Professional Skeptics, Dispeller of Illusions and Questioner

Bear with me as a clear a few posts out of draft. This is my last one for a few weeks. Promise.


This one came about as response to James Bach’s excellent Open Lecture presentation. I took away a number of lessons from that lecture. (including the title – Professional Skeptics, Dispeller of Illusions and Questioner)


Off the back of that I decided to post some questions about “Testing the Spec” as an intriguing LinkedIn forum post got me thinking about why “Testing the Spec” is so common. “Testing the Spec” is where a Tester takes the spec and the system and then validates/verifies that the spec is correct. Yes, you read that correctly….that the spec is correct.

It got me thinking and asking a couple of questions:

  1. What benefits will you receive by testing the system against the spec?
  2. What don’t you know about the system? Will the spec help you?
  3. Do you have any other information sources or Oracles?
  4. Is the information sufficient? Or is it insufficient? Or redundant? Or contradictory?
  5. Would a system diagram suffice?
  6. At what point do you know you are complete? Once every page of the Spec has been “tested” – what about other parts of the system not covered by the spec?
  7. Have you seen a system like this before? Will it help you?
  8. Have you seen a slightly different system? Will it help you?
  9. Who has asked you to do this?
  10. What value do they see in you doing this?
  11. Does the spec accurately depict the system? (I guess this is what they were testing for….)
  12. Would it matter if the spec didn’t match the system? (which one would give you most value; the spec or the system?)
  13. Is it essential to bring the spec up-to-date to match the system?
  14. Will the spec tell you everything you need to know about the system under test?
  15. Would the spec tell you anything that the system wouldn’t?
  16. Do you know how out-of-date the spec is?
  17. Is the spec important as a communication medium? Or just something that gets produced?
  18. How would you communicate your findings? In Bug Reports? Or in a report?
  19. How would you know what was a bug and what wasn’t?
  20. Could the spec confuse you more than simply exploring the system?
  21. Are you using the spec as a crutch or a guide or an Oracle?
  22. How much of the unknown can you determine?
  23. Can you derive something useful from the information you have?
  24. Do you have enough information to model the system in your mind?
  25. Have you used all the information?
  26. Have you taken into account all essential notions in the problem?
  27. How can you visualise or report the results and progress?
  28. Can you see the result? How many different kinds of results can you see?
  29. How many different ways have you tried to solve the problem?
  30. What have others done in the past that might help?
  31. Where should you do your Testing?
  32. When should it be done and by whom?
  33. Who will be responsible for what?
  34. What milestones can best mark your progress?
  35. How will you know when you are successful?
  36. How will you know when you are done?

I’m not doubting the fact that testing a spec against a system is valuable. It *could* be the best thing you can do. But I would ask a lot of questions first. The system is always different to the spec, but in context, your spec could be used as the main reference point, so only you will know whether “Testing the Spec” is valuable for yourself.


I rattled out this list through a combination of the Phoenix Checklist but also after watching the very excellent video of James Bach doing an Open Lesson on Testing.


As with all things, I tend to sketch and draw as both a record of my thoughts, but also as a way of distilling some ideas. I read better in visuals so these rubbish doodles aid my learning and increase the chance I will revisit these points. You might struggle to see some of the text in the image but there are plenty of tools for opening images and zooming.


Note: The diagram is my take-aways from James’ lecture. There are many more lessons  which I’ve taken away earlier from James’ blogs and talks. I *may* have interpreted some things differently to how you would, or even how James intended, but they are my take-aways. I share them here just for completeness and urge you to watch the video

Please replace me, let me go

One of my favourite blogs ( carried an essay/article on humans and machines by Marina Gorbis. It’s a breezy article but makes some awesome points and each point Marina made rang true for what we are seeing in the Testing world.


Image courtesy of The Software Testing Club – The Automator “Tester Type”

Marina makes a point that machines are replacing the mechanistic jobs traditionally done by humans, which is allowing humans to concentrate on critical thinking and situational response and other “thinking” activities.

This is true in the Testing world where many people utilise machines to perform the jobs machines are good at, leaving the humans to do exploratory testing, critical thinking and creative endeavours.

I believe Michael Bolton summed this up perfectly when he made the critical distinction between Testing and Checking. Checking could be considered the mechanistic tasks, potentially best performed by a machine. Testing is the human task best performed by a….human.

