Monday, 23 January 2017

Mushroom-picking heuristic

Imagine this: You are in a forest and you are trying to find juicy mushrooms. You'd like to find some porcini, black chanterelle, maybe some yellow bearded milk-cap. Edible mushrooms nonetheless. Before you go, do you need something? Perhaps the following:

  • the calendar which shows different mushroom appearance into your local forest (not too close to habitat because mushrooms ingest heavy metals)
  • maybe some research on what the mushrooms look like that you are trying to find (also pictures thereof so you don't pick something poisonous that looks vaguely like edible mushrooms)
  • some knowledge on how to pick mushrooms (pick them up intact and one piece either by twisting or pulling)
  • maybe choose the weather when you go mushroom-picking (the mushrooms should be rather dry when being picked up)
  • prepare the mushrooms as soon possible (remove sand, pine needles, moss, etc)
  • use proper tools (a knife, a brush, a basket instead of a plastic bag)

These are things that you might want to consider when going out for mushrooms. Now, these are all preparatory things, bits of knowledge you might want to have before actually going to the forest. Obviously you can go without knowing these things, but you may end up with no mushrooms or worst case poisonous bastards like amanita or cortinars. The trip to the woods might have been productive nonetheless - you got fresh air and some exercise, maybe you had a good chat with a fellow mushroom-picker. Not all unprepared trips are totally worthless, but you need some preparations to achieve good results.

How does this translate to testing? You prepare yourself to the testing task by doing almost same things you do when you go mushroom-picking. Like so:

  • You check the schedule for the most convenient time to do specific kind of testing. (In January you might want to ice-skating instead of mushroom-picking, which might still be fun.) If you're doing usability testing, you might want to choose a time when there is something someone can actually use. When doing penetration testing you might want to pick a time when there is something to penetrate. Cuz if you choose the timing badly you might not achieve the best results. Also checking the schedule gives you clues on how to time-box the testing.
  • You might want to research the subject of testing. What should you be looking for, what things you expect to discover, what are the risks that are already known. Perhaps you want to learn more by exploring the product, by trying things, playing and clicking around, banging the keyboard with a shoe. You might have pictures of the GUI or architecture schematics, maybe a person to help you go about the product. Like mushroom-picking, you can stumble on interesting things, but to recognize the important, the critical, the alarming stuff you might need to do some research.
  • You might need knowledge on how to do software testing. By clicking around without a purpose might not be good testing. A good tester has a skillset that she utilizes to perform good testing. It is also important to know the domain, how to perform testing in that particular product/domain/service.
  • Choose the weather when you go testing... Urhm... Testability and configuration, choose the best starting conditions, datasets, timeslots, loads, etc. to achieve the best testing performance and to find interesting things. You might want to do testing when the backend is performing poorly or the network connections are bad. Maybe choose a dataset that is production like or maybe it should be a fuzzing test to generate weird data to the APIs.
  • Prepare your mushrooms. Deliverables! You should take notes on your testing performance. This is to help you steer your testing, generate ideas that couldn't yet be executed, dot down risks and bugs you find. You can then explain to other people what you did, why you chose to do specific tests and checks, what did you find. If needed, prepare a useful report on the testing you did.
  • Use proper tools. Testing is about using tools, obviously. Most important tool is your brain! Use it. Also use tools to help do things that are difficult or time-consuming, keep your concentration while testing. Use scripts when they are useful, record your screen, have quick note taking equipment. Use other people! Two brains are sometimes better than just one... A person can be a tool!

(This is not comprehensive list in any case. You might want to take other context variables into account to achieve the best result when you actually go testing.)

I'm now in the woods with my wellies on, my trusty 'shroom-basket, a J. Marttiini mushroom knife, and a backpack willed with sandwiches, a “Book of Mushroom and Black Magick”, coffee and some chocolate. Maybe a map, a compass, some survival gear if I get lost in the woods. I want to be prepared and tooled up. How the hell do I find those mushrooms?

This is where a Lévy Flight heuristic kicks in (a heuristic mentioned by James Bach at CAST 2014). It is an algorithm by which animals (and humans) go foraging. "When defined as a walk in a space of dimension greater than one, the steps made are in isotropic random directions." says Wikipedia. Essentially doing something in one spot until you move to other area to do something there. So, I stand on the road and head to the woods. I try to look for sweet spots in the woods, like decaying fallen trees, dry mossy areas under pines or furs. If I have dome my preparations correctly I look for these areas and I might know where to find them. So I start roaming in the woods and stumble on an area that has something interesting. A fallen tree! Yay! Maybe I'll find some black chanterelle there. So I look closely at the area and spend time there, perhaps picking some mushrooms or just scouting the area for clues where I might find some. After a while I head to a new location keeping in mind where I am in the forest.

