Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Test Approach Mnemonic: MICROBE

With TestBash 2017 on the way, I've been reflecting on my journey as a public speaker, since being inspired by the speaker and overall experience of TestBash Brighton 2013. Looking through some older material I discovered 'Testing is Exploratory', delivered at Leeds Testers Gathering, back in 2014. Extolling the virtue of a lightweight and transparent test approach, inspired by my attendance on Rapid Software Testing the previous year...

Here's what I said then:
What is a 'Test Approach'? 
"It is the act of THINKING about the BUSINESS PROBLEM and how TESTING will contribute VALUE using your own BRAIN and that of OTHERS with the outcome of DELIVERY in mind." 
Test Approach Mnemonic:
  • Mission - the primary concern of the testing, your mum should understand.
  • Involving – involve stakeholders, discover their biases, not your own. 
  • Challenges - what questions are we seeking to explore? 
  • Risk - we are in the risk business, so what are the business risks?
  • Observable - show it rather than write it, pictures and spoken words are engaging.
  • Brief – Concise is the real challenge, means choices are required!
  • Epistemic Humility – Have you been humble with your knowledge? Have you allowed challenge and diversity? 
See, Microbe, reminds you to keep it small, see? 

What about now then? I would amend my definition of a 'Test Approach':
"It is the act of CONTINUOUSLY THINKING as information EMERGES about how TESTING can provide ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS using the collective ORACLES around you to DELIVER VALUE to those who matter."

The key additions are the loud notions of 'CONTINUOUSLY', 'EMERGES' and 'ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS' which are inspired by more experience of testing in an agile context. Having been fortunate enough to work on a number of projects and products where the architecture has been allowed, for the most part, to emerge, an adaptive test approach which sharpens with change has been crucial. Creating a great test approach which provides information that was relevant is waste of a high order. In terms of ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS, given we build systems iteratively, timely information from testing can actually be acted upon near the point of discovery. Make it count!

I would also disambiguate 'your own BRAINS and that of OTHERS' to 'ORACLES', as that implies more than just brains, which is a subset of possible oracles. DELIVER VALUE is key addition. Testing, in my view, suffers from the law of diminishing returns, the more you do, the less value you are likely to get. To believe that one's testing can match the infinite variety of the world, is a false position. Delaying delivery is delaying learning.

The actual mnemonic I would change in a few ways too:

  • Mission - the primary concern of the testing, as in there are many concerns, but a choice must be made. After all, we can't test it all.
  • Involving – involve stakeholders, discover their biases, and your own.
  • Challenges - what are the questions that those who matter wish to be answered? What might I need to fulfil the mission that I don't currently have?
  • Risk - we are in the risk business, so what are the business risks?
  • Observable - if you can't observe what you are testing, how effective is your testing? If I can't observe the entity I am testing (via logs for example) how can I remedy that?
  • Brief – Concise is the real challenge, how does one get a breadth of testing lenses so one can sample the product to find important problems?
  • Epistemic Humility – Have you been humble with your knowledge? Have you allowed challenge and diversity?

I still love to set a mission. I like that it feels like a meaningful negotiation. Where shall we focus? What isn't important? Gets to the heart of the matter early I find.

As for the rest, most of the mnemonic has changed apart from two areas, risk and epistemic humility. I still fundamentally believe testing is risk based, and the information exposed by testing should concern those risks to be of value. Extending that knowing that you don't know everything is a something I'm glad I've retained as my career has progressed. Its even more true now. As a proportion, I know a lot less now than I did then.

Always fun to reflect on what you used to think about testing. Try it!

Original slides here:



  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, loved reading it and going to save these slides for future reference. Keep up the good work

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