Less is more

As a keen writer and communications fan I spend a lot of time looking at how I (or we) can improve our communication and one of the best techniques is to remove the bits of communication that people skip.


In the world of writing this means removing the sentences, words or entire chapters that you *think* or *know* people will skip. With my own writing this is a very subjective process. I don’t know which bits to remove but I do know I self edit my work quite heavily.


It’s like using twitter. It’s amazing how you can still get your point across in a few characters. It’s a good practice to get in to. Brevity of writing is a good thing.


Much of my writing gets drastically chopped down but no doubt there are still huge amounts of it that are what I call “fluff”.


And it’s important to realise that this idea of fine tuning can be incredibly valuable in our testing world too.


Let’s take a test case. One of the typical ones with plenty of steps and lots of detail. This is not uncommon, there are loads of teams still using highly scripted tests. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s the “norm”


There are several audiences for these test cases and if you are dishing these out to people simply ticking the boxes then the more detail the better. The fact that this approach is insane, wasteful and insulting to these testers is something best left to another blog post.


But give your scripted tests to a software tester and observe. Ask them for feedback too on the overall effectiveness of the test case. Here is what I believe you will find:


  • They will not follow the test case step by step
  • They will read the whole test case in advance to get the gist of it, to formulate an idea about the intentions of the test case
  • They will often make extra notes or areas to concentrate/focus on
  • They will often re-read this test case a few times to truly understand the intentions or expectations and to double check any missing prerequisites or knowledge
  • They will draw on all of their domain knowledge and experience
  • They will perform the testing but not as a step by step process. Instead they will tend to complete the whole test and revisit the test case to tick all of the boxes after, just to check they got everything asked for in the right way.
  • They will probably explore or diverge slightly from the test, but no so far that they don’t fulfill the intentions
  • They will mark the test case with edits, suggestions, ideas and improvements.
  • They will probably suggest several new test ideas too
  • They will note down observations which in turn often get fedback to the test case
  • But most importantly they will not be guided by a step by step process

These are just my own observations but I encourage you to study your own work and that of your colleagues. I suspect you will see the same thing.


And here’s the point. Don’t include the unneccessary, the verbose, the irrelevant, the obvious, the waste or the *skipped* detail. In ommiting this “fluff” you will probably end up with what I call “Guidance Level Tests” (it’s an old post on my old blog but the sentiment remains the same).


If testers are skipping sentences, ideas or sections because they are not needed or irrelevant or verbose – get rid of them. In the end you’ll end up with a checklist to guide, not a document to steer. And this moves the thinking to the tester running the test. And this is a powerful thing.

Lost in translation – a lesson learned at a hot dog stand – #agiletd

Image from : http://www.flickr.com/photos/bunchofpants/2946843497/sizes/z/in/photostream/

It seems there is inspiration for learning all around us. I’ve just got back to my room after a walk around the local area here at Agile Testing Days in Berlin. The location is excellent, despite being a distance from the airport, and the local area is just lovely. Lots of fabulous buildings and shops and tree lined streets. I’d left my memory card back in the laptop otherwise I’d have included some photos.

I’m one of these tourists that loves to sample the local food. I don’t see the point in being abroad and eating English food. It’s not like we’re known for our culinary delights anyway. So I decided to stop off at a wiener stand by the side of the road.

What followed can only be described as a “Lost in Translation” moment.

Me: Hallo

Vendor : Hallo. (Something else which I suspect was “what can I get you”, but cannot be sure as my German is very very bad)

Me: I’d like what the locals eat please.

Vendor: Ok.

He then proceeded to create the most creative looking “hot-dog” I’ve ever seen. His face told a thousand horrors as he randomly put bits of various stuff from the fridge in a tiny bread roll. He looked like a scientist trying different flavour combinations, each one accompanied by a frown and a suggestion that this might not taste so good.

With a look of sheer panic he placed the largest weiner I’ve ever seen in the tiny roll. Then added Ketchup and Mustard. Some more stuff from the fridge. He rolled his eyes, raised his eye brows and gave off more non-verbal clues that he really wasn’t sure about this thing.


It seems my request for something authentic and local had been Lost in Translation and since my German was so embarassingly bad neither of us had really got a good deal out of this.

He leaned over the counter and said:

“hmmm. I guess this is a German Hotdog” His eyes told a chilling truth though. Here was a man who’d created something he’d no doubtedly have nightmares about. I could see in his eyes that he was gutted. I too was apprehensive of this “German hot-dog”.


As it happens it was delicious but I suspect, not very authentic. The locals in the cafe were all incredibly amused by my lunch too. I think one or two took pity on me as they offered me kitchen roll and laughed heartily with (at?) me. They’d seen this epic failure on my behalf to communicate my requirements clearly and seen the resulting meal. I’d done everything I preach against doing. I’d failed to communicate my intentions clearly.

If only I had have brought a German Phrase book with me things could have been very different.


And so I learned a valuable lesson here today. Even with the best intentions in the world, communication breakdown is a reality and both parties can be dissatisfied with the final product. I should have learned some German for my trip or at least given the vendor something more substantial to go on.


This happens in the work place too, even when there is a common cultural language in use. Ideas and concepts get lost in a fog of misunderstanding and assumptions.


I think next time I venture out to taste the local cuisine I shall take a phrase book with me and try to clearly articulate my intentions in more detail. I can still see the vendors face now (who I learned was called Alios….I think). But I also tried to let him know how delicious it was, because it truly was amazing. And despite the fact his non-verbal communication suggested otherwise, I can’t help wonder whether he’ll add it to his menu as “The German Hotdog”.