So I move around the wooded area in a pattern that tries to achieve the best coverage of the important areas. The pattern might seem random, but I have a mission which I am trying to fulfill with the choices of direction to wander. When I am halfway on my walk, I might want to go towards the road so I don't end up too far when the sun goes down. I spend time on areas that are either rich in mushrooms or interesting places in themselves. Maybe I learn something while scouting for porcini, something about birds or types of moss I tread on. Maybe I note down areas that have some other mushroom that I am not intending to pick (you don't want to mix mushrooms in the same basket - I don't know why...). I take mental notes, maybe write stuff down, mark places on my map. All the while trying to achieve a goal I set for myself before I went foraging. On my way back I stumble on an abandoned building. Cool! I might take a look inside and maybe I find something interesting. Maybe an old newspaper or a book? I might spend time there even though I was set out to pick mushrooms. This is interesting new place and I want to know more of it. So I deviate from my initial mission and investigate the building. It's apparently someone's old home and its walls have sunken in to the ground. Maybe the architecture of the pre-WW2 era interests me, maybe the newspaper has some information from the "ye olde times". Maybe the book has a letter tucked in between the pages. I allow myself to deviate because this might be more important than mushroom-picking.

Back to the testing world. The woods turn into APIs, GUIs and code. The moss becomes the date on which I tread on. The mushrooms... They're not bugs, if that's what you thought. Mushrooms are information, relevant information. It can be about a behavior that is annoying the user, an error message in the wrong place, a risk that needs to be communicated to the stakeholders. There might be bugs, but there is so much more. The you go foraging in the software you can apply the Lévy Flight  heuristic either by accident or purposefully. It is called focusing and de-focusing. You focus on some area to find interesting things for some time. Then you move to other area. If the area you first stumble upon is hugely rich in things waiting to be discovered, you might spend most of your time there. Or you might just stop there briefly and look for more important things to discover.

You start with a mission and you head out to accomplish that mission. You take notes and notice things. You investigate things that look and feel important. You forage information on the product under test.

Here's a scenario that might give clues to choosing mission for your foraging.  On Monday you wonder if you should go picking mushrooms. It's a fine day, but instead of going head first into woods you barely know, you go investigate. You take your dog with you and go scouting the forest. You find a batch of blueberries and eat a few. Oh, they're so nice! The dog, Rover, eats some also. On Tuesday it rains. Bummer! So you decide to go to a shop and buy some equipment for the trip as soon as the rain stops. You decide to get a basket that has compartments for different mushrooms. You didn't even think of it before talking to the shop keeper who's apparently an expert on the matter of picking mushrooms. Great find! On Wednesday you are called to the office for an important meeting. A nice, sunny day wasted in meeting.  No time for foraging today. On Thursday you get your gear, your dog and head out to woods. You check the sweet spots you discovered on Monday and pick delicious mushrooms and even some blueberries. On Friday you make delicious mushroom stew with some potatoes and carrots. Then, to top it off, you make a blueberry pie. All the recipes for these you checked online but used your own twist to make them your signature dishes. A perfect way to start a weekend.

To sum it up, Mushroom-picking heuristic is a two-fold heuristic:
- First it is a preparation heuristic. It helps you create a mind model that allows you to plan for the up-and-coming testing session, testing phases, etc. To an acceptance testing session one might prepare differently than to a security testing phase. Nonetheless testing needs preparation and a good way to tackle the preparation is the Mushroom-picking heuristic. You should make the preparing heuristics to match your own context. Think of tools, background knowledge (oracles), time-frames and constraints, people attending the sessions, bug reporting procedures, facilities, etc.
- Second it is a testing management - a steering heuristic. It helps you move from one focus area to another. Focusing and de-focusing is one aspect. With note-taking you can keep track on the areas you have covered and to remind if there's need to return that area. Keep in mind the Stopping-heuristics so you won't get stuck too much in one area.

The Mushroom-picking heuristic is not comprehensive nor should it be. It is a model that might work or you may find it useless. Perhaps you might try it and give me feedback on how it worked and how I should improve it. It is a work in progress.

Have a tasty spring!

- Pastori

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

"Thinking like a tester" workshop

As I have mentioned before, we have this round of workshops under the concept of Testing Tuesday. I have already covered two of the latest workshops as blogposts. This one is an attempt to cover the first of the seven, a workshop called "Thinking like a tester".

