Connor Roberts

Time Trial Testing Episode 2: Risk Heuristics

In this episode of Time Trial Testing, Brian Kurtz and I time-boxed ourselves to a 45-minute session to perform risk assessment of the X-Mind product. We used a heuristic-based risk analysis model to take a look at the UX/UI of this mind-mapping product. See Time Trial Testing – Episode 1: SFDIPOT Model for more details on how ‘Time Trial Testing’ sessions are meant to work.

  • Model: Risk Analysis Heuristics (for Digital Products) – by James Bach and Michael Bolton
    • Note: We limited our scope to only two of the sub-nodes.
      • Project Factors: I approached this from the perspective of a tester on an internal development team.
      • Technology Factors: Brian approached this from the perspective of an external tester, outside of the company.
  • Session Charter: UX/UI Product Risk Analysis
  • Product: X-Mind
  • Time: 45-minutes
  • Artifact (See image below or X-Mind file)

Click Image to Enlarge

Brian’s Observations (Technology Factors):

  • Conscious competence is alive and well. Using something that you have not used in a while or in a specific context takes effort. Sometimes it can be a downright struggle.
  • In this time trial we started with a mission. Find risk to the UX and the UI. Still I think next time it needs to be more focused based on the 45min window we are giving ourselves. Maybe risk to the UX and UI on the menu bar or icon/toolbar.
  • Every time I use a model I am reminded again how beneficial the results are to me after it is over. They always help me think about aspects of “something” that I would not have thought of on my own. I can always see the value afterwards.
  • I have only had to evaluate a third party application for purchase a few times. This time trials remind me what a daunting task it is to evaluate something as an outsider.
  • Although each of these time trials has produced a mind map that illustrates the value of just 45 minutes. It would be nice to take one to a more complete “state” to really illustrate what a more finished Strategy would look like.
  • I would remind people when you are creating these kinds of artifacts that it’s ok not to know all the answers. Because asking questions and having dialogue with stakeholders that do is what this is all about. Asking questions and picking others brains is a huge part of the learning process.

Connor’s Observations (Project Factors):

  • Not Yet Tester: This was actually my highest-priority item, so I am moving it to the top of this list, in the even that you get distracted and stop reading. Areas that have not yet been tested are likely going to have new bugs that we’ve never seen before, thus they have the potential to take longer to fix than familiar buggy areas. Also, these areas of the code typically only have one or two subject mater experts, the developer(s) that create it. The Product Owner and the Tester have no knowledge of how this area of the product was actually developed, post requirements, post planning, etc. so during these times, brain-dumps from the creator, original developer, are key. In our case, a UI Developer would knows how and why the product is made how it is, and what caveats there may be. Having this discussion up font with the developers, before diving into testing, will greatly increase your effectiveness at creating a more thorough test strategy and uncovering potential product risks. In these cases especially, we need to make sure we do not silo ourselves as a tester, under the guise of simply ‘needing to get the work done’. I have had many pre-test discussions that have drastically change the type and amount of time I plan to spend testing a given area, making me more efficient int he endeavor.
  • Learning Curve: This node forced me to consider the biases of the team, and how their existing knowledge of UX/UI from previous project or workplaces might positively or negatively influence the creation of a mind-mapping product. For example, if one of the UI Developers used to work in a vastly different industry with different customer needs (e.g. Medical Device Software), then this person may consciously, or subconsciously project those former needs on his new user group, even when the demographics are worlds apart.
  • Poor Control: This was a good reminder about making sure we control what we can, and not spending a lot of time trying to influence external factors. Do we have a solid DoD (Definition of Done)? Are we doing code reviews? Are the right people doing code reviews? Are we working from customer-approved mock-ups or are we just hoping that the UX/UI work is desirable? Are UX/UI Architects outside of the immediate team involved or are we just winging it with our limited knowledge?
  • Rushed Work: Every development team in the history of software development has struggled with time management. Either dev complete late in the sprint, so testers then have to rush, or product management sets hard-date deadlines in the mind of the customer, then the team has to release whatever they have, rather than move toward a more healthy ‘release when ready’ model. Perhaps estimates are created without UX/UI mock-ups, and then they arrive mid-sprint completely turning the original estimate on its head. Sometimes teams have good intentions, and do not intentionally think about how to best manage and section of their time. We need this to be one of the first things we think about, not the last.
  • Fatigue & Distributed Team: Before using this heuristic, I had (for some reason) always separated the fluid attributes of the workplace from the actual work that gets done and pushed out in releases. I had never considered the team being tired or distributed as a “product risk” persay. Since I was always comfortable with the deliverable being molded a hungred times along the way (Agile, not Waterfall), then whatever we got done, we got done, no matter how we felt along the way, and that would be accepted as our deliverable. I saw it as a performance risk to team operations rather than to the content of the product. While remote communication can sometimes spawn assumptions and miscommunication, I always felt like resolution in the 11th hour could handle any of these concerns. However, in using this model, it made me realize that this paradigm I had operated under was in fact the symptom of working in a blessed environment. I only thought this was because I’ve mostly worked with teams that were able to resolve major risks pre-release, or at least know about them and push intentionally. I feel that if I had more experience working in an environment with only remote teams (e.g. offshore), or less knowledgable folks, then I may have had this realization sooner.
  • Overfamiliarity: I think this is most easily noticed when we hire new people or bring others into an already well-oiled machine. These new perspectives can help expose ares to which the current development team(s) have become jaded. We should think about this with long running project teams especially. Perhaps shifting work from team to team is beneficial from time to time. Sure, Team A will not know what Team B is doing, and the velocity might slow down for a little while, but swapping teams’ works has many other upsides that I think are worth the time investment. If you cannot do that, then bring in external team members for a week, let them act as product, code and quality consultants. As it relates to our charter, perhaps they will see obvious avenues of UX improvement that you have just become used to. Remember, the barometer for good UX is determined based on how much user frustration is caused. How many times do new hires join the team who say, “Why does it work this way? That’s unintuitive.” to which we reply, “Oh, it is just like that, here’s the workaround…” In these situations we are part of the problem, not the solution. We are increasing product risk by ignoring the advice that comes from the fresh set of eyes simply because we have ‘gotten used to it’. Shame on us (us = team + product management, not simply testers).
  • Third-Party Contributions: You can decrease UX/UI product risks by limiting your dependency on 3rd-party technology. It typically requires a spike (development/technology research sprint, or two) to make such a determination, but if you can ‘roll-your-own’ tech that gives you exactly what the customer wants, and removes dependencies (and thus risks), then I would encourage product management to consider doing it, even if it takes twice as long (given the customer has been trained to accept a ‘release when ready’ development model).
  • Bad Tools: The Scrum Master should be in constant communication with the developers and testers on the team (and vice versa) in order to alleviate these kinds of concerns. A good Scrum Master does not need technical knowledge to help facilitate technology changes.
  • Expense of Fixes: First, let’s dispense with the following statement, “The later bugs are found, the more expensive it is to fix them.” Not necessarily. This statement does not contain any safety language (Epistemic Modality) or take into account context. This statement has been used historically to point fingers or use fear to motivate naive development teams, both despicable tactics. A better statement would be, “Depending on customer priorities and product priorities, bugs found later in the development process might be more expensive to fix, depending on their context.” E.G. What if we find a typo an hour before release? That’s a five minute fix that is not expensive. Now, if you have a broken development process that requires you to spend hours rebuilding a release candidate package, then sure, it might be expensive, but let’s be careful not to correlate unrelated problems and symptoms from two disparate systems.


Many testers do not even consider using some form of risk heuristics, mainly for two reasons: it is outside of their explicit knowledge, or they do not see value in it, usually due to never having tried to do risk assessment in a serious manner. Acceptance criteria is the tip of the iceberg, so don’t be the tester that stops there. What are your thoughts on this? Have you tried using this Risk Analysis Heuristics (for Digital Products) before, or used something similar? Do you even see value in risk analysis? Why or why not? What are your other takeaways? I encourage all Testers to do this same exercise for themselves. Reading through the model vs. actually using it, provided greatly different experiences for me. In reading it I found some nice ideas that sounded correct and good, but it was in its use that I found applicable value to what I do as a tester and am now compelled to use it again; a feeling I never would have experienced, had I only read through it.

This blog post was coauthored with Brian Kurtz.

