Trial by Reason – Challenge the Logic

Explore Assurity 11 June 2014 Joanna Yip

The ability to communicate is in every effective tester’s unwritten job description – whether this is to determine requirements with the business analysts, discuss issues with developers or simply interact with the team.

However, there are also times when testers are asked difficult questions and their first instinct is to get defensive and blubber a few barely comprehensible answers.

This reaction is more likely to give people a reason to doubt, rather than believe in your competency.

At the most recent Wellington WeTest Workshop on 8 May, Joshua Raine led a compelling interactive workshop challenging participants to rethink their strategies when responding to formidable questions.

Questions most often seem formidable to us because we don’t know (or don’t think we know) the answer. And, given that testing is frequently misunderstood by non-testing personnel in an organisation or on a project, we can often get asked questions that we probably aren’t accountable for.

However, it is often the case that we know the answer after all. Quite often, it’s not actually the answer we don’t know but the question. We often either don’t understand what’s being asked of us, or we misinterpret it and wrongfully conclude we can’t answer it.

So before you claim ignorance and pass the buck onto someone else, consider some of Josh’s techniques for analysing these tough questions. After all, testers are there to learn about the product so there should be a chance we can shed some light on any reasonable question.

Josh’s first suggestion revolves around the idea that words and language are subjective. This is the idea that the person asking the question could mean something different to how the receiver is interpreting it. The person asking may not be even able to communicate exactly what they want. For example, if someone says to you “We need test scripts for auditing.” What if you don’t use test scripts? “We don’t have any...” is hardly a sufficient reply.

Rather, Joshua reminds us to dig deeper into what the intent is behind the statement. Question the validity. Is there a missing assumption? What is it that they actually want answered? In this example, the auditor could simply require evidence that some testing has been done or that a particular requirement or calculation has been covered. In such a case, a better reply might be “We have other forms of evidence which you can provide to the auditor such as…”

Ultimately, you don’t necessarily have to directly answer the question as it was framed. If you can identify and satisfy the intent behind the question, that may be just as good. So try to dig deeper into what outcome the person is trying to achieve.

Next, Josh suggested breaking a statement down into its component parts to identify the intent behind it. Focusing on key words can help you to think more broadly about the potential messages that the person could be trying to communicate. Doing this encourages you to think beyond your initial assumption and to explore what they could actually mean.

As an example, take the statement: “That’s not a bug. It’s an enhancement!” The key words here are ‘bug’ and ‘enhancement’. What other words have similar meanings? ‘Bug’ could mean defect, issue, problem, stray from requirement etc. ‘Enhancement’ could mean a change, something new, the improvement of something existing...

You also have to look at who is making the statement. A project manager who is worried about the current bug count may merely want to hear that they can tell the higher powers the good news. A developer, on the other hand, could be offended that someone is proclaiming their work as defective. It all comes down to context. But breaking down the sentence components can help you think about other intentions behind the statements being made.

Of course, these sorts of tips can’t help you answer every hairy question you’ll ever get asked. But keeping a calm head and logically analysing the questions that normally make you sweat can help both you and your questioner to discover some answers.

The next WeTest Workshop is on 19 June and focuses on ‘Managing Risks in Offshore Outsourcing’. Thanks to Assurity for sponsoring the event and providing the venue.