Why did we talk about thinking?

I like to think that there is no testing without thinking. If thinking isn't involved, it is not testing. Machine doesn't think, thus it just checks. Human challenges, observes, infers, models, etc. all the time while looking at a test object. A human tester thinks. That is why we need to practice different ways of thinking. It's like exercising a muscle, but the muscle is our brains.

There are number of different ways to think, many of them overlapping, and we should try to perfect those skills. It is valuable to recognize different patterns of thinking to be better able to solve problems. Testing is essentially problem solving, since we try to notice things and then afterwards try to figure out if this observation might be an issue. By having multiple tools in our tool box we don't have to rely on just one way of thinking ("When you have a hammer, all you see is nails.") and that makes solving the problem much easier.

My goal with this workshop was to introduce a few different mechanics of thinking to the audience and have them use that mechanic to perform an exercise.

What did we cover?

We were able to cover three exercises. The first two exercises were borrowed from improvisational theater. The first one was "reinvent the wheel".

I split people into groups and gave them the assignment to create a method for transportation. The only things given to them were the fact that the context in which they were supposed to solve the problem didn't have a wheel yet. They weren't supposed to create the wheel but create an alternative, as effective method of transportation. The thing was a bit difficult since I told them to start every sentence in their brainstorming with "Yes, but". This was an effort to make people challenge the already agreed.

People started to do the exercise but it seems that they didn't fully see the point of that exercise. My attempt was to make people challenge the assumptions and the ideas already on the table, thus making it an exercise in critical thinking. I might have missed the mark slightly, but people did have fun. I noticed that people required a leader in their group and some catalyst to provoke the challenging. I visited the groups and challenged their ideas by asking a question and then replying to their answer with a "yes, but" phrase. That stirred the pot slightly. I believe it became an exercise on team dynamics more than thinking patterns.

After 10 minutes we debriefed the ideas they came up with and moved on to the next task, "Reinvent storing".

Once again people worked in groups. The task was to invent a method to store things without using shelves or stacking things on top of each other. They once again had two facts about the context: There was no concept of shelves or stacking, and they had to begin an idea by saying "Yes, and". This was supposed to be an exercise on creative thinking, finding new ideas based on the old ideas, accepting what is already decided and building on that.

The task was more fluent than the first one and it spurred some crazy contraptions to store items, from pulley-operated platforms to portable black holes. There was certainly creativity in the air! Once again I felt that the exercise fell a bit short, and people did have questions on how they related to testing.

The third exercise was a bit shorter because it took so long a time to debrief the first two tasks. The third one was an exercise on lateral thinking. I explained it on a broad level, then I gave them a problem which they were to solve using lateral thinking.

The story was something like this: There is a merchant who owes money to an evil man who is in love with the merchant's daughter. The merchant can't pay the dept. The evil man proposes a wager. He puts a white and a black stone into a pouch. If he pulls out a white stone, the debt is forgotten. If he pulls out a black stone, the debt is paid in full AND the daughter is forced to marry the evil man. There seems to be a 50/50 chance. However, the evil man changes the white stone into another black one.

I asked the groups how would they solve the problem so that none of the participants lose their face (i.e. is revealed as a liar, is forced to marry, gets killed, etc.). The task was once again pretty difficult since the premise was so vague. I then had to answer a lot of clarifying questions about the problem before groups could actually start working on their solutions. They managed to think outside the box on many occasions. The ideas were quite feasible, I think.

What was the most valuable thing to me?

Having done three exercises on thinking, I realized that it was just a scratch of the surface. I thought I had time to do a "Thinking fast/slow" exercise but everything went by so fast. The essential thing might have been just having fun with my coworkers, making them do something out of the ordinary, promoting testing as a thinking activity as opposed to a technical task that creates test cases run on some virtual server.

The tasks were obviously quite difficult, but it gave a good ground work for the next workshops. The people were the essence, not me blabbering in the front (although I like that also). The more workshops I held, the more attendee driven it became. I facilitated, they provided the material.

What would I do next?

Since there will be another "tour" for the Testing Tuesday, I will refine this workshop. I will explain in more detail what the task is and arrange more time on people to explain what the connections to testing could be. Instead of making it a lecture I give the mic to the attendees on why would it be important to think. Maybe I'll try to add some other thinking exercises, like "Think like a freak" and the "Thinking fast/slow".