CAST 2015: Distilled

Brian Kurtz and I recently traveled to Grand Rapids, Michigan to attend CAST 2015, a testing conference put on by AST and other members of the Context-Driven Testing (CDT) community. I was rewarded in a myriad of ways such as new ideas, enhanced learning sessions, fresh models, etc, but the most rewarding experience from the conference lies in the people and connections made. The entire CDT community currently lives on Twitter, so if you are new to testing or not involved in social media, I would recommend that you begin there. If you are looking for a starting point, check out my Twitter page here, Connor Roberts – Twitter, and look at the people I am following to get a good idea of who some of the active thought leaders are in testing. This community does a good job on Twitter of actually keeping the information flow clean and in general only shares value-add information. In keeping with that endeavor, it is my intention with this post to share the shining bits and pieces that came out of each session I attended. I hope this is a welcome respite from the normal process of learning that involves hours of panning for gold in the riverbanks, only to reveal small shining flakes from time to time.

Keep in mind, this is only a summary of my biased experience, since the notes I take mainly focus on what I feel was valuable and important to me based on what I currently know or do not know about the sessions I attended at the conference. My own notes and ideas are also mixed in with the content from the sessions, as the speaker may have been triggering thoughts in my head as they progressed. I did not keep track or delineate which are their thoughts and which are my own as I took notes.

It is also very likely that I did not document some points that others might feel are valuable, as the way I garner information is different than how they would. Overall, the heuristic that Brian and I used was to treat any of the non-live sessions as a priority since we knew the live sessions would be recorded and posted to the AST YouTube page after the conference. There are many other conferences that are worthwhile to attend, like STPCon, STAR East/West, etc. and I encourage testers to check them out as well.


Pre-Conference Workshop:

“Testing Fundamentals for Experienced Testers” by Robert Sabourin

Web:, Email:

Slide Deck:

Session Notes:

  • Conspicuous Bugs – Sometimes we want users to know about a problem.
    • E.G. A blood pressure cuff is malfunctioning so we want the doctor to know there is an error and they should use another method.
  • Bug Sampling: Find a way to sample a population of bugs, in order to tell a better story about the whole.
    • E.G. Take a look at the last 200 defects we fixed, and categorize them, in order to get an idea where product management believes our business priorities are.
  • Dijkstra’s Principle: “Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs but not their absence.”
    • E.G. We should never say to a stakeholder, “This feature is bug-free”, but we can say “This feature has been tested in conjunction with product management to address the highest product risks.”
  • “The goal is to reach an acceptable level of risk. At that point, quality is automatically good enough.” – James Bach
  • Three Quality Principles: Durable, Utilitarian, Beautiful
    • Based on book Vitruvius (book on architecture and design still used today)
  • Move away from centralized system testing, toward decentralized testing
    • E.G. Facebook – Pushed new timeline to New Zealand for a month before releasing it to the world
  • Talked about SBTM (Session Based Test Management): Timebox yourself to 60 minutes, determined what you have learned, then perform subsequent sessions by iterating on the previous data collected. In other words, use what you learn in each timeboxed session to make the next timeboxed session more successful.
  • Use visual models to help explain what you mean. Humans can interpret images much quicker than they can read paragraphs of text. Used a mind map as an example.
    • E.G. HTSM with subcategories and priorities
  • Try to come up with constructive, rather than destructive, conversational models when speaking with your team/stakeholders.
    • E.G. Destructive: “The acceptance criteria is not complete so we can’t estimate it”
    • E.G. Constructive: “Here’s a model I use [show HTSM] when I test features. Is there anything from this model that might help us make this acceptance criteria more complete?
  • Problem solving: We all like to think we’re excellent problems solvers, but we’re really only ever good problems solvers in a couple areas. Remember, your problem solving skill is linked to your experience. If you experience is shallow, your problem solving skill will lack variety.
  • Heuristics (first known use 1887): Book “How To Solve It” by George Pólya.
  • Be visual (models, mind maps, decisions charts)
  • If you don’t know the answer then take a guess. Use your knowledge to determine how wrong the first guess was, and make a better one. Keep iterating until you reach a state of “good enough” quality.
  • Large problems: Solve a smaller similar problem first, then try to use that as a sample to generalize so you can make hypothesis about the larger problem’s solution.
  • Decision Tables (a mathematical approach using boolean logic to express testing pathways to stakeholders – see slide deck)
  • AIM Heuristic: Application, Input, Memory
  • Use storyboarding (like comics) to visualize what you are going to test before you write test cases

Conference Sessions:

“Moving Testing Forward” by Karen Johnson (Orbitz)

Session Notes:

  • Know your shortcomings: Don’t force it. If you don’t like what you do, then switch.
    • E.G. Karen moved from Performance testing into something else, because she realized that even while she liked the testing, she was not very mathematical which is needed to become and even better performance tester.
  • Avoid working for someone you don’t respect. This affects your own growth and learning. You’ll be limited. Career development is not something your boss gives you, it is something you have to find for yourself.
  • Office politics: Don’t avoid, learn to get good at how to shape and steer this. “The minute you have two people in a room, there’s politics.”
  • Networking: Don’t just do it when you need a job. People will not connect with you at those times, if you have not been doing it all the other times.
  • Don’t put people in a box, based on your external perceptions of them. They probably know something you don’t.
  • Don’t be busy, in a corner, just focused on being a tester. Learn about the business, or else you’ll be shocked when something happens, or priorities were different than you “assumed”. Don’t lose sight of the “other side of the house”.
  • Balancing work and personal life never ends, so just get used to it, and get good at not complaining about it. Everyone has to do it, and it will level out in the long term. Don’t try to make every day or week perfectly balanced – it’s impossible.
  • Community Legacy: When you ultimately leave the testing community, which will happen to everyone at some point, what five things can you say you did for the community? Will the community have been better because you were in it? This involves interacting with people more than focusing on your process.
  • Be careful of idolizing thought leaders. Challenge their notions as much as the person’s next to you.
  • Goals: Don’t feel bad if you can’t figure out your long term goals. Tech is constantly changing, thus constant opportunities arise. In five years, you may be working on something that doesn’t even exist yet.
  • If your career stays in technology, then a cycle or learning is indefinite. Get used to learning, or you’ll just experience more pain resisting it.
  • Watch Test Is Dead from 2011, Google.
  • Five years from now, anything you know now will be “old”. Are you constantly learning so that you can stay relevant?
  • Be reliable and dependable in your current job, that’s how you advance.
    • Act as if you have the title you want already and do that job. Don’t wait for someone to tell you that you are a ‘Senior’ or a ‘Lead’ before you start leading. Management tasks require approval, leadership does not.
  • Care about your professional reputation, be aware of your online and social media presences. If you don’t have any, create them and start fostering them (Personal Website, Twitter for testing, etc.)

“Building A Culture Of Quality” by Josh Meier

Session Notes:

  • Two types of culture: Employee (ping pong tables) vs. Engineering (the way we ‘do’ things), let’s talk about the latter (more important)
  • Visible (Environment, Behaviors) vs. Invisible (Values, Attributes)
  • A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for – Grace Hopper
  • Pair Tester with Dev for a full day (like an extended Shake And Bake session)
  • When filing bug reports, start making suggestions on possible fixes. At first this will be greeted with “don’t tell me how to do my job”, but eventually it will be welcomes as it will be a time saver, and for Josh, this morphed into the developers asking him, as a tester, to sign off on code reviews as part of their DoD (Definition of Done).
  • Begin participating in code-reviews, even if non-technical
  • *Ask for partial code, pre-commit before it is ready so you can supplement the Dev discussions to get an idea of where the developer is headed.
  • *Taxi Automation – Scripts than can be paused, allow the user to explorer mid-way through the checks, and then the checks continue based on the exploration work done.

“Should Testers Code” (Debate format) by Henrik Anderson and Jeffrey Morgan

My Conclusion: Yes and No. No, because value can be added without becoming technical; however, if your environment would benefit from a more technical tester and it’s something you have the aptitude for, then you should pursue it as part of your learning. If you find yourself desiring to do development, but in a tester role, then evaluate the possibility that you may wish to apply for a developer position, but don’t be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; that does the product and the team a disservice.

Session Notes:

  • It takes the responsibility of creating quality code off the developer if testers start coding (Automation Engineers excluded)
  • Training a blackbox tester for even 1 full hour per day for 10 months cannot replce years of coding education, training and experience. This is a huge time-sink for creation of a Jr. Dev as a best case scenario.
  • The mentality that all testers should code comes from a lack of understanding about how to increase your knowledge in the skill-craft of testing. Automation is a single tool, and coding is a practice. If you are non-technical, work on training your mindset, not trying to become a developer.

