Sunday, 2 January 2011

Language can be confusing

" #softwaretesting #testing "

I was reminded recently of the confusion that is wrought by both written and spoken language.

I read Michael Larsen's account of a weekend testing session, here. Whenever I see or hear about this type of potential for confusion I usually think of what Tor Norretranders says in The User Illusion, that communication is a process - there needs to be a synchronisation between sender and receiver for it to happen effectively.

How to combat?
This synchronisation or handshaking is a form of check with the other person, "Did you understand? Ok, repeat back what you think I just said in your own words".

Other ways to help elicit true intentions or meanings might be to use something along the lines of context-free questioning from Exploring Requirements (Gause, Weinberg). If you don't have access to the book you can read Michael Bolton's post.

Another Gause & Weinberg book, Are Your Lights On, gives another exercise - the "Mary had a little lamb" example. Here the emphasis is changed on each word as well as changing the words themselves (via dictionary or thesaurus) to get at the real or important meaning of the sentence.

As a tester the room for confusion and mis-communication is vast - whether this is restricted to a customer requirement, a stakeholder's view of an activity, result or interpretation or writing a fault/bug report in a useful way (to your team, stakeholder and developer).

Being aware of the potential for traps in mis-communication is valuable!

For anyone thinking that spoken communication is much simpler than written you might want to take a look here. Enjoy!

I haven't even mentioned confusion in translation - I'm reminded of a presentation in Swedish where the emphasis on words was misplaced so that "the following six pictures" became "the following sex pictures" - and immediately caught the attention of the audience!

1 comment:

  1. Hi Simon,
    Happy New Year! Good Post. I agree and have seen it happen so many times. I think it is also important to try and understand the people who you are communicating with, and their preferred method of communicating...examples, drawing, groups, face-to-face, e-mail. What is 'their' language of communicating?

    Although this can be difficult, I have found this to be an advantage when trying to understand and extract information.