How Do I Test This?


Occasionally I’ll be looking at a bug report / kanban card / story, trying to understand it and its implications. Unable to make sense of what I’m reading, I’ll find the originator and ask them “how do I test this”? The problem is I don’t mean this literally; it’s a crutch and I need to stop saying it.

Instead of making sense of the artifact I’m now implying to the receiver of the question I would like them to tell me how to test (aka make the important testing decisions for me). That’s the best case scenario. Worst case scenario the person thinks I can’t do the job I was hired to do. Having said that, if the receiver responds to the literal asking of this question, I won’t discard or discount the information. I’m constantly amazed how open programmers are, how they will give suggestions about what they would test or what they are worried about. I can then add this valuable information to the test ideas I’m forming (but won’t rely solely on them).

Considering I’m often the testing expert (either on the team or within the company) if I let someone else make the testing decisions then I’m forsaking my (likely) greater skill and experience. I doubt anyone would prefer this. If I had said what I originally meant “this isn’t clear, can you please tell me more about it so I can better understand its changes and implications?” I could have avoided these problems entirely.

To help accomplish this, here’s a protocol I’ve been using lately:

  • When I come across some artifact I don’t understand I remind myself this is a good thing. It’s probably unclear to a few people.
  • I’ll find the person who wrote or worked on the artifact and tell them I’m having trouble understanding it. Be specific.
    • Try to describe what (if anything) I do understanding. Often this highlights good + bad assumptions the other person will quickly point out or make reference to
  • As the other person starts filling in gaps, I will then start modeling my testing and my information objective
  • At the end I’ll follow up with ‘how did you / would you test it?”
    • Since I’m already talking with the person I might as well see what they covered or what they might be worried about.

It’s hard to recognize when we might be conveying the wrong message. It took me overhearing someone else’s confusion and use of this phrase before I realized what was being said (vs implied). Although the implied confusion is understandable, the literal meaning is inconsistent with the message I try to convey and I intend to stop using the phrase. I hope you do to.