My Other Observations:

  • Do you want a foot doctor doing your heart surgery? (Developers spending majority time testing, Testers spending majority time developing?)
  • People who say that all testers should code do not truly understand that quality is a team responsibility, but rather only a developer’s responsibility. Those that hold this stance, consciously or subconsciously have a desire to make testers into coders, and only “then” will it be their responsibility because they will then be in the right role/title. Making testers code is just a sly way of saying that a manual exploratory blackbox tester does not add value, or at least enough value, to belong on my team.
  • By having this viewpoint, you are also saying that you posses the sum of knowledge of what it means to be a good tester and have reached a state of conscious competence in testing enough to make the claim that your determination of what a “tester” is, is not flawed.
  • The language we have traditionally used in the industry is what throws people off. People see the title “Quality Assurance” and think that only the person with that title should be in charge of quality, but this is a misnomer. We cannot claim that the team owns quality then say that it is the tester’s responsibility to be sure that the product in production is free from major product risks. They are opposing viewpoints, neither of which address testing.
  • Developers should move toward a better understanding of what it takes to test, while Testers should move toward a better understanding of what it takes to be a developer. This can be accomplished through collaborative/peer processes like Shake And Bake.
  • I believe that these two roles should never fully come together and be the same. We should stay complex and varied. We need specialists just like complex machines that have specialized parts. The gears inside a Rolex watch cannot do the job of the protective glass layer on top. Likewise, the watch band cannot do the job of keeping time, nor would you want it to. Variety is a good thing, and attempting to become great at everything makes you only partially good at any one thing. Also brands like Rolex and Bvlgari have an amazingly complex ecosystem of parts. The more complex a creation, the more elegant it’s operation and output will be.
  • Just like the ‘wisdom of the crowd’ can help you find the right answer (see session notes below from the talk by Mike Lyles) the myth of group reasoning can equally bite you. For example, a bad idea left unchecked in a given environment can propagate foolishness. This is why the role of the corporate consultant exists in the first place. In regards to testing organizations, keep in mind that just because an industry heads in a certain direction, it does not mean that is the correct direction.


“Visualize Testability” by Maria Kedemo


Slide Deck:

Session Notes:

  • Maria talked about the symptoms of low testability
    • E.G. When Developers say, “You’ll get it in a few days, so just wait until then,” this prevents the Tester from making sure something is testable, since they could be sitting with the Devs as they get halfway through it to give them ideas and help steer the coding (i.e. bake the quality into the cake, instead of waiting until after the fact to dive into it)
  • Get visibility into the ‘code in progress’, not just when it is committed at code review time. (similar to to what Josh Meier recommended, see other session notes above)
  • Maria presented a new model: Dimensions of Testability (contained within her slide deck)


“Bad Metric, Bad” by Joseph Ours

Email:, Twitter @justjoehere


Session Notes:

  • Make sure your samples are proper estimates of the population
    • I tweeted: “If you bite into a BLT, and miss the slice of bacon, you will estimate the BLT has 0% bacon”
  • Division within Testing Community (I see a visual/diagram that could easily be created from this)
    • 70% uneducated
    • 25% educated
    • 5% CDT (context-driven testing) educated/aware


“The Future Of Testing” by Ajay Balamurugadas


Session Notes:

  • My main takeaway was about the resources available to us as testers.
    • Ministry of Testing
    • Weekend Testing meetups
    • Skype Face-to-face test training with others in the community
    • Skype Testing 24/7 chat room
    • Udemy Coursera
    • BBST Classes
    • Test Insane (hold global test competition called ‘War With Bugs’, with $$cash prizes)
    • Testing Mnemonics list (pick one and try it out each day)
    • SpeakEasy Program (for those interested in doing conventions/circuits on testing)
  • Also talked about the TQM Model (Total Quality Management)
    • Customer Focus, Total Participation, Process Improvement, Process Management, Planning Process, etc.
  • Ajay encouraged learning from other industries
    • E.G. Medical, Auto, Aerospace, etc. by reading about testing on news sites or product risks found there. They may have applicable information that apply here.
  • “You work for your employer, but learning is in your hands.” (i.e. Don’t wait for your manager to train you, do it yourself)
  • Talked about the AST Grant Program – helps with PR, pay for meetups, etc.
  • Reading is nice, but if you want to become good at something, you must practice it.
  • Professional Reputation – do you have an online testing portfolio
    • On a personal note: He got me on this one. I was in the process then of getting my personal blog back up (which is live now), but also plan to even put up some screen recordings of how I test in various situations, what models I use, how I use them, why I test the way I do, how to reach a state of ‘good enough’ testing where product risks are mitigated or only minimal ones remain, how to tell a story to our stakeholders about what was and was not tested, understanding metrics use and misuse, etc.
  • “Your name is your biggest certificate” – Ajay (on the topic of certifications)


“Reason and Argument for Testers” by Thomas Vaniotis and Scott Allman

Session Notes:

  • Discussed Argument vs Rhetoric
    • Argument – justification of beliefs, strength of evidence, rational analysis
    • Rhetoric – literary merit, attractiveness, social usefulness, political favorability
  • They talked about making conclusions based on premises. You need to make sure your premises are sound, before you try to make a conclusion based on solely conjecture that only ‘sounds’ good on the surface.
  • Talked about language – all sound arguments are valid, but not all valid arguments are sound. There are many true conclusions that do not have sound arguments. No sound argument will lead to a false conclusion.
  • Fallacies (I liked this definition) – a collection of statements that resemble arguments, but are invalid.
  • Abduction – forming conclusion in a dangerous way (avoid this by ensuring your premises are sound)
  • Use Safety Language (Epistemic Modality) to qualify statements and make them more palatable for your audience. You can reach the same outcome and still maintain friendships/relationships.

My conclusions:

  • This was really a session on psychology in the workplace, not limited to testers, but it was a good reminder on how to make points to our stakeholders if we want to convince them of something.
  • If you work with people your respect, then you should realize that they are most likely speaking with the product’s best interests at heart, at least from their perspective, and not out to maliciously attack you personally. You can avoid personal attacks by speaking from your own experience. Instead of saying “That’s not correct, here’s why…” You can say “In my experience, I have found, X Y Z to be true, because of these factors…” In this way you will make the same point, without the confrontational bias.
  • If you want to convince others, be Type-A when dealing with the product, but not when dealing with people. Try to separate the two in your mind before going into any conversation.

“Visual Testing” by Mike Lyles

Twitter @mikelyles


Session Notes:

  • This was all about how we can be visually fooled as testers. Lots of good examples in the slide-deck, and he stumped about half of the crowd there, even though we were primed about being fooled.
  • Leverage the Wisdom of the Crowd: Mike also did an exercise where he held up a jar of gum balls and asked us how many were inside. One person guessed 500, one person guess 1,000. At that point our average was 750. Another person guessed 200, another 350, another 650, another 150, etc. and this went on for a while until we had about 12 to 15 guesses written down. The average of the guesses came out to around 550. The Total number of gum balls was actually within 50-100 of this average. The point that Mike was making was that leveraging the wisdom of the crowd to make decisions is smarter than trying to go it alone or based on smaller subsets/sources of comparison. Use the people in your division, around you on your team and even in the testing community at large to make sure you are on the right track and moving toward the most likely outcome that will better serve your stakeholders.
    • This involves an intentional effort to be humble, and realize that you (we) do not have all the answers to any given situation. We should be seeking counsel for situations that have potentially sizable product impacts and risks, especially in areas that are not in our wheelhouse.
  • Choice Blindness: People will come up with convincing reasons why to take a certain set of actions based on things that are inaccurate or never happened.


