Friday, February 17, 2017

Testing by Intent

In programming, there's a concept called Programming by Intent. Paraphrasing on how I perceive the concept: it is helpful to not hold big things in your head but to outline intent that then drives implementation.

Intent in programming becomes particularly relevant when you try to pair or mob. If one of the group holds a vision of a set of variables and their relations just in their head, it makes it next to impossible for another member of the group to catch the ball and continue where the previous person left off.

With experiences in TDD and mob programming, it has grown very evident that making intent visible is useful. Working in a mob when you go to whiteboard with an example, turn that into English (and refactor the English), then turn it into test and then create the code that makes the test pass, the work just flows. Or actually, the being stuck in the flow happens more around discussions on the whiteboard.

In exploratory testing, I find that those of us who practiced it more intensely tend to inherently have a little better structure for our intent. But as I've been mob testing, I find that still we suck at sharing that intent. We don't have exactly the same mechanisms as TDD introduces to programming work, and with exploratory testing, we want to opt to the sidetracks that provide serendipity. But in a way that helps us track where we were, and share that idea of where we are in  the team.

The theme of testing by intent was my special focus in looking at a group mobbing on my exploratory testing course this week. I had an amazing group: mostly people with 20+ years in testing. One test automator - developer with solid testing understanding. And one newbie to testing. All super collaborative, nice and helpful.

I experimented with ways to improve intent and found that:
  • for exploring, shorter rotation forces the group to formulate clearer intent
  • explaining the concept of intent helped the group define their intent better, charters as we used them were too loose to keep the group on track of their intent
  • explicitly giving the group (by example) mechanisms of offloading sidetracks to go back to later helped the focus
  • when seeking deep testing of small area, needed strict facilitation to not allow people to leave undone work and seek other areas - inclination to be shallow 
There's clearly more to do in teaching people how to do it. The stories of what we are testing and why we are testing it this way are still very hard to voice for so many people.

Then again, it took me a long deliberate practice to build up my self-management skills. And yet, there's more work to do.