Exploratory Testing

reinventing the wheel

I liken my experience of creating an Exploratory Testing workshop as similar to recreating the wheel. It would be easy to copy someone else’s version of a wheel, after all there are a lot of great wheels out there. Alternatively, I could create my own wheel.
But how do I do that? How do you improve on the wheel?

My feelings about holding such a workshop range from massive excitement to extreme anxiety as I grapple will the question, “What the hell am I going to talk about”?

I’m not talking about the content, there as been plenty written on Exploratory Testing and I could spend weeks just reading up on other peoples articles, notes etc. If I wanted to, I could re-regurgitate lots of excellent material on the subject. But I have a problem with that approach. In fact I have two problems (maybe even three if you take into account the massive attack of self doubt I had this morning!)  with that approach.

The first one is this.

How do you teach Exploratory Testing? As James Bach writes in his article Exploratory Testing Explained and something I WHOLEHEARTEDLY concur with (through bitter experience!) is that:

Among the hardest things to explain is something that everyone already knows. We all know how to listen, how to read, how to think, and how to tell anecdotes about the events in our lives. As adults, we do these things everyday. Yet the level of any of these skills, possessed by the average person, may not be adequate for certain special situations. Psychotherapists must be expert listeners and lawyers expert readers; research scientists must scour their thinking for errors and journalists report stories that transcend parlor anecdote.

So it is with exploratory testing (ET)

The second problem I have is that

If the workshop is going to be any good, I know it has to come from the heart, my heart.

So even if I was tempted to say take James Bach’s course and deliver it (anyone who takes his course has this permission, as long as credit is given) it would be pointless.  Because I know it has to be my story, what my understanding of ET is, not anyone else’s. Its one of the reasons why James’s course is so damn good. His conviction comes through because its HIS story.

As an exercise, creating an ET workshop is a great challenge. It demands the ultimate in story telling. There is nothing better to confirm/challenge your beliefs and/or understanding than to articulate it in front of a class.

There is also nothing more humbling. It makes you realise how much I have still to learn. As part of my effort in creating this course I’m reviewing  familiar documentation again. In particular James’s RST slides.Looking at these slides in a critical way has been very beneficial. Its made me question my depth of understanding of some of its content.

Its been a good morning though. I’ve made some baby steps and have got some ideas that I feel I can call my own.

I know that the workshop is to be practical, and I have a few ideas in mind on that. The challenge is to use the exercises to teach an ET point.

What the workshop(or the wheel) will end up looking like, I’m not yet too sure. One thing I do know is that as time evolves it will become more and more my own story and yes, my wheel.

4 replies on “reinventing the wheel”

I can help you with this, if you want.
It’s important that you develop your own exercises, just as you say. In one sense this is reinventing the wheel. To reinvent something is to learn deeply about it.

In another sense you aren’t reinventing, you are re-implementing. You don’t have to re-discover from scratch the principles of teaching ET. I can tell you what those are. But in telling you, I leave you with a big problem, which is how to work those principles in developing your materials and, more importantly, when working with students.

Here’s an important principle: you don’t learn ET by receiving words about it. Talking about ET at best is a means of preparing the student to learn, or helping them digest what has happened to them. The major part of learning ET is in practicing ET.

Therefore a lot of ET training consists in establishing a laboratory where learning will happen. Then you have to create some tension (a challenge). Then you react to what happens in such a way to reward, question, and guide the students no matter what they try to do.

For instance, consider an object that most people will relate to and perhaps can be distributed in class. I often use a whiteboard pen, for instance. Hand this to someone and say “test this.”

Exercises grow like bushes. One that I do with wine glasses now has a whole slide set associated with it. It’s deepened over the years as students have brought out new dimensions in it.

I can help you develop such an exercise that would be all your own, under your own control. See me on Skype and we’ll work in it.

Not all exercises need to be like that, but most of them. There are many variations. For instance you could pick a skill and have people work on it. Or you could pick a problem and have them solve it. Or create a trap and have them get out of it.
I learned from Jerry Weinberg the power of doing an exercise in a skill BEFORE teaching the skill. It creates motivation.

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