Last week one of our team, Simon, ran a really fun session with the whole test team on our Exploratory Testing process.

We started by discussing some of the thinking that we’ve identified happens when we plan exploratory testing sessions. We talked through a diagram we created a few years back, and although it’s pretty accurate in identifying some high level ideas of our Exploratory Testing process, it’s by no means complete, but it served it’s purpose as an aid to explaining.

Once we’d been through the diagram Simon introduced the team to one of my favourite games that explores creative thinking.

It’s a common game where people are asked to come up with as many uses they can find for an item.

It’s a really good way of understanding how people think up ideas, how diverse the thinking is within our group and it’s also a good way of injecting some discussions and banter in to our session.

Simon gave the group 5 minutes to write their ideas on post-it notes. The item of choice today was a “brick”.

We then affinity mapped them in to rough categories on the white board and discussed a little around each category as a group.

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We then discussed the process of how people came up with their ideas.

It’s always tricky analyzing your own thinking, especially so in retrospect, but we did spot a couple of patterns emerging.

Firstly, whether consciously or not, we all envisioned a brick and started from this image we’d constructed. As it turned out we’d all thought of a standard house brick; some people saw in their minds the one with holes in it, others the bricks with a recess. Either way we started with the standard form of a typical house brick (here in England).

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Here’s where we appeared to head off in slightly different thinking ways. After writing down all of the basic ideas that a brick is used for (building stuff, throwing at things, weighing things down) we started to head off in the following three directions:

  1. Thinking of other sizes, shapes and forms that a brick could take
  2. Thinking of different contexts and locations that a brick could be used in it’s original form (outside of those we naturally thought of straight away)
  3. Thinking of everyday objects that we could replace with a brick.

For example:

  • We could grinding the brick down to create sand
  • Use the brick as book ends
  • Take the brick to a philosopher (and/or someone who had never seen a brick before) and try to explain what it was used for
  • Use the brick as a house for small animals, insects and little people
  • Use the holes in the brick as a spaghetti measurer
  • Putting the brick in a toilet cistern to save water
  • Projectile missile and other weapons
  • Use it to draw right angles
  • Use it as a paperweight
  • Use it as a booster seat in a car
  • Use it as a holder for fireworks
  • Use it as a bird bath.

And many, many more.

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As you can see we explored a number of uses and we created a decent amount of categories in which a brick would fit.

What was most important though was that we all took time to reflect on where our ideas were coming from.

We also noted that not all of clearly think in the same fashion. Some people remained true to the form and shape of a brick but explored different contexts.

Others ignored the standard shape of a brick and explored different elements and uses of the materials within a brick.

This realisation that we all think differently about something as simple as a brick triggered some further discussions about how we come up with ideas for testing our new features.

It ultimately lead to us to concluding that it would make sense to pair with others during and after our story kick off meeting. It might generate a broader and deeper set of test ideas. It might not. We’ll have to experiment.

For now though we’re running with two testers attending story chats followed by a brainstorming and ideas exchange meeting. We decided it would make sense to not do the brainstorming in the story chat as that will sidetrack the purpose of that meeting, but we will be sharing our wider test ideas with the team as well as writing acceptance tests in SpecFlow for static checks.

Let’s see how it goes.

It was a really good session and we took away a direct change we could try. It’s good to get the team together every week to chat through the ways we are working, thinking and solving tricky testing problems.

2 Thoughts on “What can you do with a brick?

  1. James Christie on 29/01/2013 at 10:26 am said:

    This ties in with my current thinking about links between testing and auditing. Script based testers and traditional controls based auditors think in terms of how things should be used. Exploratory testers and modern risk based auditors think about how things could be used, i.e. never mind what is desirable; what is possible?
    The script driven tester thinks; “what tests should I write for using this brick to build a nice house?”
    The traditional controls based auditor thinks; “how can I be sure no-one will pinch a brick while the house is being built?”
    The risk based auditor wonders; “could someone whack the cashier over the head with the brick and leg it with the money? Is that significant?”
    Oh, and the exploratory tester gets busy with a flurry of post-its!

    • Rob on 29/01/2013 at 7:19 pm said:

      Hi James – thanks for commenting.

      I’d never thought of this concept being applicable to the risk based auditing but it makes a nice example. I think that’s the problem I’ve always had with the regulatory environments – they’ve always seemed to be very narrowly focused on the product and it’s expected/intended use. I always wanted to push the boundaries and explore the real use of the system – the product/person hacks so to speak – and the auditors I worked with were never interested in that.

      Great to see the connections between testing and auditing though and how the boundaries can be pushed by thinking about “what’s possible?”.

      Thanks for the comment.

      Rob

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