I am thinking on doing a blogpost on the lateral thinking, since I find it really important skill. I believe few of my community colleagues have already done that, so I might have to take a different approach on that. We'll see.

Anyhow, this was the workshop on Testing Thinking. If something wasn't clear or you have ideas how to make the workshop better, drop me a comment.

- Peksi

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Testing technique workshop

The last part of the Testing Tuesday’s “Test Pistols Tour” was a workshop about testing techniques. The original plan was to have a list of techniques and then exercise to learn those techniques. The scheduling caused us to change our approach because we had no time to create environments for exercises.

So, I turned to the community.

When I dragged my but to the conference room I was expecting just a handful of people, 3 or 4, but eventually we had 7 people. I think there was a bit of a tour fatigue in the air, since this was the seventh workshop. I had seven brave soldiers at the meeting room.

“I have changed the rules!” I said. “I ain’t gonna tell you about testing techniques. You’re gonna tell me about testing techniques.”

Now the plan was the following: Pair people up, make them test something and describe their testing. Then discuss what kind of a problem they were trying to solve with their chosen approach. Sounds simple enough. I was a bit uncertain if people could describe their testing to a level from which I could derive a technique. The challenge was thrown.

I told them to open Word. The assignment was to test the “Find and replace” functionality and describe to you pair what you did and why. I asked some questions from the teams during the 10 minutes of testing we did and made them focus on actually telling why they chose to do something. After the ten minutes, we started talking about how the testing was done. These are the key points we came up.

Hot-key testing

The first team started to describe what they did by explaining how they searched for the functionality. They were trying to find different ways to access the functionality. They found out that on different operating systems the hot keys vary. More so, the hot keys are customizable thus enabling different combinations. “Ctrl+F” was the easiest way to find the function, because it happens to be the same on many other software also (comparable product and familiarity to user). On Mac there wasn’t a “Ctrl+F” so the hot key was a bit difficult to find.

Based on their approach to using the hot keys we gathered that the technique can be used on many Windows based software (and why not Mac based, but I don’t have the experience to use hot keys quite yet). The commonly known hot keys like “Ctrl+C / V / X / Z“ etc. are quite easy to test. The tests are quick and cheap, very generic thus making the technique quite useful.

Premise variance testing

When the group was trying to find different ways of accessing the functionality (hot keys, context menus, sidebars, ribbons, etc.) I asked if it changes the behavior of the functionality when you access it from different origin points. If you change the premise, can the functionality change?

We started to think if we could apply it to various other solutions and products, and we came up with “premise variance testing”. When one changes the premise condition to a function, there might be changes in the behavior. This kind of technique can be derived also into a “step variance testing” where you mutate a single or many elements within the process.

Help testing

When one team was trying to figure out how the function worked, they pulled up the manual. The help can be quite simple for experienced user but it acts as an oracle on many occasions. During help testing one can testing the help itself against the product and test the product against the help. In either case, one acts as the test object and the other as the oracle.

This technique could be derived into all kinds of oracle material testing. We can test against oracles that are used by various stakeholders, e.g. requirements or design documentation. We test the product and ask “is this ok?” and we then try to solve the problem by referring to the oracle. We might have an oracle (e.g. human oracle telling how it should work) and then test the other oracle based on the new knowledge (the human oracle disputes the written document). The “Help testing” might become “Oracle testing”, but the name doesn’t give me good vibes. ;) A help could actually be any material that helps us do testing.

Data roundtrip testing

A team was testing replacing a word with gibberish and then replacing that back to the original value (“Pekka” -> “ASDFGH” -> “Pekka”) and they wanted to know if the same amount of entries are changed. So basically the idea was to revert the original data without actually reverting the state. Mathematically I think this is called “inverse function”. First we apply the normal function followed by the inverse function. Roundtrip actually means that you return to where you started from.

We had a discussion if the “roundtrip testing” is actually a generic thing that can be done to a state also. It is possible to revert the system to previous state without any information whatsoever about the state that was visited. This might actually be a problem in itself, but we chose to narrow our testing technique to mere data.

Minimum data

We did find some testing ideas while describing techniques and I think this was worth mentioning. A team wanted to test with as little data as possible. That is a one variable of premise variance testing where we solely focus on varying the data instead of the states. This testing can be the defaults form testing, testing without any inputs (NULL, n/a, whitespaces, etc.), removing metadata, etc. and it can find bugs in the exception handling logic.


All in all, the testing techniques we found have already been described in other sources, but these made sense to us and felt important. The terms are more tangible than “product tours” or some techniques found in books. We defined the terms and we learned how to describe them in a language that suits our context.