Marina lists out a number of ways in which Machines are becoming included in everyday work. I’d like to briefly list her ideas out here and draw the parallel to what I see happening in the Testing world.

So what are machines good at?

Machines are awesome at repetitive, mechanistic tasks.
Those tasks that are mechanistic and repeatable. The tasks you do daily by rote are perfect for a machine.

If you can programmatically check something, aim at getting that code written.

So if you spend your day ticking boxes, checking hyperlinks work or simply clicking through the same User Interface over and over again, then you need to think about using a machine to do this.

Machines are awesome at doing the things humans cannot do.
You want to deliver 100,000 requests to a server at one go – Use a machine.

You want to check how well a device works in sub zero temperatures whilst being bombarded with Acid Rain – use a machine. (believe me, someone I know tests products in these conditions)

If you need to “test” something but it’s impossible for a human, then a machine could aid you in achieving your goal.

Machines are awesome at analysing complex data and applying rationality
A quote from Marina’s article :

“For centuries, economists have built models based on the assumption that humans behave as rational economic actors. But thanks to advances in neuroscience and behavioral economics, we’ve come to realize that humans aren’t good at thinking through probabilities and risks and making rational economic choices based on those probabilities. While we don’t want to use pure rationality when making moral or ethical decisions, more rationality would be helpful in situations such as when making financial decisions.”

Should we start using machines to aid us in decision making?

Could we start using machines to inform our decisions about what and where to focus testing? You don’t already?

How about using Pairwise tools to filter down your combinations?

How about using machines to number crunch previous system usage or bug counts to find high risk areas to test?

How about using machines to analyse performance metrics gathered from a Load Test?


Machines are awesome at doing tasks which are too large or too small
Those pesky tasks that are really small or really large could be completed by a machine.

Filling in compliance reports with test data.

Adding all of the change sets to the release notes.

Producing reports on Test Coverage and Results.

So what are humans good at?

Humans are awesome at Thinking
A quote from Marina’s article:

“Thinking and computation are different processes, and machines are not good at thinking”

So we have these machines that can do loads of cool things, but as of today, they cannot really think. Testing is a very human process as we aim to discover more about the system under test.

In order to understand more, we need to peel back layers to discover new insights. These insights require a human to think about them. To understand them. To respond to them. To base new Tests on them.

Humans are awesome at Social and emotional intelligence
Being able to connect to your domain and subject matter, in my opinion, leads to better software testing. I’m a firm believer that a Tester can do great testing in any domain and on any product, but I believe they will do awesome testing when they have an interest and an emotional connection to the product or systems they are testing.

When you are emotionally connected, at any level, I believe your senses are hightended and you become more channelled and focussed. As of today, there are some emotionally aware machines, but they are still in early development.

“Feeling is as complicated as thinking, if not more so, and just as the machines we’re building aren’t thinking machines, the emotional and social robots we’re building aren’t feeling machines—at least not yet.”

Without emotions how can you understand why your end user is finding the UI so frustrating?
How can you connect and build relationships with your colleagues and stakeholders?
How can you begin to understand the contexts in which your customers work?

Do your automated tests design themselves in this way?

Do they have an awareness of feelings?

Humans are awesome at creativity, intuition, and improvisation

A quote from Marina’s article:

“……. the comparative advantage of humans is in doing things spontaneously, responding to unique circumstances of the moment, and making decisions accordingly.”


Do your automated checks respond to a new error and design a new test on the fly?
Do your automated checks create a new hypothesis on spotting a path through the system not previously taken?
Do your automated checks make use of other tools (that you hadn’t told them to use) to test a new path of interest?

Replacing the Tester

A manual tester can be replaced by a machine. They absolutely can. But that wouldn’t be a good strategy if that Tester thinks, connects emotionally and in general, uses their skills, experiences and crucially, their brain.

So you were worried about your job being replaced by a machine? You should be if you do rote checking with no thinking, but not if you do Testing.

A great quote from the essay tells a better story than anything I could cobble together with tenous links and parallels.

There hasn’t yet been a technology that has resulted in our working less. This is because machines don’t just replace what we do, they change the nature of what we do: by extending our capabilities, they set new expectations for what’s possible and create new performance standards and needs.


