text was the following statement
does not predetermine an outcome
I still find that within the field of testing there are still people writing scripted tests in which they try to predict the outcomes before they actual experience using the application.  This is not testing, testing is exploring the unknown, asking questions and seeing if there is a problem.

Now if we look at the last line of the paragraph
Data and information must not knowingly be fabricated, or manipulated in a way that might lead to distortion
Hmmm? Anyone want to start a discussion on testing metrics?  Cem Kaner talks about validity of metrics here

Then the article gets into the reporting of findings.
Integrity requires researchers to strive to ensure that research findings …. truthfully, accurately and comprehensively…have a duty to communicate their results in as clear a manner as possible.
I get tired of seeing time and time again shoddy or poorly documented testing findings/bug reports.  In my world exploratory testing is not an excuse for poor reporting of what you did and what you found

The most exciting part of the article was the final paragraph in which they realise that as human beings we are fallible.
…no researcher can approach a subject entirely without preconceptions 
It is therefore also the responsibility of researchers to balance the need for rigour and validity with a reflexive awareness of the impact of their own personal values on the research
It is something within this blog that I talk about a lot the need to understand that we have our own goals and views which could impact and influence our testing.  We owe it to ourselves to try and be aware of these sometimes irrational and emotional biases. 

The following is my attempt to go through each of the statements made in the article and provide my own personal view (with bias) or some external links in which others within the testing community have already discussed.

a) ensure factual accuracy and avoid misrepresentation, fabrication, suppression or misinterpretation of data

See previous link to article by Cem Kaner on metrics, Also by Michael Bolton here  and here by Kaner and Bond

b) take account of the work of colleagues, including research that challenges their own results, and acknowledge fully any debts to previous research as a source of knowledge, data, concepts and methodology

In other words if you use other peoples articles, ideas etc give them some credit.

c) critically question authorities and assumptions to make sure that the selection and formulation of research questions, and the conceptualisation or design of research undertakings, do not predetermine an outcome, and do not exclude unwanted findings from the outset

STOP accepting that because it has always been done this way then that means it is right.

d) ensure the use of appropriate methodologies and the availability of the appropriate skills and qualifications in the research team

Interesting one, I do not take this as meaning to get certified, other people  may.  I take it that we have a responsibility to ensure that everyone we work with has the relevant skills and if they do not mentor them and support them to obtain these skills.  Encourage self-learning and look at all the available approaches you can use for testing and select the one most suitable for you.

e) demonstrate an awareness of the limitations of the research, including the ways in which the characteristics or values of the researchers may have influenced the research process and outcomes, and report fully on any methodologies used and results obtained (for instance when reporting survey results, mentioning the date, the sample size, the number of non-responses and the probability of error

In other words be aware of both your own limits and project limits such as time, money or risk.  Testing is an infinite task so when reporting make sure it is clear that your sample of ‘tests’ are very small in comparison of all the possible ‘tests’ you could do.

f) declare any conflict of interest that may arise in the research funding or design, or in the scientific evaluation of proposals or peer review of colleagues’ work

Does this apply to testing?  If you are selling a tool or a certification training scheme then this should be stated clearly on any material you publish regarding testing.

g) report their qualifications and competences accurately and truthfully to contractors and other interested parties, declare the limitations of their own knowledge and experience when invited to review, referee or evaluate the work of colleagues, and avoid taking on work they are not qualified to carry out

To me if you stop learning about testing and act like one of the testing dead (see article by Ben Kelly – here) then you are not qualified to carry out testing.

h) ensure methodology and findings are open for discussion and full peer review

Do not hide your testing effort inside a closed system in which only the privileged few have access.  Make sure all your testing effort is visible to all within your company (use wikis)

i) ensure that research findings are reported by themselves, the contractor or the funding agency truthfully, accurately, comprehensively and without distortion. In order to avoid misinterpretation of findings and misunderstandings, researchers have a duty to seek the greatest possible clarity of language when imparting research results
In other words make sure that what you have done when testing is what you report and that you report clearly and without ambiguous facts

j) ensure that research results are disseminated responsibly and in language that is appropriate and accessible to the target groups for whom the research results are relevant

Make sure that all relevant parties have access to your findings, communicate, talk, discuss.  As stated earlier do not hide your findings publish them for all to see warts and all.

k) avoid professional behaviour likely to bring the socio-economic research community into disrepute

We all have a duty as testers to be professional in our behaviour and this means even when we disagree we still need to respect each other’s view and be able to participate in a debate without making others feel inferior.

l) ensure fair and open recruitment and promotion, equality of opportunity and appropriate working conditions for research assistants whom they manage, including interns/stagiaires and research students

Employers and recruitment agencies STOP using multi-choice certification schemes as a filter for working in testing.  Holding one of these certificates do not mean that you can test.

m) honour their contractual obligations to funders and employers

This is a given no comment needed on this.

n) declare the source of funding in any communications about the research.

If what you are publishing is in your own self-interest or a vested interest in which you can receive funds then please be honest and up front about this.  As professionals we can then make an informed decision about the content.

