30 December, 2009

Is Questioning in your DNA?

I took part in James Bach's Testing Challenge at Weekend Testing recently. Pradeep Soundararajan reviewed my report and spoke about the gaps in my testing effort as well as the report. As always, I revisited my report to figure out areas that need improvement(read dismal performance report). One of the key problems with my report was that - I did not question the mission that was given to me. I did skype James before the testing session with a few questions that were either too broad or too open ended. James did help me by rephrasing a few questions. However, I did not use this opportunity to its fullest potential.

A little while later, Jonathan Bach & James Bach tweeted on Traps in testing

JBTestPilot: The #1 trap that testers fall into when I ask them to test something: They start testing'.

CuriousTester: I am trapped! din't see testing without questioning as a trap! Traps work that way. This is more often than I would wish to get trapped!

JBTestPilot: No worries... there are many ways out of traps. The trick is, knowing you're IN one.

JamesMarcusBach: Good testing is a questioning process. All tests are questions. But some things are better asked of humans.

Here I am inflicted with lack of good questioning skills. I did not worry much about it until it started affecting my ability to test better. Now you ask ‘Do you mean you never questioned till date?’. Of course, I did. They did not seem to add value to what I already do. They did not appear to bring in new ideas. In short, I am not skilled at questioning yet.

[ Tester ] - [ Questioning Skills ] = [ Unskilled Testing ]

I am wondering why questioning is not in my DNA. Is it really in my DNA and I am unaware? I grew up as an obedient child. I don’t remember saying ‘No’ to my parents, no matter what I was told to do - a very big claim indeed (grins). When I say as a child, I mean the period from which I remember the events of my life to a considerable extent. Being obedient, not breaking the rules, not being demanding and many more blocked my ability to question since childhood.

In general, questions are not encouraged in India (I think so). They are seen as a symbol of revolt. Questions from elders are reprimanded and questions from children are snubbed. Children are taught to be obedient without questioning. If they break the rules, they will be punished. Yes, child beating is quite normal and not violent. Actually, its not even violent as it sounds to you as you read this. A 911 type helpline may flop here. Growing amidst a culture where questioning is a taboo could be one reason why I am not good at it.

Every question adds a new dimension to better understanding through answers. Yet, we don’t question. The sad part is most of us don’t question because we don’t know that we can question. We have the liberty to question, but we don’t.

Question what? Question your product, question your testing mission, question your test strategies question your deliverables. Question anything that you think will make a difference to what you do. Some people are good at questioning and a few others are not so good. The good news is that this skill can be inculcated with constant practice by one and all. It can be honed over a period of time.

Practice questioning skills with your programmers/team members. Play games that help improve your questioning skills. Play Twenty questions game. Playing Dumb Charades might be of great help too. Ask the right questions. To ask the right questions, you will need to ask many wrong questions and learn from them. Open ended questions may be too broad. Close ended questions may be too vague. Probing questions focus on specific areas (can be open or close ended) and are very useful. A good mix of above three types of questions will improve questioning skills. Note taking if coupled with Questioning is a powerful tool for testing.

Wishing You a Prosperous & Happy New Year 2010!

Addendum on 30th April 2010
One way to practice questioning skills is using Q-Patterns by Vipul Kocher.

P.S: The title of this post is inspired by Rahul Mirakhur who made a mention of 'Questioning in your DNA' during one of our informal talks.
Happy Questioning,
Parimala Shankaraiah