Although I’m not so sure that sentence is absolutely true, look at how the unemployement rate went up when robots entered the car industry, it does offer a really interesting way to frame the use of machines; as amplifiers of our skills, abilities and approaches.

But does the risk of replacing menial, rote jobs mean we shouldn’t advance the use of machines and robots in more domains, like Testing? I’ll leave that for your own judgment and feelings but it’s clear machines are empowering many to achieve new heights of Testing ability.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from the article, which I would encourage you read.


“The combination of humans partnering with machines and using superior strategies opens up new worlds for exploration.”

The basement is much crowded, but there is plenty of room up-stairs

The other day someone sent me an email asking me how to stand out from the masses in the Testing world. I responded by suggesting they engage in the community, join groups that interest them, read about any other subject that interests them but isn’t directly considered a Testing information source and to start learning and practicing Testing.


Image courtesy of :

There was some quote or reference that was nagging me though which I felt would sum up this delima.

The following popped in to my head this morning at around 4am..I believe this was the quote I was searching for. It was from P.T.Barnum in his book “Art of Money Getting Or, Golden Rules for Making Money” which I think sums up a commonly held view about Testing. It is a conversation between two people.

“I have not yet decided which profession I will follow. Is your profession full?”

“The basement is much crowded, but there is plenty of room up-stairs,” was the witty and truthful reply.

As more people flood in to this industry we are seeing a devaluing of our role and are a-wash with testers, many of which appear to all have the same skillset.

I know there will always be a market for interchangeable test “resource” but believe me, many people I speak to are having serious problems recruiting good testers.

It’s not from a shortage of applicants, but more from a shortage of talent.

So as we see the “basement” being filled with even more testers, with an even more bewildering set of certifications and best practices I can’t help but wonder what people will start to do to differentiate themselves from the masses in the future.

Do you think our profession is getting full?

Do you think there is a lack of talent or are companies becoming more specific?

Do you think it’s a lack of talent, or an unwillingness to be open minded about Testing?

Do you agree that there is a shortage of excellent testers? (I know this is subjective)

How do you think Testers could start to make a difference to their skillsets?

Duplicate Post. Duplicate Post.

The other day I posted out a blog called Duplicate Conversation. It seemed to hit a chord with a few people, which was great and a number of tweets/emails/comments came in thanking me for some advice on how to deal with the duplicate conversations.

But I’m afraid to tell you I was wrong. That post was always going to be a lead post to a more complex series of posts on communication. As Michael Bolton rightly pointed out in a comment is that communication doesn’t take place unless the intended recipient is involved. 

And that’s why the last post is wrong. I mixed the words communication, message and conversations intentionally, but at a deeper understanding level, they are two different things.

The communication is not taking place more than once, because we are conversing with different people. Therefore it is a different communication thread, stream or session. In a sense, my last post technically talked about repeating the same “message”, not the same communication.

When we start to take the analysis down to a level below what most people typically care about we start to see some interesting, and sometimes complex, processes and influences taking place. I also need to tidy up the language use and start to label things in a more, dare I say it, academic, fashion.

It’s not my intention to do too much of this sort of “academic talk” here; I have those types of conversation in “communication groups” on different forums. They make my head spin, and I intend to keep this blog above that level of discussions…mostly. But I do feel it would be important to clarify a few things about the intended message of the last post.

I have very few teachers and lecturers that stand out from my formal education but one of the most respected and trusted was my Communications lecturer and all round Guru – Noel Williams. He described every communication as having a “Purpose and Audience”.

He is a fantastic thought leader and his knowledge and insight to communication studies opened my eyes to a whole world of research and influence. He described every communication process as having an audience and a purpose, whether we know about them or not, or care about them also.

I’ve recently started adding “context” to that too, as I believe the environment/device/emotional state when you receive the communication is also a major factor in the success of that communication.

And so when I write, I define my target audience and my purpose, and then I use the appropriate language (as I perceive it) to describe my thoughts. This works fine when I get my target audience right. When I have multiple audiences with different levels of expectation…well, this is a lot harder to get right.

But that’s what fascinate me about communication. There’s more to it than just putting some words together and transmitting then in a medium.

