How do I think? – Je ne sais pas!

How do we decide if a desperately needed but problematic release can go live?

How do we decide if we have done enough testing, or which parts can safely be skipped?

Why do we worry about unimportant things, whilst ignoring things that are vital?

The way we think and decide is central to how we run every aspect of testing, yet we have little understanding of how we actually think.

In this tutorial we discover how we think, a process very different from how we believe we think! We examine situations where we are rational, and other situations where we are highly irrational. We discover triggers that switch us from rational to irrational thought, drivers from our evolutionary past responsible for those triggers, and benefits and risks we face from switching to irrational thinking.

We start with a question highly relevant to testing – Why do many projects drift into risk seeking behaviour, often to the detriment of both project and organisation? This behaviour is unexpected – rational thought predicts we should not behave this way. We run experiments to reveal systematic inconsistencies in our decision making unaccounted for by any rational model. We then explore how the Nobel-prize winning Prospect Theory can explain these inconsistencies.

Although Prospect Theory can predict situations where we will be irrational, it does not explain why we become irrational. For this, we run experiments from Evolutionary Psychology to discover how the risk seeking behaviour observed under certain project conditions is triggered by a survival response to periods of food scarcity during our evolutionary past.

In other words, we take extra risks on projects today because our ancestors went hungry.

We use other examples of adaptive solutions to evolutionary problems to illuminate puzzling modern conundrums and finish by demonstrating that if we wish to understand how we make decisions on testing projects, we must first understand the thinking processes that enabled our ancestors to survive.

  • Speaker

  • Andrew Brown - Consultant, SQS, United Kingdom

    Dr Andrew Brown is a principal technical consultant at SQS. Recently, he has developed an independent line of research into understanding why we humans make the mistakes that lead to software defects.
    He has 25 years’ experience in the software industry. Previous roles include Head of QA at HMV, Head of QA at a financial software house and a test manager in Japan.

    He holds a degree in Physics and Maths, an MBA from Warwick Business School and a doctorate from Imperial College.