“Using Tools To Improve Testing: Beyond The UI” by Jeremy Traylor


Session Notes:

  • Testers should become familiar with more development-like tools (e.g. Browser Dev Tools, Scripting, Fiddler commands, etc.)
  • JSONLint – a JSON validator
  • Use Fiddler (Windows) or Charles (Mac)
    • Learn how to send commands through this (POST, GET, etc.) and not just use it to only monitor output.
  • API Testing: Why do this?
    • Sometimes the UI is not complete, and we could be testing sooner and more often to verify backend functionality
    • You can test more scenarios than simply testing from the UI, and you can test those scenarios quickly if you are using script to hit the API rather than manual UI testing.
      • Some would argue that this invalidates testing since you are not doing it how the user is doing it, but as long as you are sending the exact input data that the UI would send then I would argue this is not a waste of time and can expose product risks sooner rather than later.
    • Gives testers better understanding of how the application works, instead of everything beyond the UI just being a ‘black box’ that they do not understand.
    • Some test scenarios may not be possible in the UI. There may be some background caching or performance tests you want to do that cannot be accomplished from the front end.
    • You can have the API handle simple tasks rather than reply on creating front-end logic conversions after the fact. This increases testability and reliability.
  • Postman (Chrome extension) – this is an backend-HTTP testing tool that has a nice GUI/front-end. This helps decrease the barrier to entry for testers who may be firmly planted in the blackbox/manual-only world and want to increase their technical knowledge to better help their team.
  • Tamper Data (addon for Firefox) – can change data as it is in route, so you can better simulate Domain testing (positive/negative test scenarios).
  • SQL Fiddle – This is a DB tool for testing queries, scripts, etc.
  • Other tools: SOAPUI, Advanced Rest Client, Parasoft SOAtest, JSONLint, etc.
  • Did you know that the “GET” command can be used to harvest data (PII, user information, etc). Testers, are you checking this? (HTSM > Quality Criteria > Security). However, “GET” can ‘lie’ so you want to check the DB to make sure the data it returns is actually true.

My conclusions:

  • Explore what works for you and your team/product, but don’t stick your head in the sand and just claim that you are a manual-only tester. You have to at least try these tools and make a genuine effort to use them for a while before you can discount their effectiveness. Claiming they would not work for your situation or never making time to explore them is the same as saying that you wish to stay in the dark on how to become a better tester.
  • Since Security testing is not one of my fortes, I personally would like to become a better whitebox hacker to aid in my skill-craft as a tester. This involves trying to gain the system and expose security risks, but for noble purposes. Any found risks then go to help better inform the development team and are used to make decisions on how the product can be made more secure. Since testers are supposed to be informers, this is something I need to work on to better round out my skill-set.


“When Cultures Collide” by Raj Subramanian and Carlene Wesemeyer

Session Notes:

  • Raj and Carlene spent the majority of the time talking about communication barriers such as differences in body language, the limitations of text-only (chat or email), as well as assumptions that are made by certain cultures about others regardless if they are within the same culture or not.
  • Main takeaway: Don’t take a yes for a yes and a no for a no. Be over-communicative if necessary to ensure that the expectations you have in your head match what they have in their head.



I hope that my notes have helped you in some way, or at the very least exposed you to some new ideas and knowledgable folks in the industry from which you can learn. Please leave comments here on what area you received the most value from or need clarification. Again, these are my distilled notes from the four days I was there, so I may be able to recall more or update this blog if you feel one area might be lacking. If you also went to CAST 2015, and any of the same sessions, then I’d love to hear your thoughts on any important points I may have overlooked that would be beneficial to the community.

Time Trial Testing Episode 1: SFDIPOT Model

Introduction: Recently, Brian Kurtz and I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a process, tool or model within the testing industry at least once per week and use them on a specific feature or product to create a test strategy within a time-box of 30 minutes. Once complete, we draw conclusions letting you know what benefits we feel that we gathered from the exercise. We’re calling this our “Time Trial Testing” series (working title) for now, so if you come up with a better name let us know. We hope that you can apply some of the information we’re sharing here, to your daily testing routine. Remember, you can always pick and try out a Testing Mnemonics from this list and see what works for you. Be sure to share your own conclusions, either on Twitter or post a comment here, so that your findings can benefit the larger community of testers.


Episode 1: SFDIPOT Model & Evernote

This week, we decided to tackle the SFDIPOT model, created by James Bach and updated later by Michael Bolton. This is actually a revised version of the Product Elements node within the Heuristic Test Strategy Model (HTSM X-Mind), explained here:

So, in our 30-minute session, we decided to use this model on Evernote. Yes, the entirety of Evernote; we’ll explain later why that’s was a bad idea, but we forged ahead anyway, for the sake of scientific exploration. Brian and I worked on this separately from 3:00-3:30pm, then came together from 3:30-4:00pm to combine notes and our piece our models into one larger mind-map that ended up being more beneficial to our test strategy creation than either of our models would have been on their own. The following image was created from this collaboration, and below is the post-timebox discussion where Brian and I talk about the realizations and benefits of what we found using this model.

Time Trial Testing - Evernote and SFDIPOT

Click image to enlarge (X-Mind File)

Connor’s Observations:

  • Using this model increased my awareness of features within Evernote that I had never used before, even though I have used the app for years.
  • The UI challenged my assumptions of how a certain feature should work based on how I have used them with other applications. (e.g. Tags can be saved via Enter key or by using a comma)
  • The model helped me be a more reliable tester, especially when I need to test across multiple modules (i.e. multiple stories for a shared feature). “Just because you know something doesn’t mean you’ll remember it when the need arises.” – James Bach
  • Leverage the wisdom of the crowd. (e.g. A team with two testers could do this exercise separately, focusing on different parts, and then combine them after in conjunction with peer review. This makes your models much more robust, as well as uses time more efficiently).
  • I was not as familiar with this model (Product Elements node of HTSM) as I am others, so it somewhat create a sense of being a ‘new tester’ on a product, as if I had never used it before. I felt like the model gave me new ideas, as it provided me a pathway I have never explored before when using Evernote. I did not feel as jaded as I might have if I were to test it without a model.
  • Using the model made me realize that when you have massive products, or multiple stories around the same feature, you should not wait until you have a minimum viable product to test, because by then the testing effort may be insurmountable. Start testing soon and often, even if the code is not 100% complete, so that you do not get overwhelmed as a tester. Many times we complain about Dev-complete late in the sprint causing us not to meet a deadline, but this sometimes could be mitigated by testing things earlier, even if in an incomplete state. (e.g. If you are a blackbox/manual tester, then ask a developer to assist you with some API testing to verify backend functionality even before the UI is complete).

Brian’s Observations:

  • Using this model helped me to understand the language of the Evernote team, in how they use terminology as it relates to the application (e.g. Notes are stored in a “Notebook” not a “Folder”)
  • If you work on it together at the same time initially, then we roadblock each other, because we’re having to interrupt the other’s train of thought to get everything put down simultaneously. This is a failing of human nature and how the mind works, not related to any individual’s own fault.
  • Using the model helped to focus our thinking. I could just think about “Structure” then I could just think about “Function”, etc. Since I knew the model I was using was complete and eventually would cover everything I wanted, I knew I would get to all the important aspect at some point, so this freed my mind up from having to constantly focus/defocus. I could just think about the “Structure” node for a given set of time, without distraction. This prevents the potential loss of currently running threads in our mind, so that new thoughts do not supersede or completely squash existing or unfinished thoughts.
  • The model helped me realize that as I went through the nodes, I was reminded that I won’t have access to the backed since I am not an Evernote employee which reminded me that I needed to make a note about not being something I would be able to test, therefore no amount of additional testing time would have addressed that concern. This should be something I inform my stakeholders about, as it is a test limitation they may not assume exists.
  • The model helped me not start testing too soon. It helped me realize that there was a lot of learning that I needed to do before I jumped in. I could have started testing the GUI, and maybe been somewhat effective, but I think if I do research and investigation before I actually test, then I will test in a much more efficient way than that addresses my stakeholders’ concerns more completely, than if I had just started testing right out of the gates.


We realized about halfway through that we took on too much. We should have picked a specific feature or module, so that we could be much more focused and make great progress in one area rather than mediocre progress on the whole. In other words, don’t stretch yourself thin as a tester. Also, doing features/modules in smaller bite-sized chunks, then allows you to put them together later like a puzzle into a much larger and more complete mind map, allowing you to create a more valuable test strategy.

We hope this exploration exercise has helped, and look forward to posting many more of these episodes in the future. Please leave a comment and let us know your thoughts.

This blog post was coauthored with Brian Kurtz.

The Improvement Continuum

The Improvement Continuum

Abstract: The Improvement Continuum is a dual-pronged concept, containing both product and personal components, like two heads on the same animal. One head pertains to improvement within a solution, product or service, while the other concerns itself with the human mind, particularly our capacity for learning. This idea states that a viable candidate can never reach a point at which it legitimately plateaus in quality. Therefore, by extension, any perceived quality plateau, intentional aside, must be a product of human misunderstanding or mis-measurement of the current state, rather than a lacking of the candidate itself. For the purpose of this article, the term “candidate” is being used to refer to either a solution, product or service that is currently being used in the market, or the human’s individual capacity to increase mental operational quality through learning as long as that human is not inhibited by a medical condition otherwise. In other words, both products and humans have the capacity for improvement.