You only succeed in communicating a message when the intended audience receive and understand your message. So in my last post I talked about repeating the communication. Not strictly true. I was talking about repeating the message to different people. This forms different communication threads or instances.

To complicate matters further the message you send is also susceptible to noise. But even more importantly is the fact you have to encode that message in the first place. And guess what? The person receiving the message also has to decode that message.

With encoding, transmitting, noise, receiving and decoding, there’s an awful lot of potential for ambiguity, lost messages and incomplete meaning. Specs? Tests? Reports? Meetings? <– They all suffer from this problem.

Here’s a diagram I like to use to show communication at a simple flow level. It’s schramm’s Model of Communication..there are others.


When I mentioned that Key Stakeholders were not present in meetings and other people took away different meaning, I was talking about exactly the above. Michael rightly pointed out:

“If the key stakeholder wasn’t present, communicaton didn’t happen for him or her. Meanwhile, the people who take away different actions and conclusions do so because they believe that communication has happened, but they interpreted what you said differently from your interpretation, apparently.”

For sure, the right audience wasn’t there and the message you thought you communicated, either got lost, got altered through influences of noise or was simply decoded in different way, by different people. Michael is right, communication never really took place with the stakeholder; the person you actually needed to receive that message.

Even the above skips out loads of technical stuff and I’ve simplified it far too much still but I hope it clears up a little about communication. I’ll be exploring a few elements of communication and sociology over the next year as I start to build my learning in this areas in to Testing.

Work Experience and Work Placement

I’ve always tried to appreciate ‘context’ when I talk about Testing and also when I Test because ‘context’ is a very real thing. I’m an avid campaigner against Best Practices in Testing and I take every opportunity possible to question blatant “context unaware” statements about testing, especially so when they are communicated as “law”.

Yet it’s frightening how few Testers are ‘context aware’ when fine tuning ideas and talking about Testing. There may be many who never need to care about any other contexts or environments. There are some who know about other contexts but really don’t care. Then there are those who know about other contexts but don’t have a chance to explore any further than that.

Awareness is a good start. Appreciation is a further step. But what about actual “experience”?

Wouldn’t that be cool if you could “experience” another context for a number of days, maybe weeks or months? Experience first hand what it’s like to Test in this environment alien to yours, whilst you work alongside other testers who work in these contexts everyday? A kind of Tester swap?

Here’s why it *could* work.

  • Testers could gain a massive insight in to other contexts and other ways of working
  • Testers could gain experience working in contexts that they would never normally get to work in
  • Both sides would benefit. One side would get experience. The other side would get an extra set of hands, or some fresh eyes for a few days.
  • It would be a fun and interesting way of sharing knowledge
  • If you have a large company with many Test teams then it could work internally as some sort of exchange process. (Thanks to David, in the comments, for suggesting this one)

Here’s why it *might not* work

  • Confidentiality, privacy and the fact it’s a new (and potentially scary) idea for some
  • The costs involved. (Travel, accomodation, etc) <– or should this be self funded?
  • Regulatory (induction, health and safety, security compliance etc)
  • Logistics (self organised, run by a community like The Software Testing Club or ad-hoc?)
  • Some companies *could* take advantage of the scheme to get extra resource for a period of time
  • Lack of benefit from those placed if they get lumbered with sketchy jobs and checkbox testing
  • The system under test may be complex and/or complicated enough that a Tester may not have the chance in just a few days to add any real value. (Thanks to Kate, in the comments, for suggesting this) – I still believe the Tester would get to see another context, but the company offering them this opportunity may see little value..maybe.

No doubt I’ve missed some blindingly obvious pros and cons and I suspect a project like this would be bigger than I expect to get started….but it would be cool…right?

Sharpen your skills, volunteer some time

I often get asked about how people can improve their testing skills. Practice. Practice. Practice.

Well. Here goes. I have a favour to ask.


I do some sporadic and ad-hoc Testing outside of work for a super little non-profit company. I won’t drop their name in here but suffice to say they are doing some awesome things in developing nations in and around SMS/mobile and communications.

As such I’d like to essentially create a very small focus group of testers who can help to feedback more about the product. I’m talking two or three people. I’m really hoping that one day we could become a sustainable group able to donate a couple of hours per week on an on-going basis. But to start I think a set of eyes over the product from a Testing Point Of View could offer some great value.

