If you find it hard to do a thorough inspection of a document or diagram in a single pass, try looking at one aspect at a time. A concept that can help is using defined tours, an idea from exploratory testing. Inspecting for sets of criteria one by one can help you focus your efforts.
It can be hard—perhaps impossible—to do a thorough inspection of a document or diagram in one pass. Instead of trying to do it all at once, I suggest a different way: focusing on one aspect of the document at a time in multiple passes.
The concept of exploratory testing tours, from the world of exploratory testing, can provide that focus. Approaching testing documents with defined ”tours” can help you chunk the work into small pieces, which enables team members to take a tour when they find they have capacity.
Kinsey Millhone, the fictional private investigator in a series of Sue Grafton novels, writes each clue or bit of information she collects on an index card. When at a loss for leads to pursue, she shuffles the deck and pulls two cards at random to look for previously unseen connections.
I do this sometimes in my job, too, to see what connections I might make, insights I can glean, or what techniques and concepts from one domain might be useful in another.
Exploring Documents with Tours
Recently, as I was looking across a whole documentation set for consistency issues, I realized that by focusing on one element or aspect at a time, I was applying the concept of exploratory testing tours to analyze artifacts, looking for reflections of craftsmanship.
It’s up to the team to decide which of the tours offer value or in their context or at that moment in time. Some may be less important during analysis work, as we produce big, visible artifacts for short-term or internal use only, to gain and share understanding; others may be more important when the artifacts are part of the whole product, especially for commercial software products.
Some teams are using tools and practices that automate their tours or make them routine practice. You also might consider including these items in acceptance criteria for a story, or in your definition of “done,” as appropriate.
Below are ten tours I used recently in my testing.
Do we have everything?
When we are getting ready to leave on a trip, we go through a checklist: Do we have the keys? Do we have the tickets? Do we have the phone charger?
For every task an Actor is to perform, do your swim lanes show provisioning that person with what they need to accomplish it successfully? Tools, data, work instructions? Are you cataloging these assets? Are they under version control?
Directions from Yogi Berra
Yogi Berra, famous for his unintentionally funny sayings, once said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it"—not because he was a philosopher, but because his driveway was actually a loop!
Take a tour of flowcharts, look at only the decision boxes, and see whether each one has an outgoing path for each choice, e.g., a Yes path and a No path.
Sometimes we know a decision has to be made, but we haven’t decided how we are going to decide. We don't know whose decision it is or how it is being made—by consensus, title, force of personality … ?
Place decision boxes in the swim lane of the person who has the authority to make it. Decision criteria or guidelines can be shown as input.
Are your shoes shined? Is your tie straight?
You're probably familiar with the movie cliché in which soldiers line up for an officer to inspect their uniforms to ensure everything is up to snuff.
If your standards specify every page of a diagram should show the last edited date, do they? Are the things that are to be centered in fact in the center? Do items that should have borders have them? If you decided not to use shadows, do you see any? Does every page bear a proprietary notice if it is supposed to?
I can't breathe!
Have you ever been on an elevator with too many people? This is what your text feels like if there's too much of it in one shape or one page. Sometimes a desire to limit work products to one page seems to take precedence over it being readable.
If you will be displaying or projecting your model or diagram, put it up and go to the back of the room and see whether you can read the text. That way you can be sure you won’t be giving your viewers an eye test.
It's okay to abbreviate, but it's not okay to use different abbreviations for the same word. You also can’t use the same abbreviation for two different words; if they are different words, use different abbreviations.
Find an abbreviation, then look for other instances of it. If you notice variations, fix them. For example, you might see both “mgt.” and “mgmt.” Or you might see that “PM” is being used to represent project manager, product manager, program manager, portfolio manager, plant and materials, or afternoon!
You talkin' to me?
Do you remember this movie line that Robert De Niro made famous? Do you ever wonder whether what you are reading applies to you or to someone else?
Look for instances of "we," “you,” and "they" and see if it's clear whom the author is talking to and why. When you want to drive ownership, use more instances of the second person, or "you" and “your.” If you want to foster collaboration, use more instances of "we" and "us." Ensure consistency so that when pronouns change, the reader doesn't assume you're now addressing someone else.
ROYGBIV or RGBCMYK?
Colors that look fine on your monitor in one tool may look different in another tool or when printed or projected.
If you use colors (and gray is a color) for fills and lines, do they appear the way you want them to in all channels? What looks beautiful on your screen might look muddy when printed, especially on "economy" paper. Color management across devices, platforms, applications, and operating systems is challenging; optimize for what’s really important and the rest can be “good enough.”
Shut up, Sheldon!
In the TV show The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon sometimes misses the point because he's hung up on a detail. I witnessed a meeting become derailed by a discussion about whether the gears in a graphic could really move in the direction indicated by the accompanying arrows.
This tour is the equivalent of pulling the levers and flipping the switches. If illustrations of real-world objects are used, make sure they obey the laws of physics or typical rules. Are cars on the correct side of the road?
Give me a break!
Widows and orphans are sad words, not only in real life, but also in text layout; they happen when there is page break in the middle of a paragraph. A widow is created when the last line of a paragraph appears by itself at the top of a page; an orphan is the first line of a paragraph appearing by itself at the bottom of a page. If you aren’t using the setting that prevents these, take this tour:
Flip through the pages in your document and see if the page breaks cause widows or orphans. Start at the beginning of the text, because changing page breaks could cascade through your document. Be sure to update your Table of Contents, if using one, when you have finished.
Not every tour is purely for pleasure, but you can help others who will travel the same path have a more enjoyable journey!
What exploratory test tours have you used?