It is widely accepted that a product or service, can never reach a point at which it should intentionally arrive at a plateau in quality, unless that particular solution has been sunset. There’s an unseen and undiscussed black hole where sunset products go to die, but to avoid that, improvements must continually be invented, prioritized and implemented. This may seem like an obvious statement, but what’s not so obvious is how to move the entity forward.

In software development, an increase in quality does not simply mean finding and fixing bugs, as that is only one facet of how the product can be improved.

When evaluating the product as a whole, we should decide as a team which areas need the most focus. What areas of improvement is your division good at? Which areas may have been neglected? Do your efforts to improve as a tester align with the current product risk areas? First, we must establish that candidacy for improvement actually exists. In other words, is improvement warranted for a given feature, perhaps at least a quarterly cadence, or more rarely, for the product as a whole, perhaps on at least an annual evaluation schedule?


Determining Improvement Candidacy:

This section only applies to solutions (product and service offerings), not humans, since the latter is a candidate, inherently and indefinitely.

As long as a product or service is a viable offering, then it’s candidacy for improvement remains active. Even software solutions in maintenance-only mode, with a sunset timeline, are still candidates for being improved upon until EOL (the End-of-Life date). Keep in mind, just because something is a candidate for improvement, that does not mean improvement on that solution is mandatory. To understand this, we must look at the four types of improvement candidates that are abandoned.


Abandoned Candidates (Four Types):

Improvement candidates can be abandoned intentionally or unintentionally. How we handle these situations, says a lot abut our maturity as testers. This can be positive or negative, depending on how the abandonment was implemented. If you find yourself in this situation as a tester, take a moment of pause before getting upset. Try to realize that there’s a bigger picture outside of you, and the idea that we are the sole ‘gatekeepers’ of the product is archaic. Michael Bolton better frames this point in his blog post here Testers: Get Out of the Quality Assurance Business. Understanding why a given product is or is not getting attention can greatly help you do your job as a tester. It is easy to become disenfranchised with your product offering if you do not understand the business reasons behind the work being given to your team. Use the criteria below to be more informed about which camp your product lives.

  1. Warranted Intentional: The term ‘intentionally abandoned improvement candidate’ sounds like it’d always be a negative, but this can in fact be a sound business decision, thus warranted. In this case, product and upper management within the business has compared the risks of abandoning improvement from both a financial and reputation perspective. There are many sub-level considerations that play into each of these. Perhaps the revenue generated on the given product is negligible and efforts would be better focused on another solution or direction. Perhaps the known backlog of issues has been evaluated from a product risk perspective and deemed as a low-impact, and shoring up this backlog to maintain industry reputation would reside within the realm of diminishing returns.
  2. Unwarranted Intentional: Like the first type, management did at least make an intentional effort to get together and discuss the business needs, but due to a variety of reasons, of which only a small oligarchy may be aware, the product offering has abandoned without justified cause. Unfortunately, an unwarranted abandonment of a given product offering usually does not come with much transparency down to the teams. It’s may not even be a top-down decision, so tech leads and architects may have been involved, but it is possible that an unwarranted abandonment still took place in favor of a different alternative. Many times, unwarranted abandonment cannot be proven by those opposing the decision until it is too late. For example, the new offering craters after a few years in the market, but the previous solution would still be thriving. In this case, it may not be a matter of an oligarchy making the decisions, or lack of transparency, but rather a major miss on industry expertise and demand forecasting. This can sometimes plague startups that hire amazing talent with incredible knowledge and good intentions, but lacking in industry wisdom through experience.
  3. Warranted Unintentional: This is similar to the first type, except that external factors forced the abandonment. In the case of an innovative idea that does have a market, this usually only happens when a major mistake is made that threatens our humanity. For example, public exposure of a security hole in a financial product that shows it is storing PII (e.g. Home address, SSN, DOB, etc.) in clear text in an unencrypted database. This can cause irreparable reputation damage that can take a product out of the industry almost overnight, no matter what damage control may happen after the fact. You could argue that this is unwarranted, but that position is based on the human notion that everyone gets a ‘second chance’, but that often does not exist in many industries. Take a defibrillator, a medical device for example. What if the initial model from a new startup killed patients in some edge cases? As a startup, recovering from the resulting legal situation would be close to impossible. Now, this also happens when the product never had a market to begin with, thus the initial investment was done based on good intentions rather than research of data points within the target industry. However, this usually manifest in one way or another before a mass go-live since scarce target clients would be one of the obvious indicators of a product that is headed in this direction.
  4. Unwarranted Unintentional: This is the most rare type of abandonment, since smart intuitive ideas usually thrive in one vein or another. If in fact the product is sound and innovative with a need in the market, then this somewhat requires the planets to align, in that three factors must be present: External forces, sometimes even from those who wish to see a competing product fail. Bad salesmanship, marketing, and demographic targeting based on the product’s features, thus no traction is gained in the market. And finally, this requires an internal framework of individuals who lack ownership in the product.


Quality Plateaus:

Due to the nature of how improvement works, both within a product or a human, quality plateaus can be both intentional and unintentional. We’ve discussed various types of improvement abandonment, and now similarly need to discuss the different forms of quality plateaus that can take place. A product quality plateau can only be justified in the case of the Warranted Intentional abandonment case described earlier. A quality plateau within a human can only be justified in the case of rare medical conditions, but ethically there’d never be an intentional case of such condition, thus is it an outlier, external to this discussion.


Plateaus Within Products And Services:

Other than these edge cases, it has been established that an unaffected entity (see Abstract) cannot legitimately arrive at a quality plateau. By extension, any perceived quality plateau within a product must be a symptom of misunderstanding or mis-measurement of the current state in order to make that determination, rather than a failing of the product itself. This also means that such plateaus always require the need to be remedied.


Plateaus Within The Human:

In the case of the human mind, a tester’s skill is a qualitative property, and cannot be mathematically or objectively measured; therefore, a quality plateau would be subjective at best. If this plateau does exists within a tester, then it must be dynamically linked to an ethereal ‘learning to date’ + ‘ongoing learning’ measurement to equivocate to some qualitative scale or understanding. Most of the time this can be due to many easy to identify (and easy to remedy too) factors, such as: work ethic, laziness, lack of resources, poor management, misdirection and misinformation, etc. These problems are age old though, and can be fixed. However, for those who have reached a state of Unconscious Competence, this can be a very legitimate concern.

With that said though, these people are few and far between within the testing community and none of  them of course have mastered all areas of being a good tester either.

The Perimeter Assumption:

Something else to be aware of when it comes to learning in various areas of testing, is The Perimeter Assumption. This is something that many struggle with when it comes to testing and learning. This is the idea that as long as I know the most important items  (the extreme edges/test max capacity), and I understand the general framework, then I don’t need to worry about the little things (other considerations within those boundaries). This is something that is troubling but still influences us as testers. It can make us comfortable and complacent in our learning, if we are only worried about the most extreme scenarios when testing. For example, when testing a credit application, we focus on making sure the form submits but might miss that some negative testing exposes a major flaw in the website, exposing PII stored in the database. Remember, not all showstopper product risks are found from testing in high-risk areas.


Time Management:

Learning is hard. If it weren’t hard it wouldn’t be beneficial, nor have the allure like it does for so many. I used to say that time management was my biggest roadblock, but then realized that I created that problem for myself, so I needed to stop complaining about it. Learning is liquid. By saying this, I mean that learning is this huge phase space that has no boundaries, so it is easy to create insurmountable learning obstacles that we never address. Brian Kurtz, one of my mentors, often says, ‘If you give me one hour to test something, I’ll use that entire hour. If you give me one week to test that same item, then I will use the entire week.’ The same is true with learning; we will fill the time given with testing. However, there’s so much to learn and not all of it is valuable to us as testers. We have to prioritize what should be learned since business priorities force us to time box our learning to an extent.

So, I like to use this ‘gate’ visual to describe how we self-sabotage our own learning, in hopes that this might help others become more aware of their own potentially self-imposed learning roadblocks:

It may sound ironic, but unlike other roadblocks in my life, learning roadblocks have little to do with learning itself being the problem. Product feature roadblocks for example are usually based on knowledge about that feature being needed to continue development and testing. With learning, the roadblocks tend to come from all other angles, and this is simply because I have traditionally prioritized learning after all my other duties.

As humans, we will naturally seek to fill our time, and typically we will fill it with items that are familiar to us. We might not even enjoy some of these items. For example, excessive meetings can sometimes creep up in the scrum process; however, we get into a cycle of what we believe is expected of us and rarely challenge it. Sure, we challenge acceptance criteria, developers, bug reports and product management, but at some point through the sprint, testers have satisfied some of these priorities, yet continue to use the remaining team priorities as reasons why individual learning cannot be achieved.