This is a call for a few people to join me:

  • I’m looking for people who are passionate about testing and WANT to help an organisation who offer life changing software
  • I’m looking for people who want to do Exploratory Testing
  • I’m looking for people who are doing this out of the goodness of their heart and mind; not just wanting some kudos.
  • It would be handy if you could code….we’ll need a test harness I suspect.
  • It would be handy if you have experience of SMS, mobile and telecommunication, but not essential. You can learn right? 🙂
  • It would be handy if you could bring your experience to the group, share it and help to self organise the group.
  • You WILL need to spend a little bit of money each month on SMS/phone messages (unless we find a good emulator/harness/hub). This cost will not be covered by me or anyone else. It will need to come from your wallet/purse.
  • You WILL need a mobile phone that is compatible, or some time to see if any old ones you have are suitable. (these are very cheap on eBay)
  • You will need to be passionate about community projects and interested in how people in different countries/cultures might use tech for different purposes/reasons than originally intended.
  • You will need to be a good communicator as we may be working in different time zones and relying on chat/email for conversations/information.

As mentioned, there won’t be much publicity around what we do, so Kudos is not the name of the game. This is a genuine opportunity to learn more about mobile whilst testing a product for a not for profit. I believe we can help greatly as we aim to discover more about the product under test whilst also revealing more about our own skills, assumptions and test approaches.

If you are genuinely interested then please email me here:

volunteer (at) thesocialtester (dot) co (dot) uk

Just for clarity – there is no need to have a smart phone. The phones that work are typically the older phones.

Note: I may not be back in touch for a few weeks but I shall aim to return all serious requests.

Your Numbers Up

There comes a time when we all use numbers to represent some fact or information. These numbers *can* be highly effective at communicating your information.

number buttons


Image courtesy of :

These numbers could become the defacto representation of some outcome, fact or finding. These numbers could become the metric you make a decision by. These numbers could start to guide your day to day work.

At work, we use numbers like these all of the time. We use the project velocity. We use the number of open bugs. We use the number of tests that fail testing. We use a whole army of number to represent information like the top ten applets used in our system to the number of end user using a particular browser. We use them as indicators, not the law. They guide, not force.

It’s important to remember though that these numbers are just that. A number. It’s not the number that’s important, it’s how you feel about that number that matters <– I believe it was Michael Bolton I first saw using that phrase.

Sometimes I look at a number and wonder why I use it. Because I always have?

I’m no longer accepting that so I’ve dropped or changed a large number of metrics recently because they are no longer adding value.

Yet many people use numbers, with little meaning, to guide their testing, their releases, their company strategy.

Like my metrics and numbers, they may once have had meaning. They could once have been a way of locking down a fact, or a snippet of information or even a whole business process. Then our numbers grew. We collected more of them. The data got bigger. The variance even larger. They lost any symbolism they may have once held. They lost their context and no longer describe the idea or concept they once did. Time and business moved on and the numbers didn’t keep up.

But they have become the norm. They are the defacto number. They have not been re-factored, or re-worked or even questioned. So they still guide testing. They still inform key decisions. And the scary part, they may be wrong.

As Testers I believe it is our role to treat any metric or number with a little skepticism.  We should question it’s use or at least ask more about its meaning.

Duplicate Conversations. Duplicate Conversations.

In almost all places of work, there exists a level of wasted time and effort when communicating a message multiple times.

In almost all places of work, there exists a level of wasted time and effort when communicating a message multiple times.


These “duplicate conversations” are wasteful and ultimately take people away from the work they are trying to complete.


Close up on the pic 79/365 playing the Whisper Game

Image courtesy of :

We need to communicate to our “communication stakeholders” (team members, project, sales, marketing etc) but this communication should not need to be repeated multiple times.


Duplicate conversations can occur for a vast number of reasons, but often it is as simple as key communication stakeholders dropping by for updates. Only to be shortly followed by another stakeholder. And then another. Soon you find the whole morning has gone and all you have done is update people. This is especially so when the management style is to “manage by wandering around“.

Meeting are a ripe source of duplicate conversations, typically arising due to a key stakeholder not being present in the meeting or people taking away a different set of actions or conclusions from the other attendees.

