Friday, 27 July 2012

Challenges with Communicating Models III

The previous posts, [1] and [2], have looked at some of the problems and traps with the mental models we create and how they might (or might not) show up when we try and communicate (use) those models.

Then I was reminded of a passage in a book that might help...

A Heuristic For Communication?
George Polya wrote a marvelous book, ref [3], which addressed heuristic reasoning in mathematical problems. All are applicable for software testing - indeed the book could be treated as an analogy for heuristic approaches in software testing, and deserves separate treatment.

However, just as useful about the specific edition of the book I reference was the foreword by John Conway, a mathematician, ref [4]. He made some great observations about Polya's work, and I will raise one of the observations from Conway's foreword:
"It is a paradoxical truth that to teach mathematics well, one must also know how to misunderstand it at least to the extent one's students do! If a teacher's statement can be parsed in two or more ways, it goes without saying that some students will understand it one way and others another..." 
And from this I derive something I've been calling the Conway Heuristic, ref [5]:
"To communicate something well (effectively), one must be able to misunderstand the information (report, result, interpretation, explanation) in as many ways as the other participants in the communication (discussion or dialogue) process."
The beauty of this is that it reminds me that no matter how well practiced my method is, how well-polished my talk or presentation is, there is likely to be someone in the crowd, stakeholder grouping, or distribution list that "doesn't get it". The chance of that is greater if I haven't spoken with them before or they are unfamiliar with any of the used methods and procedures for the communication.

This is a difficult heuristic to apply - it requires effort, training and awareness to do it consistently and successfully. I think more training on how we report testing information (and stories) is needed with emphasis on their clarity, devil's advocacy role-playing and awareness of rat-holes and how to handle them.

To be continued...

[1] The Tester's Headache Challenges with Communicating Models 
[2] The Tester's Headache Challenges with Communicating Models II 
[3] How to Solve It (Polya, 2004, Expanded Princeton Science Library)
[4] Wikipedia

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