Sometimes, we must work with our team to evaluate schedules and product risks, in order to open these gates consciously so that we can target the learning we want done. We must reprioritize, and minimize the time it takes to address some of these expectations. If we time-box our activities, then we’ll have time to address learning on a continual basis, and set aside time within within each sprint for this. So, stop self-imposing these barriers on yourself. We invent this structure, then complain and beat ourselves up when we don’t get to do the learning we want. When asked why we haven’t focused on using a certain test model or pursued reading that book about testing we said we would months back, we pass it off as not being good at time management. Make learning as a tester, one of your main priorities, and if you have to, work with your Scrum Master, Product Owner and Developers on your team to build time into your sprint to prioritize learning just like you would a user story.

Constantly improving as a tester, also involves a great amount of humility to realize we do not have all the answers. Imagine a contractor being called by a customer and they walk into the house with only a nail and a hammer, under the assumption they can handle anything the homeowner might throw at them. Well, when stated like that it’s a completely ludicrous assumption on the part of the contractor. So, why do we do this as testers? We try to take on all testing scenarios with our current knowledge set, but that set is just like having an inadequate toolbox for the jobs put before us. We need to ‘Fill our mental toolbox’, as my collegue Brian Kurtz says, for better ways to address this common pitfall.


Action Items For Testers:

Now that you have this knowledge, how do you use it? How does being aware of ideas like improvement abandonment and quality plateaus actually help you in your day to day to better understand how to continually improve? Ideally this article serves as jumping off platform. Awareness of a problem is the first beneficial step to moving your mental state out of Unconscious Incompetence, which is the “I don’t know what I don’t know” state. What’s the barometer to know if you are in this state? Simply ask yourself if this article came across a little heavy. Does this information seem confusing or foreign to you? If so, then perhaps it’s worth investigating if you genuinely desire to become a better tester, and combat any potential learning plateau of which you may or may not be aware.

So, where do you go from here? Read Quality Concepts and Testers Tell A Compelling Story. It is our job as testers to “cast light on the status of the product and its context, in the service of our stakeholders.” – James Bach. We can only do this effectively if we continually educate ourselves on how the product works, and continually improve our own mentality when it comes to how to test. If you are testing for the sake of testing, and simply present in your job to collect a paycheck, then I encourage you to take a introspective look at the reason why. Our responsibility as testers is to the product and its stakeholders, so ultimately if you are occupying a test position within a company, but know you are lacking that passion to be a constant learning for the betterment of our stakeholders, then it may be time to evaluate if testing is your true calling.


The improvement continuum exists because there is no true zero. Conversely this also means there is no true 100%. In short, quit trying to quantify things that are only qualifiable; rather, concern yourself with identifying the actions needed to reach the next step on the infinite staircase of learning as a tester.

Testers Tell A Compelling Story

Testers Tell A Compelling Story

Abstract: If you’ve spent any time in the context-driven testing community, then you have probably heard the following directive: As testers, we must tell a compelling story to our stakeholders. But, what does this really mean? Are we just talking about a checklist here? Are we just trying to sound elite? Is this just some form of covering ourselves to prove we’re doing our job? Well, none of the above actually. The purpose of doing this is to continually inform our stakeholders in order to increase their awareness of potential product risks so that ultimately they can make better business decisions. We can do this by telling them about what was and what was not tested, using various methods. First we must level-set on the chosen language here and agree on the meaning of the words “compelling” and “story,” then we’ll dive into the logistics of how to deliver that message.

NOTE: I am also going to use the term “Product Management” quite often in this post. When I say that, I am referring to the people who end up doing the final risk assessment and are making the ultimate business decisions as it relates to the product (more about that here from Michael Bolton). This may involve the Product Owner on your team, or it may involve a set of external stakeholders.

Being Compelling:

The word “compelling” can seem a bit ambiguous and its meaning can be rather subjective, since what is compelling to one, is not so to another. What convinces one person to buy a specific brand, does not convince the person right next to them. However, regardless of your context, we need to set some guardrails around this word. The reason for doing this is to remain inline with the community’s endeavor to establish a common language so that we can properly judge what qualifies as ‘good work’ within the realm of testing, and in this case specifically, how good one is at telling a compelling story as testers. Yes, you as a tester should be constructively judging other testers’ work if you care about the testing community as a whole. We cannot do that unless we’re armed with the right information. So first, let’s take a very literal view, and then move forward from there:

“Compelling” as defined by Merriam Webster:

(1) very interesting : able to capture and hold your attention.

(2) capable of causing someone to believe or agree.

(3) strong and forceful : causing you to feel that you must do something.

The information you present should carry with it hallmarks of these three definitions, regardless of the target stakeholder’s role within the company. Let’s elaborate, specific to the context within a software development environment.

  • (1) Interesting: As a tester, by being a salesperson of the product, and a primary cheerleader for the work the team has done, I am satisfying the first criteria. I know all the ins and outs of the product, thus being a subject matter expert gives me the ability to speak to its captivating attributes in order to draw my stakeholders into the discussion. (This also involves knowing your stakeholder, which I could write an entirely separate article about, explaining how you tailor your story for specific stakeholder roles within the company – more on that later).
  • (2) Cultivate Agreement: As the tester for a given feature, you are aware of an area’s strengths and weaknesses. It is your job to take multiple stances, and defend them, be they Pros (typically in the form of new enhancements or big fixes) or Cons (typically in the form of product risks). Just like the defense given by an attorney in their closing arguments of a trial, so too should you defend your positions, regarding the various areas of the product that have changed or are at risk. Since you are informing on both what you did and did not test, then you can aid much better in joint risk assessment with Product Management. This is how testers influence the product development process the most; not in their actual testing, but in their conversations with those who make the business decisions when telling the story of their testing. Give your opinions a solid foundation on which to stand.
  • (3) Take Action: All information that you give to stakeholders should support any action items they may need to take based on that data, thus you should be a competent professional skeptic in your testing process so that the data best leads Product Management toward fruitful actions. Your feedback as a tester is instrumental in well-intentioned coercion, or since that’s typically a negative term, let’s call it positive peer-pressure. Ideally your Product Owner is embedded or at least in constant communication with the scrum team, thus any actions that arise from this information will be of little or no surprise to the team.

On that note, surprises generally only occur when the above types of communication is absent which of course is not just limited to testers. Either user requirements are ambiguous or not prioritized (by Product Management), or perhaps there are some development roadblocks and test depth is not made tangible (by the Scrum Team). I use these three elements as a heuristic to prime the thinking of our stakeholders, so that they can make smarter and wiser product management decisions for the business.

Becoming A Storyteller:

It might seem obvious to say, but the best storytellers always include three main parts: beginning, middle and end. More specifically, characters, conflict and resolution. In a well-structured novel, the author typically introduces the reader to a new character for a period of time, for the purpose of initial development for the audience. Soon, a conflict arises, followed by some form of conclusion, perhaps including resolution of some interpersonal struggles as well. In testing, we want to develop the characters (feature area prioritization), overcome a conflict of sorts (verify closure of dev tasks and proper bug fixes based on those priorities) and come to a conclusion (present compelling information to Product Management about your testing). Just like an author describes a character’s positive traits as well as their lacking characteristics, we too should be sure that our testing story includes both what we did test and also what we did not test. Many testers forget to talk about what they did not test, and it goes unsaid, which increases the risk gap. This would be akin to an author leaving pages of the book unwritten, and thus open to interpretation. However, unlike a novel where a cliffhanger ending might be intentionally crafted in order to spur sales of a second book, omission of information to our stakeholders should never be intentional, and is not part of the art and science of testing. If this is done, the human brain will naturally fill in gaps with their own knowledge which may be faulty, or worse, make assumptions which can become fact if left unchecked for a long enough amount of time. The problem with assumptions is that they are grown within a hidden part of the brain, only knowable to that individual and typically do not expose themselves until it is too late. Leave as few gaps as possible by becoming a good storyteller. It can be dangerous when a tester becomes “used to” the mental state of not telling a story; believing that their job is simply defined by their test case writing and bug reporting skills as they currently exist. As testers, let us not be so limited or obtuse in our thinking when it comes to exploring ideas that help us become a better tester, otherwise our testing skill-craft risks being destined to remain forever in its infancy.


The Content Of The Testing Story:

Now, no matter how good a salesperson you might be, or how convincing and compelling you may sound to your various stakeholders, your pot still needs to hold water. That is to say, the content of your story must be based on solid ground. There are three parts to the content of the testing story that we must tell as testers: product status, testing method and testing quality.