The context driven testing school has a list of principles here and it is interesting to compare the two there appears to be some overlap but maybe we could improve the context driven one by using more of the RESPECT code of practice.  What do others think?  A good starting point maybe?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Is testing a manufacturing process or a scientific approach?

Does testing need to move away from manufacturing processes and more towards scientific approaches?

If we take a look at the world of manufacturing you can find many standards (ISO and others) for various everyday things.  However even within the same subject field there can be many competing standards.  For example look at the standards for mains electricity around the world.  Which standard do you use? 

What about light fittings in your country how many different types are available?

In some cases these standards have been changed to meet local and cultural differences in others it has been a question of business and not wishing to pay a royalty fee. However in all these examples context plays a part in the adopting of a standard. Maybe I am being unfair and using examples that are not typical.  From the research I have done I find the same within the QC field, depending on what is being manufactured the processes and standard can and do change for similar products. 

The xkcd comic strip shows this very clearly.

The problem I have within the domain of software testing is that when we apply manufacturing processes to software testing we are making many assumption. The biggest one being

 all software is the same and behaves the same 

which is not true. 

As such we require different approaches to deal with this which is in context with the software being developed rather than trying to make it fit to processes designed around the assumption that everything will be done exactly the same way.

My concern is with the new ISO software testing standard ISO/IEC 2911  which appears to be based on manufacturing process and practices.

The question I have is why? 

Software testing in my opinion is not a manufacturing driven process but more a scientific experimental approach in which the tester has questions and theories that they wish to prove or disprove.So why try and tie a thinking process down to a checklist style document driven process?  Is it because 'management' can have a false belief that it more easily to manage or am I being sceptical?

Looking at the field of science and research - yes I acknowledge there are still some processes but these seem to be based upon what has been done and experienced rather than up front unnecessary documents.  I see very little about processes more a case of techniques and approaches to use. 

If you then add in other fields of science such as social and anthropology you have a wide range of approaches that lend themselves to testing. I see testers more as scientists, researchers or investigators looking at debunking their theories, biases and understanding and trying to learn more about what they are testing.

One approach I stumbled across was the following: and I think this could lead to another blog article there is so much useful information here for testers.

Quoting a couple of them:

  • ensure factual accuracy and avoid misrepresentation, fabrication, suppression or misinterpretation of data
  • critically question authorities and assumptions to make sure that the selection and formulation of research questions, and the conceptualisation or design of research undertakings, do not predetermine an outcome, and do not exclude unwanted findings from the outset 
  • ensure methodology and findings are open for discussion and full peer review

I found this code of practice very similar to the ethics I try to employ when carrying our exploratory testing, as I have already stated I may come back to this with another article at a later date.

I remember in school during science lessons we would:

  • Start from a theory
  • We would then test that theory
  • Write a conclusion based upon what we did 
  • Report what we found.

In my mind this is like exploratory testing

  • We have a charter and a mission
  • We try to prove the mission right or wrong
  • We write about our discoveries and what we learn
  • We report what we find
  • We check to see if what we find matches our original mission

We prove sufficient information for our peers to be able to replicate what we did and see if they come to the same conclusions or not.  We do this by treading similar ground but sometimes not exactly the same steps.

The similarities between exploratory testing and scientific research appear to be many.

  • Formulate a theory
  • Test the theory
  • Explore ways to prove the theory is incorrect (Peer testing)
  • Report your findings

So to conclude I feel that exploratory testing and testing in general has more to do with the sciences than it has to do with manufacturing.  The sooner we can move testing away from a manufacturing process centric way of working to a more natural scientific way of working the better the world of testing will be.  We really must stop testing being forced into a process in which people can tick a box and say yes we have a document for that and for that and that and of course that.   

Testing is a thinking activity not a document creation, ticking boxes checking process.  

Monday, 9 July 2012

Book Review Experiential Learning - Beginning

Experiential Learning Beginning - Gerald Weinberg - A Book review

Telling is not teaching

This is my first attempt at trying to review a book so please be patience with me.

Part of my role in work is to coach and mentor other testers and this can either be informal or formal half day/full day workshops.  I have been fortunate and been given opportunities to coach exploratory testing to other testing teams within our organisation all over the world.  As part of this I do a mixture of both lecturing and practical workshops.  Some of which have been successful and others less so, I have always wondered what makes some successful and others not so.

I follow the blog posts of Gerald M Weinberg and have noticed his comments about putting together some books on Experiential learning and after researching this a little more I found it could be very useful for what I do as a day to day job.

It was because of this research that I decided to purchase the first two books by Weinberg on experiential learning: (There is a third book currently in the process of being written)

This review mainly focus on the first book (I have not completely reading the second one yet.)  Before I start I should state that these books do not offer a step by step guide on how to implement experiential learning into your coaching style.  The book acts more like a tour guide and offers you points on how to think differently in how you organise and run workshops.  These books are about making you think about being creative in your workshops and encouraging people to learn by doing rather than by you telling them. 

This reminds me of a quote by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

We are better at doing than learning. Our capacity for knowledge is vastly inferior to our capacity for doing things – our ability to tinker, play, discover by accident.

