Scraps, Information, Management and Notes

I’ve recently being giving a lot of thought to information scraps, notes and the outputs from my testing. I’ve been considering them a lot recently because I noticed something intriguing in the way I make notes. I don’t use just one system.

I have always tried to make notes in my “Testers Notebook”; a standard A4 hardback notebook from our stationary cupboard here at work. But then I noted that not all of my notes were always “work” or project related, so I ended up with another “everyday” notebook. At EuroSTAR 2010 I was introduced to Rapid Reporter, an awesome tool for making notes as I do my testing.

I am also partial to Evernote for checklists created before testing. I also use a Test Case management tool called Testuff to manage the teams testing, charters and labs. But then I often scribble stuff down on post-it notes or scraps of paper, or even the back of my hand.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

 

The intriguing thing for me was that I have no “one” specific place for all of my notes.

 

Add to this my blog ideas (also stored in Evernote), audio reminders of ideas and tasks (Evernote and my mobile phone), my to do lists (ToDoist and Pivotal Tracker), my project story information (Pivotal Tracker and a white board), photos of interesting things like whiteboard diagrams, design sketches or process ideas (post-its, phone, Evernote), cheat sheets (printed out and stuck on the window next to my desk), IP addresses, logons and domain information (secure password tool), test data (excel and simple tools), meeting notes (paper notepad).

There’s more for sure, but I know I’m not unique in this. I’ve observed it for many years with people I work with and there’s plenty of research on the web to suggest the same thing.

We often reach for the nearest thing to make a note, rather than seeking out our “planned” medium. We’ll do this even if we later have to transcribe the notes to our preferred system. Despite our best efforts we all probably think we’re more comprehensive with our notes and note taking mediums than we actually are. Which results in many sources of notes and information.

 

So here’s some mediums I’ve noted.

I sometimes use sticky pads or post-it notes for IP addresses, short terms notes like bug numbers or ideas. As a company we use them for tasks on our Kanban board. We often pass post-its to each other with ideas, notes or reminders written on them.

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It’s not uncommon to see people scribbling notes on their arm. The lowest tech note taker?

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We often take photos of whiteboards, diagrams and other sketches. I often take photos of products and technology in situ to support my unhealthy interest in Ethnography and tech in society.

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We store lots of information in defect reports.

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There are my trusty notepads. Now made redundant as I explore apps for my iPad. I’m sure I’ll return but I’ve essentially skipped the transcribe stage of my notetaking – the digitisation of my notes.

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I use my smart phone for taking photos, making quick notes and recording audio reminders and ideas. I use the Evernote for mobile app, but sometimes I’ll just jot in a text file on the phone.

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Every company should have a Wiki. Invaluable amount of domain and business specific knowledge stored in here.

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Who could forget books? I include digital books in this category also.

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Our test cases and test scripts will also contain invaluable information on our testing, our plans and our expectations of the testing.

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Of course we will have notes, ideas and tests on our computers. I have documents, spreadsheets, code, results, databases and a whole lot more on the computer.

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Social networks are becoming increasingly dominant in my testing. Communities like The Software Testing Club (Shameless Plug) are becoming a great place to source ideas and find people testing in a similar domain to myself. Twitter, Facebook and Blogs are also great sources of information and discussion playgrounds. LinkedIn (if you can stomach the spam and Best Practice pushers) is also useful. We have an internal Development blog also, which compliments the Wiki and provides a great interface for sharing learning and knowledge.

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I’d be far less productive in my idea generation without mindmaps. I know the whole team are starting to be intrigued by them too. There are plenty of people in the community using mind maps with great effect.

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Whiteboards and other “Information Radiators” are invaluable sources of information and knowledge that help guide my testing and my work.

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No doubt there are plenty of other sources of information I’ve missed but as you can see, things could get lost, missed or ignored when we are faced with a large number of information scraps. An interesting thing I’ve noted is that people with good note management need less “duplicate information”. What I mean by this is that they very rarely have to be communicated with twice about the same problem/idea/piece of data.

For example, a Tester who makes copious amounts of notes during a discussion is more likely (not always though) to need less repeated communication. I once worked with someone who made ZERO notes and constantly asked for IP addresses, advice on how to connect to Databases and other everyday activities. I know I sometimes do this too. Maybe it’s just stages of zero notetaking.

So why the blog?

Well, I’ve been exploring and attempting to build a couple of prototype systems. These systems, in a nutshell, vacuum up all of the potential data sources and present them in one unified system, complete with contextual information allowing quick searching and linking. I must admit though that my ideas outweigh my technical ability, but that’s not putting me off. I’ve been experimenting with the Exhibit framework to achieve my goal but I’m wondering whether existing tools like Evernote could achieve this goal too. Maybe Google+??? Now there’s an idea.

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Imagine though a system that could take in many different data sources (images, text, audio, social feeds, test case results, exploratory charter notes etc) and provide a simple, safe, secure and usable API or interface. At that point we could start to build a front end that suits your needs.  I could add my observations, videos, bugs, notes, tests, checks and any other ideas/thoughts in to the system and then search through all of these items. Maybe even build up a system of visualisation so I can communicate with others the levels of testng being done and outcomes.

Different levels of detail for the different audiences I need to communicate to. Everything related to your testing in one place. Searchable, extendable, shareable, secure, robust, trusted, reliable.

 

Maybe I’m imagining a pipedream. I know to some extent I am..but if I don’t share the idea I’ll never know whether it’s good or bad.

 

So here’s the thing.

 

1. Do you think it’s a good idea to combine all of these information scraps within your own notes or business?

2. How about globally so we can share test ideas and concepts?

3. And would you mind awfully filling in this survey on your information scraps to help me try to build a bigger picture of note taking amongst testers?

4 thoughts to “Scraps, Information, Management and Notes”

  1. Hi Rob,I used to have bits stored here, there, and everywhere. I starting using digital mind maps for this purpose though. I’m planning on providing examples of using mind maps as a knowledge repository at some point on my blog, so stay tuned.Thanks for sharing.Darren.

  2. It’s a really tough problem to solve. I think it’s important to organise and combine important information so that it’s easy to find again (by yourself or others), but organising it in that way can be really difficult. I use just about every note taking tool you mentioned in the post above, plus a few more. At work I’m currently in the process of trying to clean up my notes and work out a way to make information easier to find and maintain. I’m pushing for an internal wiki but it hasn’t really happened yet. As much as I love paper notes, I try to avoid them because they’re annoying to duplicate and update, and much more difficult to share. We also have notes in code comments and in chat room transcripts. There are scraps of information everywhere. Bruce McLeod and I were discussing a global testing information repository a few weeks ago. I think it’s a great idea.

  3. Hi Darren,Thanks for leaving a comment. I tried mind maps but they didn’t really work out for me. I love them for planning and brainstorming, but the process didn’t work for me when it came to storing permanent information. Me and my team are experimenting at the moment with using mind maps as one layer of test information visualisation. Letting us then have the ability to drill down to another mechanism of viewing the low level details. It’s in experimentation mode at the moment but the ideas are sounding like they could work out.Looking forward to your notes.Rob..

  4. Hi Trish,Thanks for commenting. It’s a tough problem to solve and I doubt there will be one universal mechanism that suits everyone. The problem is that each person uses a different record and recall process meaning universal systems for such a personal process are tricky to build. That’s not to say it’s impossible but as soon as the note taking reaches a bigger audience than myself it gets complicated.I’d be interested to hear what you and Bruce come up with on the topic. ThanksRob..

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