Different teams working on the same problems can often result in duplicate conversations, especially when they aren’t talking to each other during the development and are both updating the stakeholders individually.

No designated “Panic Manager” or “Point of Contact” can result in the whole team being involved in a bug investigation when it could easily be dealt with by just one person.


Repeating the communication once is bad enough, but to repeat it several times is very trying.

Even worse is the predictable amount of panic these multiple conversations can cause. This is especially so when it reaches a person of “power” after travelling through a series of Chinese Whispers (other people repeating the same conversation but missing out details or adding in details not included in the original message).

It can sound like a full scale project meltdown by the time the last person in the chain hears about it. Emergency planning meetings are called. People are furious. You’re wondering what went wrong. Panic and flapping over nothing. A storm in a tea cup. A miscommunication.


Communication failures I believe cause an unprecedented amount of wasted time, unneccessary panic and general grief for all involved.


So what’s the solution?


Each situation will be different and there is unlikely to be any one single answer to any communication problem but what follows are a few suggestions.

1. Hold a daily stand up meeting (where applicable with team size) and encourage all members to be clear and accurate in their description of what they are working on, what they are blocked by and what they have completed.

A standup (like any meeting) is only valuable if people are going to actively communicate. Too much information and people switch off. Too little and you’re losing the value. And no, they aren’t exclusive to agile projects.


2. Take “minutes” in meetings with clearly defined Actions. Read the actions out at the end of the meeting to ensure everyone understood them and took on board those actions they were tasked with. Communicate the minute notes immediately after the meeting in your preferred format of communication.


3. Use information radiators (low tech boards or areas or pages used to communicate information). Make sure the information is simple and easy to understand. Making your information radiators tricky to read is no good. They need to communicate the correct information, to the correct audience with the least chance of noise creeping in or misunderstanding of the message.


4. Dedicate someone (or more than one person) from your team to be the main point of contact for issues, questions and panics. Issue do happen so it’s prudent to make sure you are set up to handle them in the most appropriate fashion to avoid distraction and interuption and also to ensure the best possible response to any customer issues.

It’s also incredibly expensive to have a large team investigating an issue, especially when that issue turns out not to be an issue.


5. Organise cross team meetings or standups or chat channels. Use whatever communication medium floats your boat to ensure different teams are talking to each other when working on the same area, or problem or feature set. It’s crucial to start the communication process and try to keep the channels open.

Otherwisey you could find you end up with a situation Melvin Conway was describing in Conways Law.


6. Fine tune your process. If you find yourself repeating the same message to multiple stakeholders then stop doing it and work on the cheapest and lowest tech solution to the problem.

In my experience, the more expensive, integrated and purpose built a software communication tool is (like Test Management Tool), the least likely it is to solve your problem.

You cannot beat face to face communication for gathering the non-verbal subtleties and clues, but if that’s not possible then what about a good information radiator like a status written on a white board?

Or a Chat Group where the discussions and outcomes are already audited and exportable for future reference?

Or a free wiki? Or a blog?

Look for the most cost effective way to solve the problem and keep iterating around the problem until it goes away.


However, none of the above will solve your communication problem if the right people aren’t kept in the loop and the people involved aren’t communicating the right messages.

This is a much harder problem to solve.






Game Storming and Testing

I’m reading an excellent book at the moment called “Game Storming” by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo.

It’s one of those books that’s given me a “lesson” or insight in every chapter.

In essence Game Storming is about generating new ideas and novel solutions. It’s a way of getting from Starting Point A to End Point B, where B is unknown or “Fuzzy”.

If the journey from A to B is quantified, mechanical, industrial, then a series of processes can be used.I guess you could call these Best Practices or Business Process. This is not what Game Storming is about. Game Storming is about exploring and journeying from A to B.

The authors talk about a Game World coming to fruition as:

  • Imagine the world
  • Create the world
  • Open the world
  • Explore the world
  • Close the world

A defined and repeatable game would just be:

  • Open the world
  • Explore the world
  • Close the world

I’m not doing the book justice in these brief descriptions. I’m just setting some context.

Every game has an opening, a game/exploration and a closing.

What’s this got to do with Testing?

Well I believe it has a lot to do with Testing, especially if you do a lot of Exploratory Testing and/or Problem Solving.

I urge you to read the book for it holds many insights, ideas and a much more detailed description of the elements of Game Storming.