I know that at least the premise variance testing stuck. I have used it a few times now to describe what I do. It makes sense to repeat this exercise again with a different depth. Then uncover new, undescribed techniques and make them part of our tool box. After there has been a handful of these sessions, we might have enough skills to describe our testing to any stakeholder in a language we share and understand.

Sadly that was the last of the Testing Tuesday workshops on this tour. There will be another tour in Helsinki, and I shall write up as much as possible from those sessions.

- Peksi

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What happens when a wannabe rockstar does a lightning talk?

"Are you f***ing ready to rock?!"
The crowd is wild. The stage is lit. The announcer get on the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready for the coolest rockstar in the world?" The crowd roars its approval.

"Are you f***ing ready to rock?" The crowd goes wild...

Ok. That's not how it happened for me. That is what I wanted to happen, when I did my lightning talk at the Nordic Testing Days 2015. Actually, it went something like this:

Helena Jeret-Mäe get's on the stage. "Next we have Pekka Marjamäki on the topic of Testing Tuesday", she says. Then I get up from the floor and walk in front of the room full of people. I have my hat full of badges, my Superman t-shirt, suspenders handing down, all cool and ready to rock the place.

"OK, people!" I start my performance. I divide the room into two groups. "The group on this side shouts 'TES' and the group on this side shouts 'TING'. Ready? Tes-ting! Tes-ting!"

The crowd starts shouting. They shout "testing". "Louder!" I shout. The room is roaring for a minute or so! Then at it's peak, I silence the crowd and start my talk on Testing Tuesday.

Testing Tuesday doesn't sound that weird. It is a concept me and my colleague Petri Sirkkala from Solita came up with. It spawned from a need to teach testing at my company. I will explain how it goes in detail (accompanied with a video, perhaps) in a later post. In the Nordic Testing Days 2015 I briefly introduced the concept. It is 7 weeks every Tuesday, each week having a workshop of it's own and helping our colleagues with their testing problems. The most recent blog post is a write-up of the 6th Testing Tuesday workshop. Apart from actually helping people test, strange things happen during the Testing Tuesdays, e.g. us two testing dudes walking around the office shouting "Testing Tuesday" and playing Sex Pistols from an old cassette player, or posting testing problems on a white board in the hallway.

The main goal of Testing Tuesday is to promote testing and to sow seeds of interest into people who aren't yet that much into testing. The second goal would be to help people in their testing related challenges. The third one is to have fun.

I think my objective at the Lightning talk was to convey the energy and enthusiasm we pour into the Testing Tuesday. The attitude to fight against poor practices, the bravery to stand up and challenge, the eagerness to improve. Honestly I can't remember what I actually said during the talk, I had so much fun. I do believe that people got the key points out of my talk.

Be open about your passion towards testing.
Share knowledge and help others.
Be brave and have fun.

"We want more! We want more!" The crowd shouted after my talk... At least I wanted it to. Alas, it didn't...

- Peksi

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Bug handling workshop

I am running a thing called "Testing Tuesday" at the office. The concept is simple: Sanctify Tuesdays to software testing. This comes in form of helping project teams to test by helping them solve their testing related problems, promoting testing in every possible way. And to top it all, an hour workshop on some testing related topic. I will do a proper write-up on the subject later, but I wanted to share the coolest thing that happened during the 6th (out of 7) Testing Tuesday. The topic was "Bug handling" and the results were really awesome!

A week before this workshop we had a testing oracle related workshop, which I then promoted on twitter. I had classified three bugs and I mentioned those in my tweet. I then had a tweet exchange with Michael Bolton about classification.

That discussion made me want to redefine my Bug handling workshop, since I saw that people I work with, me included, might have quite a different approach to handling the observation we make and receive about the product we work with. So after talking to Michael on Skype I decided to do the following:

Have people define a bug handling process from the very beginning to the very end. Then plot it out, draw diagrams, etc. to explain it. Then focus on the difficult parts and try to enhance the process.

So we started by defining where does "bug handling" start. I started by saying that it starts from the moment there is code, but I was corrected. Bug handling, or observation handling, starts with the first indication or deliverable of work. That might be the requirements documentation, project plan, or whatever tool that is used to run the project. It can be unwritten requirements. It can even be an idea! From the very beginning we start testing and observing the subject. It is those observations that might require handling.

Based on the purpose and the need, we define the way we report, write down, take notes, etc. If we are talking about testing ideas, the observations could be about the idea or the repercussions thereof as statements voiced out. When testing a software, observation may be something you see, hear or feel, that you write down or record. A bug report is a description of your observation, which is then used in various ways to help understand the observation.