  • Product Status: Testers should tell a story about the status of the product, not only in what it does, but also how it fails or how it could fail. This is when we report on bugs found and other possible risks to the customer. Don’t forget, this report would also include how the product performs well, and the extent to which it meets or exceeds our understanding of customer desires.
  • Testing Methods: Testers also tell a story about how we tested the product. What test strategies and heuristics are you using to do your testing and why are those methods valuable? How does your model for testing expose valuable risks? Did you also talk about what you did not test and why (intentional vs blocked)? Tip: Artifacts that visualize how you proritize risk testing can greatly minimize your storytelling effort. 
  • Testing Quality: Testers also talk about the quality of the testing. How well were you able to conduct the testing. What were the risks and costs of your testing process? What made your work easier or harder, and what roadblocks should be addressed to aid in future testing? What is the product’s testability (your freedom to observe and control)? What issues did you present as testers and how were those addressed by the team?

All three of these elements help us to make sure the content of our testing story is not only sound but also durable in order to hold up under scrutiny.


The Logistics of Telling the Story:

So, what is our artifact, that we, as testers, have to show for our testing at the end of the sprint? No, it is not bug counts, dev tasks or even the tests we write. Developers have the actual code as their artifact, which is compelling to the technical team, given it can be code reviewed, checked against SLAs, business rules, etc. As testers, traditionally our artifact has been test cases, but as a profession, I feel we’ve missed the mark if we think that a test case document is a good way to tell a compelling story. Properly documented tests may be necessary in most contexts, but Product Management honestly does not have the time to read through every test case, nor should it be necessary. Tests cases are for you, the testing team to use for the purposes of cross-team awareness, regression suite building, future refactors, dev visibility, etc, while it is actually the high-level testing strategy that really provides the most bang-for-buck value add for stakeholders in Product Management.

As far as the actual ‘how-to’ logistics of the situation, there are multiple options that testers should explore within their context. Since humans are visually-driven beings, a picture can say a thousand words, and the use of models provides immense and immediate payoff for very little actual labor. Now that we’ve established criteria for how to make a story compelling, and what the content of that story should be, let’s take a look at the myriad of tools as your disposal that can help with the logistics of putting that story together.

Test Models:

Models that help inform our thinking as testers, will inherently help Product Management make better business discussions. This influence is an unavoidable positive outcome of using models. The HTSM, Heuristic Test Strategy Model by James Bach (XMind Link), is a model that can greatly broaden our horizons as testers. If you are new to this model, then you can focus initially just on the Quality Criteria and Test Techniques nodes which gives you a ready-made template for testers that will not only help us become subject matter experts in telling that compelling story to our stakeholders but eventually just become part of our definition of what it means to be a tester, rather than feeling like this is extra work.


By using models in grooming, planning and sprint execution, a tester is able to expand on each node for the specific feature, as well as prioritize testing of each one using High, Medium and Low, as a way to inform Product Management of their tiered test strategy. This kind of test modeling can also be made visible to the entire team before testing even begins, allowing testers to be more efficient and communicative, better closing the risk gap between them and the rest of their team, namely developers. More often than not, developers somewhat solidify how they are going to code something in their head after their team planning sessions, so making the test strategy available to the entire team allows them to compare both sets of intentions, their own and the tester’s, with the outcome of squashing assumptions and exposing even more product risks.

Testing Mnemonics:

Mnemonics is a fancy term for acronyms that spell words or phrases that are easy for humans to remember. For example, FEW HICCUPPS is one: “H” stands for History, “I” for Image, “C” for Comparable Products, etc. SFDIPOT (San Francisco Depot) is yet another that is meant to prime our thinking about how to test. These mnemonics are structured in this way to allow our test coverage to be more robust, helping us fill gaps we would have otherwise missed; not because we are inept, but because we are simply human. Here are some other popular testing mnemonics that are used by the community that should help you with your test strategy to ease storytelling: Testing Menemonics

At CAST 2015, a testing conference that I attended in August, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I listened to Ajay Balamurugadas talk about fulfilling his dream to finally speak at an international conference on testing. His passion for testing was infectious, and one of his suggestions was to pick a single mnemonic each day from that link above, and try it out. It takes only five minutes to understand each one, and then a time-box of 30-60 minutes to implement on a given story. Any tester who claims they do not have time to try these is doing one of the following, none of which are constructive: diluting themselves about the reality of time, intentionally shirking responsibility, confining themselves to their own cultural expectations or actively refusing to learn and grow as a tester. Try these out, see what happens. Use the ones that work for your context, and discard the others, but be sure to tell your team and other testers within your division what did and did not work for you, since sharing that information prevents others from having to reinvent the wheel.

Decision Tables:

I was reminded about how testers can use decision tables at CAST 2015 from Robert Sabourin, something I had not done since my days testing access control panels in the security industry, yet the concept can be easily applied when exploring software pathways and user scenarios. In my opinion, this is a more mathematical way to approach storytelling using boolean logic, but can be just as effective. The end artifact is still a somewhat thorough story of how you are going to conduct your testing, but it should be noted that decision tables do not account for questions raised during testing or areas that the tester will not test; so, these aspects should be documented along with the presentation of a decision table. While more mathematical than using more straightforward testing models like HTSM, and arguably less user friendly, this visual can still easily be explained to non-technical folks within Product Management. I suggest this here since this method may appeal to some minds that are more geared toward this type of thinking. decision-table

So, how does it work? In short, testers construct test flows and scenarios in this format that contains three parts: Actions, Conditions and Rules. These components, along with the expected outcome, True or False, determine the testing pathways. There is no subjectivity, as is with non-boolean expected results, since it is on of off, a 1 or a 0. This paints a very clear picture of how a feature has been tested, and implies that other scenarios are untested. This gives product owners both insight into your test strategy as well as awareness of potential risks that perhaps they had not yet foreseen as you are exploring the product for value to a customer perspective; albeit, a simulated customer perspective. Remember, we can never be the customer, but we can simulate click paths using established user user personas in our flow testing process.

Side Note: If you are not doing flow testing based on the established User Personas, then ask your Product Management team to provide those to you so that you can be doing better testing work in that area. Anyone conducting flow testing using their own self-created click-through paths apart from your established industry Personas may not be adding as much product value as they believe.

Why do this extra work?:

We should be able to qualify the testing we have done on the given feature in a way that is digestible by our stakeholders. Again, this is for the sake of increasing awareness, not simply proving that you ‘did your job’. If your Product Owner asks you, “What is your test strategy for Feature X?” then what would your answer be? Will you fall back on the typical response and just tell them you used years of knowledge and experience with the product to do the job? Or, will you be able to actually show them something that substantiates your testing from a high-level view that they can understand and garner real value? The latter, I hope. Believe it or not, your stakeholders need this information. Some may claim that they are ‘getting by’ just fine all this time without providing this extra level of storytelling, so they do not need to do this. I liken this argument to a swimmer saying he beat everyone in his heat, therefore he’s ‘good enough and doesn’t need improvement.’ First in your heat might be impressive, but in the greater competition, outside of that vacuum, those stats might fall flat when compared to the larger pool of competitors. Try to look through a paper towel roll and tell me you can see the full picture without fibbing a little.


On that note, it’s our directive as testers to be constantly learning from each other within the community, which most testers have yet to explore. We’ve all heard that teaching is ‘to learn something again for a second time.’ By forcing ourselves to use new cognitive tools to tell a story, we are also helping ourselves become Product SMEs, allowing us to be more thoughtful and valuable as testers. This not only benefits the company but your own personal career path as well. If interested, you can read more on that in my blog post titled, The Improvement Continuum.

Tailor Your Story:

Finally, there are multiple ways to tell the same story, and your methods should change depending on your audience. For example, we should not use the same talking points with C-level management as we would with our Product Owner. Since the relationship to the product is different for each role within the company, then the story should also be different. You would use the same themes obviously, but your language should be tailored to best fit their specific perspective as it relates to the product. In Talking with C-Level Management About Testing – Keith Klain – YouTube, Keith Klain discusses how different that messaging should be, based on your target audience. My favorite quote from that video is when the interviewer asks Keith, ‘How do you talk to them about testing?’ to which he replies, ‘I don’t tell talk about testing’, at which point he explains how we can discuss testing without using the traditional vernacular. Being aware of your audience should influence not only how you test but how you talk about your testing. I might be compelled to write another blog post specific to this topic; that is, if there’s enough interest in how to mold the testing story based on the various roles within your stakeholder demographic.


