Friday, 25 June 2010

Showing your thinking or thought-process

A chunk of this post is based on a comment I posted on James Bach's post on challenging colleagues, here. You've probably read it, but if not I'd recommend it - the post not my comment :)

The Challenge
Challenging colleagues is an interesting topic. I personally enjoy being challenged - although maybe not a constant deluge so that I don't get time to think (but that's probably just a symptom of a different problem.)

How I respond to challenges is very much a part of me - responding to challenges is intrinsically a personal thing - everyone does it differently. Some people might not want to respond, but that just means it takes time for the response to emerge, develop or evolve - not everyone (myself included) can always respond quickly. For me, "let me think about that and come back to you" is sometimes a necessary "breather".

Maybe somebody responds in brutal Anglo-Saxon ;-) But that's probably a symptom of something else or maybe a undiplomatic way of saying "I don't want to respond to that right now."

But, I think being challenged and taking up challenges is a necessary part of being a thinking tester.

Suppose you're trying to describe a problem to a colleague (or even just discussing a topic) and the "why" and "what do you mean by that" questions come up. It forces you to go deeper or re-assess your approach (either you haven't got to the right level of detail/background yet or your approach is making an assumption about how the other person thinks/responds...)

This is good - it forces you to think, analyse what your own pre-conceptions are and understand more detail of what you're trying to say. This self-evaluation is key. At least I think it's a key part for any thinking tester.

For any thinking tester this is necessary to help their own learning and understanding about a topic - those are the tools that will help them ask better questions and even look for assumptions that others are making (whether it's about a product feature, claim or bug.)

So, challenges per se are a "must" or a /good/ thing. Of course, how people respond to them is a more personal thing - sometimes it's instant and sometimes they need their own space, go away and think about it. Time to digest, ruminate, cogitate and then respond.

But it's the thinking that's important - and even showing your thinking.

Showing Your Thinking
During my "maths days" then "showing your working" was actually quite important - it was an insight into your assumptions and map-making to come to a solution, idea, hypothesis, conjecture etc. It was helpful to the lecturers - as they could highlight traps, wrong-turns and shaky assumptions. Their job was to help you think through the problem and even bounce ideas back and forth. So showing your working was just a way for the lecturer to get up to speed (if need be) to your thinking - and that's a good thing most of the time.

I try to re-use that idea - not only because it can help others understand my point or question - but I might re-visit the idea sometime later and then it's a useful reminder about what my own assumptions were "at the time" - they might not hold true longer or been forgotten (very possible!)

Plus it helps to stop things getting lost in translation - even when you have the same language! You might speak the same language but a different dialect or sub-language. Do you feel me?

I enjoy reading testing blog posts and comments. Sometimes that's the trigger needed to kick-start my own thinking around a topic - or usually a certain angle of it. Some of my best creative and instant thinking comes whilst answering questions and even posting comments on other people's blog - time to go fish for those comments...

So, I definitely think challenges are a good thing. But, responding to challenges and "showing your thinking" are even better!

Do you show your thinking?


  1. Hi Simon,

    Good Post! I have been 'thinking' about the importance of mulling for a while now. I mean I think I mull quite a bit, regurgitate my thinking to make it better. It's not always the best thing to do, and I'm trying to find a quicker/'better' way to 'mull'. Would that be a good thing? Is that the basis for Bach/Bolton's Rapid Test Course? Perhaps I should try and do that?

    I have been meaning to post my version of a 'testers playbook' again for a while now, where I think I try and 'Write down' my working...

    I really would like more videos of testers taking challenges and perhaps being challenged I think this would help me and others a lot

    Can I draw a picture of myself with a bubble coming out of my head to show I'm working..hehe


  2. Hi Simon,
    Its a nice post about challenging. I guess you are referring to accepted challenges.
    Because I think of some (not sure if I should call the same)of them, like for example "Do testers have a purpose" or other similar I get angry sometimes (even if not asked as direct question) :)


  3. Peter,


    If you get a chance to take the RST course then I'd jump at it - it is a "thinking course for testers", or maybe a "testing course for thinking testers".

    I'd look forward to reading your testers playbook if you get the chance to do it. I think we are both on the same "out of the box thread" sometimes! :-)

  4. Hi Sebi,

    Yes, accepted challenges. But even a non-accepted challenge can be thought about and even answered (maybe not straightaway).

    If someone was to ask (me), "do testers have a purpose" I'd probably try to examine where they were coming from:-

    "Tell me about your thinking behind that statement."
    "Is there a specific reason that you might consider that testers are not needed?"
    "If so, please expand on that"

    Without that sort of background there's no real basis for discussion - it just becomes rhetoric. Applying critical thinking techniques I could also ask:

    "Show me the propositions that lead you to this potential conclusion"

    Then I'd examine each of the propositions, and on, and on... If the questioner wanted to engage in debate then I'd continue, otherwise - like you say, I'd have the right to not accept the challenge - that's always an option, of course.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. Peter - do it! You're right, a tester's playbook is a way of showing your workings so that other people have access to critique your test design. In my current workplace, only the test team has access to test scripts - the rest of the development team are given defect tracking-only licences. This seems to me to be failing to show our working.

    I've got one week left there, and I'm going to be recommending that we move away from lengthy detailed procedural scripts towards a tester's playbook - I won't be there to see it, but I'll make my case and hope they follow through on it. I don't know if they will, inertia is a very powerful force.