"Observation is the active acquisition of information from a primary source. In living beings, observation employs the senses. In science, observation can also involve the recording of data via the use of instruments. The term may also refer to any data collected during the scientific activity." - Wikipedia (Observation)

It is these observations that we then start to analyze. It can be done in many ways. An observation as a bug report can then be inspected to its validity. Analysis might require communication with the stakeholders, tools, classification algorithms, etc. It is these actions that we employ to analyze the observation. It can be a snap decision or statistical analysis. Whatever is done during the analysis, there is an outcome. The outcome might be to trash the bug report, invalidate the observation, classification of the issue, pigeon holing an inference, describing a behavior in a more concise way, etc. Analysis creates something out of the observation.

Based on the analysis, there might be an action to deal with the observation. It can be a change in code, adding something to a document, building a new tool, fixing a leaking pipe, redefining an argument, etc. There might not be any actions towards the original subject of observation, but perhaps to the process with which we test and challenge. There might even be some actions to make the observation or the analysis different. Maybe a process improvement, learning a new skill, etc. Actions might require on the sub processes and further actions. In the end, however there is a follow up on the actions.

The follow up usually happens after the action. The follow up depends on the observation in a sense that there might be a need to reconstruct the situation in which the observation happened. There might be a need to refer to the earlier version of the subject under test. There might have even been a shift on the subject based on the analysis. And the action itself dictates the follow-up and the magnitude and the nature of it. The follow-up might require regression testing on a bug finding, another round of reviews, rerunning the test automation suite, rethinking, etc.

These four basic action became the guiding principle in all our testing processes.

Observation - Analysis - Action - Follow-up

But it wasn't enough. Every single bit of these actions required supporting activities. Observation required note taking, testing skills, tools, etc. Analysis requires processes, practices, domain knowledge, etc. During our workshop discussion I picked up some key words that were used. I then generated two clouds: The core activities & the supporting activities. The core activities are not enough on their own. The context states what kind of supporting activities are needed to make the core valuable. The supporting activities are of no value without the core, but the core loses value without any supporting activities.

Here are some of the things we came up.

Like I mentioned, all this is useless without the context. Every scenario requires a context that states the most useful way to approach the "bug" handling. Pair review requires different supporting activities than Beta testing, but they both have the core activities. The tools that are used might differ: you can use post-its, JIRA, QC, email, surveypal, etc. to communicate your observations. During the analysis those observation might be enveloped by a tool to create virtual stickers and notes. There might even be a template that is used to report an observation. Those observations might be classified, prioritized, trash or whatever. Based on the analysis at some point in time, something might be done. When I say might, it means that it is possible that an observation is lost and not acted upon. You can call it an "action" if an observation gets lost, but it is philosophical. Let us assume that every observation has an action. The action might require communication, changing something, tools, practices, processes, people, etc. Those actions then have follow-ups. That follow-up can be enveloped in the same tool that it was when it entered as an observation. It can even have a process of its own.

To conclude, there is no best practice to handling observations. Not every observation is a bug. Not every bug needs to be handled the same way. What was the most valuable thing I got out of my workshop was "mind the context!" Think of the value of your process to stakeholders. Think of the needs that need fulfilling. Think of the feedback loop. Think of the people involved in different tasks.

That is all today.

- Peksi

Sunday, 7 June 2015

First thoughts on people and bravery – Nordic Testing Days 2015

Nordic Testing Days 2015. Three days of tutorials, tracks, workshops. Three days of people. Three days of awesomeness. One might think it is a cliché but a conference is nothing without the people.

The first thing on day one, at breakfast I saw Kristoffer Nordström. My Swedish friend with a knack for python. After that moment I knew the conference couldn’t be anything more than pure awesomness! Then I met Guna Petrova and Helena Jeret-Mäe at the registration. Those women (among the other organizers) are the beating heart of the conference. Then everywhere I went, new and old faces. There was so much energy in the air I could breathe in testing and conquer the world with it.

That is how it feel to attend a conference: you feel everyone’s energy and be empowered by it. Santosh Tuppad (whom I met during a coffee break on the first day) said the same thing. The people around you give you energy. If the people just happen to think alike, they can give you much more! I have no idea what is the scientific basis on that, but I think it has something to do with brainwaves, facial expressions, and false belief that there is anything scientific around it. ;) At least I felt like a king.