It is common for Product Management and development teams to be two completely different pages when it comes to managing customers expectations. Developers and testers can lose sight of the business risks, while product owners and VPs can lose sight of the technology constraints. Ultimately, it is the job of Product Management to make the final call for deployment of new code, while our job as testers is to inform those management folks about any potential product risks related to the release. This is mentioned in the Abstract, but it is worth highlighting again; here’s a good blog post by Michael Bolton better exploring that tangent, Testers:  Get Out of the Quality Assurance Business «  Developsense Blog. Again, the purpose of testing is “to cast light on the status of the product and it’s context in the service of our stakeholders.” – James Bach.Testers tell a compelling story, but at the end of the day, your story should roll up to that. If it does not, then reevaluate if the information you’re telling is for your benefit, or your stakeholder’s. Be professionally skeptical and ask yourself questions: Is this worth sharing? Have I made it compelling enough to drive home my progress? Many Product Owners have not had any interest in what their tester documents because it has traditionally been of little value to them. Don’t use a Product Owner’s lack of desire as an excuse to stunt your own growth as a tester. Get good at this, and become a more responsible tester. While the failing of apathy is the responsibility of the entire team, we are at the helm of testing and have the power to change it for the better.

I’d like to hear your feedback, based on your own experiences of how you tell your testing story to your stakeholders. I’ve made the case for us, as testers, needing to tell that story. I’ve also gone one step further and provided you with models and other techniques you can use to get started putting this into action. I am eager to hear how you currently do this, as well as which parts interest you most, from the material I have presented here.

Quality Concepts For Testers

Quality Concepts For Testers

Abstract: I’ve put some resources together on techniques, tools and most importantly; new ways of thinking, that I believe would be beneficial to those within our skill-craft of testing. I know we come from a variety of backgrounds, so I wanted to share some of the quality concepts that I see as important from a testing perspective so that we have a common baseline from which to operate.

First, let’s be honest. As software testers we are not pushed by the actual work of testing to continually improve. While software developers are forced to continually adapt to new technologies to stay relevant, testers can easily get into a comfortable routine. In short, testers are more prone to become products of their environment and continue doing the same level of work, so we must be consciously pursuing information that makes us better at what we do, to ensure we do not plateau in our learning (see my other blog post entitled Improvement Continuum). Does everyone get into this rut, this plateau mindset? No way, but can we sometimes plateau and reach a point where we feel like ‘My process hasn’t changed in 6 months, am I still adding value? Am I still increasing the quality of the product as well as my own mindset?’…You bet. These are valid questions so I am hoping this information will help you feel more empowered.

Some of you might know this already, but I am a big believer in the ideals put forth in Context-Driven Testing (CDT); which states that there are no “Best” practices, but rather “Good” ones that fit the situation/team/industry that you are in. Quality is also subjective depending on the value given to it for the specific circumstance. Your stakeholders define what the value of that quality is, it does not simply inherently exist; therefore, “Quality is value to some person” as Gerald Weinberg put it; but more accurately, “Quality is value to some person who matters” – Michael Bolton/James Bach.

Many times as testers, we push forth in testing with our view of what quality is, but we do not re-evaluate that term from our stakeholder’s point of view for each project or feature/epic we work on. How do you know if you are a context-driven tester? Use the following heuristic (rule of thumb):

If you genuinely believe that quality is subjective and also believe that each story or set of stories has a different target group of stakeholders, then you must also believe that revisiting your definition of quality is a ‘must do’ when switching between projects.

But before we get too deep, here is a quick guideline that I like to give both new and veteran testers to make sure we’re in the same ballpark and moving in a common direction:

Chances are, there’s information here that is not familiar, and piques your interest. If this information does not interest you, then ask yourself if you are a detractor or a promoter. This is going to sound harsh, but it is the truth: You are either moving the testing community forward, or consciously remaining in the dark. The more I dive into the context-driven test community, the more I realize there is to be learned. My preconceptions are constantly shifted and modified as I explore this kind of information. My challenge to you: Find content within here, or related content/tools and take a deep-dive into that over the course of a few weeks or even months. Become an SME (Subject Matter Expert) in a given topic, then actively share that with your team (Community of Practice meetings, Weekly/Monthly Roundtables, etc.) and in-time become a known mentor/thought-leader on that subject which should organically draw others to you. What I’ve listed above is just the tip of the iceberg – There are so many avenues to explore here so finding something that you could get passionate about should be the easy first step. The hard part is seeing it out, but having others on a team pursuing endeavors along similar lines should give you strength.

My hopes are that this will spur cross-team brainstorming within your teams, or allow you to find some new learning pathways if you are testing on an island. A lot of these ideas and tools are great, but putting them in context through ongoing discussions is even more useful. Please feel free to make leave comments on what has and has not worked for you, and I’d love to engage. Also, the discussion will benefit others, which is the whole point of sharing these ideas to begin with.


Welcome To My Blog

First, I’d like to thank you for spending your time here, given the countless resources for learning that are available to us through other mediums. If you have not yet read my main About page, then please do that as well to garner more context on where I am coming from.

While this blog and its contents are my own original work unless otherwise noted, I do not claim to be the resident subject-matter expert on any given topic. My mentality is in a constant state of evolution in regards to my paradigms and heuristics for handling testing. This mentality is forever in a state of constant flux, shepherded by some solidified base pairs that act as guard-rails to assist my movement through the four stages of learning. I do make an intentional effort to gut-check myself, and verify that I am at least at the third stage, conscious competence, before I publish a post. Unconscious competence within testing is my ultimate goal, but the very nature and vastness of testing precludes any possibility of setting a date-stamped milestone in that realm.

Everything I post, must roll-up to supporting this directive:

“The purpose of testing is to cast light on the status of the product and its context, in the service of my [stakeholders].” – James Bach

James uses the term “clients,” but I prefer “stakeholders” hence the bracketed quote modification. As a proponent of context-driven testing principles, it is my intent to spend the majority of the time writing up my own thoughts and ideas on this blog; however, there may be times that I feel it necessary to share a given topic or am otherwise motivated to share the work of others within the community, at which point they will be duly credited to the best of my abilities.

I encourage my readers to leave comments, questions or suggestions on any of my blog posts as it relates to the material. I ask that my readers be more reflective and less reflexive. My own personal heuristic for doing this, is to read a blog at least twice and at least twenty-four hours apart to help formulate my comment. Some postings are more basic, and thus the heuristic is not appropriate in those cases; however, I find that my comments are more cohesive and coherent when I use that method for deeper discussion. All external comments will go into a queue which I will moderate, then within a short time period I will post the original comment along with my reply. I have seen this format work well on other blog and article-driven websites. Since I have the same expectation from the community that I have of myself, I expect to be challenged by you, and other readers. Hopefully this is done in a way that is mature, respectful and facilitates discussion.

Finally, if you had not already figured out by now, I tend to write conversationally, so you may see technical flaws in the grammar, become frustrated with sentence constructs or experience superfluous comma usage where I intend there to be conversational pauses, from time to time. Thank you for tolerating some of my idiosyncrasies during your time spent on my site. It is my highest hope that you find this information valuable, and more importantly, applicable within your own context.

– Connor Roberts

A little something extra…

At the time of writing this I have over twenty partially completed blog posts in my unpublished queue. In the interest of transparency, and to give you an idea of what kind of topics I might be discussing, below is a list of the current working titles. Since this is a blog, and not a book, I currently have no specific preference on the order of topics. If a title catches your eye, make me aware of your interest, and I’ll do my best to bump it up in the cadence.

  • Scheduled for publication by September 1, 2015:
    • Testers Tell A Compelling Story
    • The Improvement Continuum
    • Quality Concepts
  • Scheduled for publication by September 7, 2015:
    • A Tester’s Sprint Framework
    • Heuristic Test Strategy Model (HTSM)
    • A Radio Graph For Testers
  • In-Progress/Unscheduled:
    • CAST 2015: Distilled (bumped up)
    • Ethics in Testing (bumped up)
    • Professional Reputation (bumped up)
    • Balance within Testing (bumped up)
    • Fighting Occam’s Razor
    • Design Acclimation’s Influence On Testing
    • Over Stimulation and Test Degradation
    • Perspective, Bias and Free Will
    • The Tester
    • Product Advocacy in Testing
    • Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose
    • A Case For Cases
    • Conjunctive Test Strategy Design
    • The Ladder of Testing Paradigms
    • The Iterative Learning Requirement
    • Biology And Testing