Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Problems and Context Driving

I got involved in a small twitter exchange about problems, bugs and perception of the problems the other day with Andy Glover and Markus Gärtner.

Problem Perception
There was a view expressed that a user's perception of a problem is a problem.

I'd agree with this in most "normal" cases. But then there was a knock at the door and Mr. D. Advocate lent me his hat.

So putting the devil's advocate hat on I thought about how this view might not be enough. Or borrowing De Bono's phrase, "good, but not enough".

My way of looking at this for a counter-example was to think of driving a car. If I press a button, or depress a lever, expecting a certain response or action and something totally different occurs is this a bug? It might be, depending on what the button/lever was and the response.

If I'd pressed the button marked AC and the radio came on - I might think, "there's a problem here".

If I'd pressed a lever for the windscreen wipers and the indicator blinkers started then I might double-check the markings on the lever.

Blink Testing
BTW, Anne-Marie Charrett labelled this lever mix-up as an alternative form of "blink" testing!

Further Ramblings
I then started having flashbacks to my own encounters with cars in different countries and how I'd understood the issues:
  • Being stuck in an underground carpark at SFO, engine running, facing a wall, unable to reverse as I couldn't release the parking brakes - there were two and one was hidden. Manual to the rescue. Perception issue about where I'd thought the parking brake release would be.
  • Driving to San Jose (same car) and a heavy rain shower starting - how the heck do I switch the wipers on? Pull over and get the manual out. Perception problem about where the lever normally is.
  • Opening a taxi car door in Japan - taboo. Soon followed by the next of trying to tip the driver. Applying customs of one culture to another. My problem.
  • Driving someone round a roundabout (left hand side of road) when they'd only ever experienced driving on the right hand side. Were the muffled screams a "problem" or just a perception issue?
  • Trying to park in Greece - not on the pavement, unlike everyone else. Problem with local customs using my perception of a norm.
  • Sitting in the back of a taxi on the way to the office outside Athens going round a mountain pass whilst the driver is reading a broadsheet. Is my anxiousness a cultural thing?
  • Being surprised by overtaking customs in Greece. Flashing lights before the maneuvour starts. Irritation and confusion. My problem, not being familiar with the local customs.
  • Driving round the motorways of France and Italy - minimal gaps between cars - my problem, perception problem?
  • Driving in Sweden - coming face-to-face with a moose at speed. My problem. Obviously the moose has right of way!
Moose EncounterImage by Steffe via Flickr

Problem vs Perception?
Problems can have fixed interpretations (this is an agreed issue) and areas of vagueness. Is this my perception or interpretation?

As testers I think we try to root out and understand what our perceptions are and then understand whether they are reasonable, on track or in need of further investigation.

Some of this might be working against a well documented expectation or at other times not knowing what to expect - I deal with both extremes.

One way I handle this is to keep an open (and skeptical) mind and then work out what my hypothesis (interpretation according to the observation) is and compare that with the product owner's.

Sometimes there's no clear-cut right or wrong interpretation.

But it helps to keep an open mind with perception (and borrow Mr. D.A.'s hat now and then).

Have you had any problems with perception lately?

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1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon,

    It's not that I had a problem related to perception lately, I just want to share my perception on perception. It's two-fold, and I apply it both in testing and daily life.

    Here it is.
    1. Does customer have a choice?
    2. What are other possible impacts if follow customer's preference?


    Input box, edit box should support both "mouse only" way, keyboard shortcuts, and mixed way for copy/paste operations. For a really good usability, keyboard shortcuts should be customizable too.
    So, a customer may not know about some options, or dislike some, but still has a choice provided.

    Smoking restriction. If you run a gas station, would you allow customers smoking nearby a pump? Even if that's their preference, and they say that gas station owner across the street allows that?

    Thank you,
    Albert Gareev