Now that the conference is over, I am spent. I think me having a nagging cough ate part of my energy, especially on the third day (and Cards Against Humanity until 3am had nothing to do with that). I was able to gather enough energy to pull an extempore workshop in the hallway during the coffeebreak where we tried to develop a testing strategy for a webshop. It became a crowd magnet and we had huge fun doing it.

What was the topmost thing for me as a delegate and not as a speaker (although I did my best to speak out whenever I could – the tutorial, workshops, lightning talks, the hallway), I felt that I was a promoter of bravery. Bravery to speak out. Bravery to challenge. Bravery to be challenged.

I think being a software tester is about being brave. We stand on the podium in conferences and we spill our guts in front of people. Rob Sabourin was almost in tears at his keynote. Erik Brickarp admitted failures and even arrogance in his track. People make mistakes and they get up to talk about them. It is bravery to ask questions from the audience. It is bravery to ask “Huh?” when one doesn’t understand.

So, I’m going to be brave. In everything I do, I shall try to be braver than the next guy. I shall show that I have the guts to do things, swim against the current, challenge. Maybe then other people have it easier to be brave also, even a little bit. Maybe I can show example and lower their threshold. In the following 12 months that bravery shall take me in to every possible event where I can speak up.

As for the future, the following might make it as blog posts (I haven’t fully decided yet):

  • My lightning talk on Testing Tuesday (TES-TING! TES-TING!)
  • My workshop on Test Strategy in 10 minutes (We didn’t make a testing strategy at all)
  • Kristjan Uba’s tutorial (Rogue Legacy to win!)
  • Blood sausage testing (don’t ask… or ask Sami Söderblom)
  • Context dependency (based on Bill Matthews’ and Ilari Agaerter’s tracks)
  • Cards Against Humanity (I just want to write something really clever on this)
  • Naked Tester (I hate you, Richard, for injecting this idea inside my head!)

The conference is over. The lights have gone out. In the end, everyone’s tired but excited. I want to thank the following people for great discussions throughout the conference: Sami Söderblom, Kristoffer Nordström, Erik Brickarp, Santosh Tuppad, Richard Bradshaw, Jekaterina Krivega, Kristjan Uba and Ilari Henrik Agaerter.

I want to thank the organizers of the Nordic Testing Days 2015 for every single thing they did! The light dancers, the magician, the games, the venue, the food, the drinks, the people! I will see you next year! I promise!

Test Pistols live forever!
- Peksi

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Intelligent practices of software testing

Intelligent practices of software testing

(This was first published at

Note! I am not using the term “best practice” here. Intelligent practice is something that helps people develop their practices into more suitable for their need. We actually should stop using “best practice” term. Instead we should use whatever helps us solve the problems at hand. The problem solving should come from people and their skills. Influences should be taken from everywhere! Practices should be molded to facilitate problem solving in YOUR context.

Very well. I came up with the following guidelines to help create a better testing environment for me and my colleagues. I am not trying to invalidate your practices that have been found to be best fitting for you. You should keep the practices you deem appropriate for your context. I encourage to revise your practices based on my own findings. It is up to you to change what ever you see reasonable, if anything.

Fight ambiguity with openness and communication

A few examples on ambiguity:

  • The (written) requirements are vague and ambiguous at best. Usually they are out of context and/or vacuum packed. I remember ISTQB mentioning that “It is testers’ right to deny ambiguous requirements”. I believe it is the testers’ obligation is to address this as soon as it is found. And by addressing I mean talk with people. “I cannot figure out how the system should work. I found out that it works like this. Is this OK to you? If not, can you help me determine how it should behave?”
  • The test cases are not concise. If we are to perform good enough testing we need to do testing. Writing test cases might be testing – executing test steps from a test case might be testing. This all depends on the skills of the tester. If the material we base our testing is poor, we need to be open about it. If we feel that we cannot do good enough testing, something needs to change. That change comes from talking about the issues, being open about the difficulties. 

If something is not clear, make it clearer. Find the information, people, resources that helps you make it clear. Learn from difficulties and be open when you face them. Hiding problems rarely leads to anything positive.

Fight ignorance with eagerness

Ignorance comes in many forms. One can claim she doesn’t know enough about the product to test it. Ignorance might paralyze us. Tasks can be daunting and we might procrastinate because we do not know some specific thing about the subject.

Enter eagerness! Try Proof of Concept type of actions. Try sandboxing the test area. Try having fun. Try getting a group of people who might already know about the domain, the product or the like, and test with them. Try walkthroughs. Try anything and everything to solve the problem. Be eager to to solve issues. If you can't solve them, be eager to get issues solved. Ignoring issues rarely leads to anything positive.