The authors very kindly provide ten toolbox items to aid in designing Games. I’ve headlined the ten here, but again, the book actually offers exceptional descriptions and insights, which I’m not going to talk about here. Here’s the ten ideas with how I believe they relate to my (Exploratory) Testing.

1. Opening and Closing

In a nutshell Opening is about defining the Goals and Objectives. These should be tangible, emotionally connected to myself (i.e. in line with my motives and passions and skills) and have tangible outcomes (defects, further test ideas, information, videos, screenshots, notes).

The Opening part is Divergent. It’s where I list all of my ideas and thoughts about what to test. It’s about coming up with things to try, areas to explore and hypothesis about the system under test. It’s where I do a brain dump of ideas. It’s a melting pot of suggestions. Some good. Some bad. It’s the definition of the Charter.

Closing is the end part of the game. It’s where I pull all of my data together and define some actions, some further steps and some outcomes. It’s my Test Report at the end of the session. It’s the defects, further tests and other artefacts.

The Closing part is Convergent. It’s where I bring all of the information and insights together around the Goal and look at who to communicate these findings too, if necessary.

2. Fire Starting

Fire Starting is about igniting your mind and imagination to get those ideas flowing.

I typically use a Mind Map for this stage. The brain dump happens in the Mind Map. It’s a great medium for jotting ideas, diverging the ideas and linking topics together that traditionally have been kept separate.

I typically create a Mind Map during story kick off meetings; jotting down ideas, scenarios, questions, hunches and the different elements involved (performance, usability etc). I also use Mind Maps with an opening question to generate ideas. Something like “How many different ways are there to end a phone call?” or “How do Statistics cope when I transfer the call to multiple end points?” (I test Call Centre software).

3. Artefacts

These are the objects that hold information about my game (session). These include my original Mind Map of ideas, the test charters and notes, the videos I collect of the session, the defects and associated reports, the information I find and the conclusions I come to.

The mediums for these artefacts are not really important, but having an environment set up with all of these tools and mechanisms available instantly is essential. I don’t want to be breaking away from what I’m doing whilst I find a tool or medium to store the appropriate information.

The video recording is particularly useful as I branch off down new routes and ideas, feeding off the feedback that the system gives me. I have an end goal, which at times is Fuzzy, but the journey to the endpoint is important. It needs documenting.

4. Node Generation

The ideas that I create naturally tend to fall in to Nodes in the Mind Map. But a Node could be a container for post-it note ideas for example. A Mind Map naturally brings out the Nodes and associations, but as with all ideas generation, it could be that an idea sits under more than one Node.

Artefacts would also fall under the Nodes as I create further Test Ideas, Test Data and new information.

5. Meaningful Space

“It’s a way of framing any space to make the relationships within it more meaningful” A great example is given in the book about Chess. The pieces and players in a chess game are important but without the meaningful space of the board (grid) it makes no sense.

For me, the meaningful space when I create my Test Ideas is the Mind Map (or other medium for ideas generation). It could be a white board with stickies, or even an electronic system where each idea is deemed meaningful compared to other ideas, or customer reported defects, or business critical features etc.

When coming up with ideas you need to restrain your meaningful space to allow your creativity to flourish. This is especially so in bigger teams where a lack of restraint can take you miles away from your Goals. I still prefer a Mind Map for ideas generation, even in a collaborative team setting. The medium of Mind Maps seems to naturally create meaningful space.

Each day I view the meaningful space that is our Kanban board with our tickets and work on it. Take away the board and associated columns and it’s just a selection of stickies. The meaning comes from the columns and headers and how the stickies are located. A Test Idea on it’s own is valuable but combined in the meaningful space of a Test Lab or associated with other Test Ideas it can become ever more meaningful.

6. Sketching and Model Making

I work in pictures. I like to Visualise everything I’m brain/game storming. When I’m working with my Test Team or the Programmers I tend to draw pictures. Sometimes the drawing are very useful on their own as a piece of communication. Other times they would not work on their own as a single piece of communication, but they do aid in clearing my thinking allowing my verbal language to become clearer and more concise.

Here at work, when we talk about process flow or design or even deadlines we doodle, sketch or draw. We describe process ideas to each other in pictures. In fact, we even have a small selection of drawings that represent ideas and process.


