Exploratory Test Adventures – Using Storytelling Games in Software Testing

I love to see creative work from people in the industry, and Martin Jansson always impresses me with his insatiable desire to learn, to do better and to take risks with ideas to push the craft forward. While I have been looking at gamification lately, it was exciting to learn that he and his colleagues had already been applying some of these ideas by looking at storytelling and games, and using some of those ideas to add more fuel to test idea generation during exploratory testing work.

Cem Kaner’s work on scenario testing is a powerful approach to testing. This is an approach to quickly create useful testing scenarios and ideas where we create a compelling story about the people who use our software, describe typical usage, possible outcomes, and human activity patterns surrounding usage. One of the most interesting outcomes of this kind of work is that it puts us in the role of our end users, and helps us quickly identify problems that they are likely to encounter. It also helps us understand when our software actually delivers, we can tell project stakeholders that our software works within the narrative of real-life scenarios. So not only do we uncover important problems, we also provide information that validates what we have done. “Yes! It works in an emergency scenario we didn’t think of during requirements definition!”

There are a lot of ways that we can frame scenario tests to provide structure and help with creative test idea generation. Using gaming as an influence, Martin Jansson and Greger Nolmark wrote a paper on adding structure to scenarios during exploratory testing sessions using storytelling as a guide:
Exploratory Test Adventure – a Creative, Collaborative Learning Experience.

I got excited when I started reading this paper because any kind of creative structure that we can add to test idea generation helps us be more thorough, and helps create more and better ideas. As Martin says, “…by setting up scenes, just like in a roleplaying adventure (or RPG game), you and your testers will have an increased learning experience that lets you explore beyond regular boundaries, habits and thought patterns.”

I often lament that testing information focuses too much on the negative, when we should also tell stakeholders when the team has done a great job. As a designer and programmer, sometimes I get worn down by constant criticism and ask the testers to also give me some positive feedback along with the criticism. After all, critiquing isn’t all about the bad news. It sometimes feels hopeless if all we get is the negative, with no positive feedback at all. Testers on the other hand, often feel like they are failing if they don’t find bugs and provide consistent negative feedback. But if we look at a story, some of them have happy endings. They have twists and turns and there are negatives, but there are also positives. Both are important factors to a story or game (or else they are too sappy and silly if it is all positive, or too depressing if they are all negative) and they are also important factors for determining whether a product or project has merit, or if we are ready to ship. Storytelling is one mechanism we can look to to help us get beyond mere bug hunting, and to provide quality-related information, both positive and negative. This pleases me.

Check it out, it is another example of looking at game mechanics, and applying one gamification aspect to software testing to help us make testing more valuable, more effective, more creative, and hopefully, more fun.

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