Fight über control with good-enough documentation and reliance to skills

Sometimes the aforementioned (ambiguity and ignorance) might lead into not trusting our ability to do proper testing. That might lead into a form of control that requires a vast amount of documentation and reports. There is a three-fold solution to this, I believe: rightly timed planning, unburdening reporting and reliance to people ability to the best possible job. When it comes to testing, people usually ask for test plans, test task descriptions (of various levels of detail) and test reports.

When doing good testing, it requires some planning to remove inefficiencies. That planning should be done in advance, albeit on a higher level. We must be able to plan our testing while we test, because we learn about the product, the project and everything surrounding us while we test. By timing our planning in sync with our testing, we can react to changes and discoveries more efficiently. The planning should happen as close as possible to the actual execution of the plan. Documents and plans deprecate quickly when new things are added. For example, Rapid Software Testing encourages planning and designing tests during testing. I have found out that a brief planning session before testing session is usually in order to be able to tackle the most important topic during that testing session.

We are chosen to perform the tasks because people expect we can do the task. There is little reason to stupefy the intelligent people that do things for us. Writing test cases, that basically make our brains redundant, is stupefying. In fact, it is stupid to write something that creates stupidity. “Stupid is as stupid does.” In order to be intelligent and harness out intelligent to our testing, it is wiser to write inspiring testing documentation. Missions, threads, ideas, broad descriptions, etc. encourage the use of our brains. I’d say “skill before process” and encourage to constant learning and teaching. Autonomy increases motivation see this post to do the best possible job. Critical thinking enables you to challenge your biases. Lateral thinking helps uncover possible issues. Thinking is the key, not the process or tools.

We also need good reporting off of our testing. Reports may be bug reports, testing transcripts, etc. An important thing to remember here is to focus on relevance and sufficiency of our reporting. The report should be a tool to improve and to facilitate discussion within our testing, development and/or project management. Thus I feel that reporting should be done in ways that support our cause, not because we want reports to begin with. Tools may vary from video recordings and screen captures to notebook scribbles. Anything is fair game as long as it supports the cause.

Fight measuring and quantification with reliance on feelings, observations and communication

Numbers are cryptic. Numbers can be interpreted in as many ways as there are people interpreting. Let’s say we have 100 test cases from which we have run 90. A clueless test manager might say: ”Only 10 more and we’re done”. An intelligent tester might say: “It seems we have 10 scripts to look at, but what else do we need to take into account?” Quantifying test cases (or bugs for that matter) is ridiculous. It is like counting unicorns! How many unicorns can fit into a cubicle?

A better approach to test case counting might be counting the time spent testing. Time is uniform in magnitude. Hour is as long in Finland as it is in New Delhi. What is the size of a test case? Few can tell. Measure what is worth measuring and what is objective.

If this is measuring our progress, how do we measure coverage?

We might want to ask “why we measure coverage” and then choose the metrics based on that. One good coverage indicator is a list of items in the product under test that we have touched. If an area is touched multiple times, we could be fairly certain that it is covered well enough, and we know the areas that are untouched. The human feelings come to play here. If a tester or a developer feels that some area is of poor quality, then we should play that feeling and test that area some more. A test case doesn’t tell how confident the tester is - talking about findings with the stakeholders might demolish the false confidence and lay ground for confidence based on actual findings and behavior.

Whatever you choose as your method of measuring, talk about it. The numbers are devious and one should ALWAYS talk about the coverage and confidence instead of using numbers to /prove/ why something is good. I support creating a measurement strategy that is little or no burden to the actual tester, and then use those findings to steer testing to the right path instead of proving something. Be critical about numbers because they can fool us easily. Be intelligent and critical on what and how to measure.


To summarize, my intelligent practices for software testing might include the following:

  • Fight ambiguity with openness
  • Fight ignorance with eagerness
  • Fight über control with good-enough documentation and reliance to skills
  • Fight measuring and quantification with reliance on feelings, observations

There might be more and I shall keep looking. The most important thing about these practices (or statements or whatever one might call them) is to communicate with people. Discuss your expectations and goals in testing. Discuss procedures and skills, how they can be improved. Whatever challenges you face, communication is the first step to solving the problem. An umbrella practice might go something like this:

  • Fight <choose challenges> with <choose solutions> and communication

If you feel I need to clarify some of the practices, give more examples or add a fundamental practice to my list, please drop me a line. I’m more than eager to discuss. ;)