Yes, that is a picture of some cats. No, it’s not a conveyor belt. And yes, we do have obsessions with Pie Charts.

We sketch out designs, relationships between components and user interaction. When I’m testing Call Centre flows I tend to draw pictures including people in them. This helps me see the flow of the calls more clearly. It allows me to use the image for guidance freeing my mind for further ideas and divergences. I can therefore see the flow and concentrate on other things.


Again, Mind Maps are diagrams that help to visualise the relationships between Test Ideas. I can mark Static Tests (Checks) and Exploratory Tests (Tests) easily on the Mind Maps so I know where we need to concentrate automated Checking and where Testing is needed. They form a natural Sketch of the ideas and work.

7. Randomness, Reversal and Reframing

If we look at the world in the same way, all of the time, we will develop a blinkered view, biases and consistent patterns that may generally serve us well. This is good for many circumstances, but when we are thinking of new Test Ideas and looking to diverge from the “Norm” it can help to reverse these views or reframe them. It tricks our mind in to thinking differently.

One of the ways I do this in an Agile environment is to look at the user story and reframe it.

We design stories like this:

As {Someone}
I want to do {Something}
So that I get some {Value}

What about reframing the story as {Someone} else?
Or mixing stories by combining the {Someone}, {Something} and {Value} from different stories?
Or how about thinking about all the other ways you could obtain {Value} without doing {Something} or doing something altogether different?

You’d be amazed at how many test ideas this can generate.


8. Improvisation

At first I disliked this suggestion in relation to Exploratory Testing because I didn’t deem testing to be improvised. Yet upon reflection and observing my own Testing I noted that I do improvise a lot. If I have a “hunch” I will use a tool to aid my testing. If the tool doesn’t exist I’ll try to make one or get some help from the Programmers.

I will react to new information at all times, plotting my journey as I go, always mindful of the end Goal or Charter. And I guess, you could call this improvisation, but I suspect it’s more exploration.

Yet I improvise with tools, note taking and ideas generation. Drawing a line between actual Exploratory Testing and Ideas Generation is a tough one for me, I think the ideas and the Testing combined is the true value for me.

Without good ideas I’ve always felt I’ve been left with Checks and not Tests. I’ve always felt like I’m confirming, rather than exploring.

9. Selection

As the authors point out “you can’t do everything” so a way to prioritise and select is required. When I list out my Exploratory Test ideas in a Mind Map I see patterns and groups starting to emerge; these could naturally be a selection criteria.

I believe in adopting a Wide Awareness Field which means opening my horizons to other elements of the business, the testing world and the subjects that interest me outside of work.

That’s why I try to find out what’s happening in Sales, Marketing, Support, Delivery and Operations at work.

  • Are we seeing some trending user patterns from sales enquiries?
  • Are we seeing a growing number of usability issues through support?
  • Are the delivery team seeing problems with providing excellent service?
  • Do we have an area of the product that consistently proves troublesome?
  • Have we had some changes in an area that would warrant more Testing?


There is something the authors call Forced Ranking where you are forced to put the ideas in an ordered list with each idea having a unique rank. This is exactly the same technique many people use managing their story flows and product backlog. A list of the things we want in the product, ranked with the most important at the top.

I’ve tried this with my Exploratory Testing, but I’ve not yet found the best mechanism for handling this. Pivotal Tracker is excellent, but I’ve not yet found the right flow with this tool with respect to Exploratory Tests.

I suspect that with a growing Test Team we’ll start adopting a white board and sticky note approach to make it all visible to the whole team and business.

10. Try something new

The authors suggest simply trying something new with each Game.

It’s something I try to do, whether that be a new Heuristic or Mnemonic or a new Testing tool. I may try a new User Scenario or a new browser, or simply just approach my testing at a different time of the day. It’s amazing how your mood and energy levels effect your Testing.

I like these ten points as a way to start generating new Test Ideas and Conditions, as well as giving me a basic set of tools to analyse how I play games and how I use some Game Storming techniques during my Testing. They seem like a great starting point and the book goes in to much more depth about what is a Game and how to manage your Games. I found lots to learn in the book. It gave me a lot of ideas for creating the right environment to let my creativity flow. So….

How do you generate Test Ideas?