Ep 87: Players gonna play play play play play

Podcast news: Friend of the show, Neil Studd has a new podcast! It’s called Testers Island Discs and there’s an intro episode out tomorrow: https://twitter.com/TestersIsland?lang=en

Now, on with the show.

So this is all Richard Bradshaw’s fault.

He came and did a talk at the BBC back in…August, I think? And there was a slide in it about the phrase ‘I’ll have a play’ and how that isn’t what testers do, and it undersells our skills. He said (and I’m paraphrasing here as it was months ago) that we could write charter for that session and having a play becomes exploratory testing.

I kind of disagreed when I first heard that, because to me, a charter for Exploratory Testing is specific. There’s an aim, or something specific being tested: a certain area, or a certain user journey, or even a user journey as a user (a bad actor as security testing, or a visually impaired user or similar).

When I ‘have a play about’, I am doing just that – there’s no real charter. There are a couple of reasons I ‘play about’:

I’m getting familiar with a product
I’m not confident that I’ve tested everything but I’m not sure what I’m missing

The first one is pretty easy – I’m just seeing what I can see without getting too much help – what makes sense going in cold, what could be improved, are there any quick wins, things like that. I could definitely wrap that up in a charter and a time block and call that exploratory testing.

But the second one is much more nebulous. I don’t know what I’m looking for, other than a sense of being more comfortable with my testing. It usually happens that I’ve tested a story and not found any issues, but I’m not happy. I’ll go make a cup of tea, and head back to my desk and start looking around a bit wider. Sometimes I think up a scenario for the original story that I’d missed previously, sometimes I find completely unrelated issues, sometimes I get a sense that I understand the system a little more. It’s a lot hard to wrap that in a charter when I don’t know why I’m not happy. I can’t formulate the words for bits I’m not happy with sometimes.

Does this make any sense? Do other people have this?

But I at the same time, I’m no’t just clicking about, am I?

That’s what it feels like, but it’s not.

There’s context there – pre-existing domain knowledge, or client knowledge, or team knowledge. There’s knowledge of what apps or websites or programs are meant to do or how they’re meant to look. It’s knowing which browsers are relevant, and which are awkward to work with. I may not be able to put words to why I’m not happy, but if I let myself wander, a little defocused, and aimless, I might find something.

It’s playing around with all the knowledge of being a tester in the background.

And that was a weird thing to realise.

I had split my work mentally into structured testing that was in a testing mindset and just playing about which was freeform, nothing intense, more of a safety net, or a get to know the product thing. I think it’s because it’s fun as well – it’s fun to explore a system and check out all its nook and crannies, and I think I’d separated that out from structured, goal-driven testing?

But it’s not really separate. Playing about, clicking about, when you’re a tester, is testing. It might not be structured even as much as exploratory testing it, but it’s still testing. And you could probably wrap it up in a mission, maybe break it down into charters, and put a time limit on it. Then you’re doing exploratory testing. It’s like the difference between science and dicking around is taking notes. The difference between playing about and exploratory testing is writing a charter.

The next time I have a play about, I’m going to write a charter or a mission (even if it’s just ‘get more comfortable’), and take notes. This will also hopefully improve my notetaking skills, which is a bonus as my notes have gone to shit recently.

So, I hate to say it, but I guess I agree with Richard now. I really enjoy the phrase ‘playing about’ or ‘noodling about’ because it’s fun, and I think testing can be fun, but I also see that it means a lot. I might start switching it out ‘I’ll have an investigate’ or ‘I’ll take a look’, as that still suggests more structure and skill.

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