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From the webinar: Creativity to show the way in Software Testing

  • 22/04/2013
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  • Posted by EuroSTAR

Recently I had the honour to do a webinar for the EuroSTAR community that was called ‘ Creativity to show the way in Software Testing’ . If you have missed it, you can view it here. This blog is about this webinar and the questions that were asked afterwards …
The main message is that creativity is a way to make something which has some kind of subjective value. The product can be anything..such as a joke, a literary work, a painting or musical composition, a solution, an invention etc. [source: Wikipedia]. So you don’t have to be able to draw brilliantly; you can also copy-and-paste (making a collage) imagery from the internet, cut images from magazines and glue them on paper, use passages from movies, use lyrics from your favorite songs, etc. It’s not that scary: a lot of us already use mind maps for example, they can be easily transformed into works of art, especially when adding imagery.
Specific software for making mind maps (question by Mladen Markovic) are – for example- IMindMap, MindMeister, SmartDraw (bit boring maps though) and eDraw, but there are loads of (free) tools to find out there and it’s up to you which one you like the best. You can also use powerpoint, word, paint or Gimp as tools. I myself use MindMeister (if in collaboration) or eDraw (just for funz) when on a computer, but my most favorite tool is just a pencil and some markers.
Because the product of creativity has a subjective value I think THAT is just THE thing that starts the conversation; subjectiveness invites to questioning and mutual understanding. There’s no right, there’s no wrong: there’s just the platform that enables the discussion, that lowers the threshold for people to start asking questions or even just to start the conversation.
These from creativity sprouted conversations are not limited to people in Software Testing (question by Charlotte Nordenfors) , but also involve other disciplines in IT and also non-IT. Diagram’s, models and charts are very associated to technical stuff and most of the time non-IT people are already biased. A more artsy version triggers curiosity and bypasses the bias.
Another example: In my office I have a penguin in one of the pictures on my wall; at one time an analyst asked me about the penguin and I explained that it referred to the penguin game , organized by Graham Thomas , that I had participated in (the intention is to learn about flow charting if you’re unfamiliar with this). We started discussing and now both Business Analysis team and Test Team are planning a session to do this penguin game to create mutual understanding for each other’s work, how difficult it can be to draw one and how a tester perceives a chart.
Mohinder Khosla pointed out that Visual Aids are drivers for a good discussion but that it should be used in conjunction with other resources. Funny thing is that by this sentence alone that puts the finger right on the spot: namely; visual aids (seeing) and discussion (talking/ listening) which is audio. Creative output doesn’t have to be restricted to visual things alone; I myself love expressions that contain multiple types of output. Besides that this is more compelling (to me at least); it also relates to more types of people, it’s a fact that some people better respond to/ learn from visual things and others from sound or text. When you look at the Mappa Testi (movie by Derk-Jan de Grood) for example; it’s imagery, it has text (which are just simple words) and it need some explaining. The three together make that a conversation can be started.
Another question from the webinar was by Markus Lorand: ” How can I convince my team lead to start this drawing strategy?”. Well first of all: ” it isn’t a drawing” and secondly ” it isn’t a strategy”. Using creativity , to me, is more a technique to (start to) communicate. I like to draw, but it – as I stated earlier- could be anything; even movies or music. It’s an aid to help me getting a message across to others and to do this more effectively, to help me learn, summarize and to simply express myself by triggering others. I don’t think you have to convince anybody.. just start being creative: take a postcard with you with an image on it of something that reflects an issue of your project or a question that you might have, cello tape it to your screen en just wait and see that there will be someone that makes a remark about it. THAT’s the moment you start explaining and will get the conversation started… That also addresses the question from James Readhead who is curious about the suitability of visual aids in a consultancy environment. It depends on the creative product that you use, but a mindmap is very suitable I guess and a postcard will be fine too I guess….You have to balance the creative product with the environment you use.

Does creativity thus take a lot of effort, cost a lot of money or is very time consuming and do I have to make an analysis for the ROI? [question by Michelle Li] I don’t think so… It CAN be very time-consuming mind! It took me more than forty hours to draw the second version of the MappaTesti (not in project time, but as a hobby over the weekend!), but just buying (or even downloading and printing) a postcard is done in a fraction of the time. The analysis for ROI would cost more than the action of getting the card itself. Products of creativity can be anything; just find the thing you are most happy with and fits within your time and budget, you can even re-use stuff from others as long as you reference the materials off course. Examples are: @cartoontester (andy glover), @wilg (creative artist that made the visuals of EuroSTAR 2012) and you can ‘ down’ the images of the Mappa Testi and Visual Notes from [KC Casas].
The great thing about using creativity ( and again: this isn’t limited to drawing alone but could be everything!) is that is isn’t bound to one method, school, expertise, etc. Etc. If you are in a Kanban project [Joel Franklin] you can be just as creative as in a waterfall project. If you use exploratory testing [Anil A] you are even more I guess in a creative mood and modus, but I don’t think that if you use a test technique from TMap that you aren’t creative. So yes; exploratory testing is connected to creativity, but so is every other kind of (testing) activity in my opinion. Exploratory Testing isn’t a exception in this case.
So whether you can draw or not, it doesn’t matter if you want to use creative ways to show your vision you can use whatever means that are out there; just remind that the more creative it gets, the more curious people get and will engage in conversation and questioning which will lead to understanding and learning, This is the most powerful way a message or lesson in software testing can be brought in my opinion; they don’t have the saying ‘a picture says more than a thousand words’ for nothing. Creativity will help you lead others on the way in software testing. So if you haven’t started doodling, sketching already; go out there and try some messaging in an alternative way yourself!

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