I do wonder if this/was a catalyst for the books that Weinberg has written.

Experiential Learning – Beginning 

It is very difficult to do justice in a review of a book which by its design is quite a technical book so I do hope Weinberg will forgive me a little if I quote directly from the book and miss some sections out otherwise this review could be very long.  Any misunderstanding or otherwise from the material within the book are my own making and no way reflect on the views that Weinberg may have been attempting to get across.

The first part of the book gives the reader some examples on how to start to implement experiential learning into their workshops.  It uses a zero level example of dividing your group into two teams and getting them to learn by doing the exercise and seeing what they could do by using the alternative method/approach you are trying to teach them.   From this first chapter I was able to come up with 3 or 4 different zero level examples I could use in my workshops.  The chapter explains the importance of feedback (I agree with this so much and is one of my frustrations with testing we do not feedback often enough.)  Weinberg goes on to explain how to design an experiential class and for using an off the shelf starting point.  All these suggestions give you the reader valuable pointers that can be applied with some thought on your behalf to any workshop exercises that you need to deliver.

The next chapter deals with how to construct an experiential leaning program and introduces the three stages of experiential learning.

  1. Exploration
  2. Invention
  3. Application

Within this section Weinberg presents a quote from Piaget: - Learning was a process of constructing not receiving new knowledge

Which indicates that to learn we need to do and construct our own thoughts and theories with some adjustment from the trainer.  Hence we allow the class to explore, we allow them to invent solution and then we apply the solution to the problems found. (This sounds so much like exploratory testing)  The role of the trainer changes from a lecturing role to a supporting guiding role.

Weinberg then goes on in the next chapter to explain in detail how to create learning cycles within the workshops and getting students to be responsible for their learning. This is expanded in the next few chapters in which bad exercises can be used to create good idea, Evolution an Exercise and improving the exercises metaphor.

The next chapter on using progress observation is one which offered me some insights as to the role of the trainer.  I have come from a traditional background of learning and teaching in which I stand in front of the room and present.  However either from my own experiences or from some unknown source some of my workshops are 100% practical and I take a role in observing and supporting rather than telling the group what should happen.  I have found that these workshops are the most successful in getting the message across and this chapter backs this up with a few more examples on how I can improve what I already do.  I especially like the section on the importance of feelings.  Something I have talked about in the past within this blog.

The next few charters deals with moving your own workshops forward and starting to generate ideas , being able to lead exercises ad keeping  exercises simple.  There are some interesting concepts discussed here along with reference to Weinberg’s other excellent book on the secrets of consulting.  The key elements of these chapters is guidance on prevents you the trainer from jumping in and showing people how to get to the so0ltuons without them working out for themselves, a difficult skill to master.

These are followed by a chapter on the opening exercise in which Weinberg describes the course principals and their importance to successful learning.

These principals being.
  • Safe
  • Comfortable
  • Transparent
  • Fun
  • Considerate
  • Redundant
He then describes methods to form teams and gather requirements for the exercise.

This is followed by a few chapters on working with people who do not and do know each other with some methods that can be used to encourage team work.  It also gives some advice on dealing with conflict issues with the group that may arise. These sections were the only ones that I am not sure at this time offer me any benefits.

There is also in between these chapters a chapter on Virginia Satirs Three Questions in which Weinberg starts a workshop by looking for answers to the three big picture questions.

  • How do they happen to be here? (Past)
  • How do they feel about being here? (Present)
  • What would they like to have happen? (Future)

These provide really good pointers as to why people are attending your workshop and provide the trainer with some valuable knowledge that can be used to help tailor the training so that they want to learn (An important concept of experiential learning)

The book finishes with some pointers on using exercises to help deepen working relationships within the group which appears to naturally lead on to the next book – Invention.  Which I have currently started to read and find it very interesting……

This is not an easy book for a novice to get into and requires you to read and then reread chapters.  This I feel is the intention of the book, it is to encourage you to reflect and think before you act and is a powerful way of helping you to learn and understand something. Would I recommend the book to other?    Yes I would, it is another tool in the arsenal of testers who need to mentor; they provide some very useful techniques and approaches that you can adapt to meet your needs.    There are some section in the book which frustrated me since it appears to concentrate on getting teams to worth together rather than how to use experiential learning to encourage people to learn, but maybe I need to reflect and think more on the message that is being delivered.

They are not a blue print for showing you how to deliver testing workshops more a guide to help you understand that people do not learn from being lectured to using a bulleted slideshow. (Death by Power point)

What I found interesting is that in the past I have been fortunate to have attended a few workshops by Michael Bolton and I can see some of the techniques that Weinberg has suggested within the book being used by Michael.  I do wonder if Michael is a student of experiential learning.  These book could teach the ‘factory schools’ a thing or two about how to learn to do testing, it is by doing rather than telling. That maybe a topic for another blog post!

 As part of my journey learning more about experiential learning I came across the following resources that people may find of interest/use

David A. Kolb on experiential learning
International Consortium for Experiential Learning

**Some corrections made - thanks Phil - I should proof read before hitting the publish button!**