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Improve Your Testing and Your Testers with Paired Testing

Have you ever had testers on your team whose knowledge and skill sets were complementary, and wondered how you could encourage them to exchange and collaborate so that they could both increase their skills? Author Karen Johnson shows a different approach to testing and some of the advantages of pairing testers.
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Testing is often an isolated activity. While product release planning is usually a team activity, test execution is typically performed alone. Even working with a team of testers, testing can be a solitary task when hands-on execution time rolls around. There are ways to pair testers and other team members to test together. Like paired programming, pairing testers can bring out innovative ideas, build collaboration, and exchange product knowledge. Paired testers can also improve their test skills in way that can be practical, fun and cost effective.

There are several combinations of pairing people together to test than just pairing testers with testers. Here’s a look at a couple of team combinations and advantages each pairing is likely to offer.

Pairing: Tester and Tester

There are several advantages of pairing testers together. Ideas have a way of sparking yet more ideas in a positive upward spiral-type of way. Just hunting for ideas has a way of making us think through a subject matter in a different light. Ideas can fuse together and generate new and powerful ideas that we might not find any other way. People working together can form in ways that are as unpredictable as the individuals themselves; we’re not the same every day. Some days we’re really “on,” and that positive energy can spark another person’s creativity. Ideas tumble forward like brainwaves crashing at a turbulent beachfront. A brainwave, if you look closely at the definition, is the experience of gaining a clear understanding of a complex problem. We can gain clarity and generate some of our best ideas when we brainstorm and pair together.

I paired Jack, an experienced tester, with Sandy, a new tester. I stayed within hearing distance and listened as their session started like this:

  • Sandy: “I don’t know what else to test.”
  • Jack: “Well, that’s part of spending time together. Have you logged in without being an admin user and tried running the new reports?”
  • Sandy: “Gee, I never thought about that. Would it matter?”
  • Jack: “I don’t know. Want to find out?”

Sandy pulled a keyboard closer, and Jack moved his chair closer to Sandy’s desk. I knew they were off for the hunt and tiptoed away.

When a frenzy of ideas comes, it can be challenging to record information without breaking the tempo. How do we record secondary test ideas as well as record our steps and observations, and maintain our focus and concentration? When you pair two testers together, it’s more plausible to sustain high energy testing and brainstorming. When two testers pair together, we can forge forward faster as one drives and the other person observes and records notes. By alternating those roles, it’s possible to stay fresh and focused. In fact, by having someone else record secondary ideas that spring to mind, it can help keep us on the current path. We can stay focused knowing that our prospective ideas haven’t been forgotten. Together we can keep each other focused and at the end of test sessions, with notes and observations in hand, we can determine subsequent testing.

Paired programming has outlined similar concepts in rotating between being the driver at the keyboard and being the observer or recorder. By rotating roles, it breaks up the sessions and gives each person an opportunity to share his or her strengths.

In addition to pairing Jack and Sandy together to help boost Sandy’s confidence in testing, I knew the likelihood was fairly high that Sandy would pick up more technical and product knowledge from Jack throughout their time together. In the hands-on session, a tester who has less product knowledge stands a good chance to learn different nuances of a product. I hoped that Sandy would better understand variables and technical factors often needed to identify and replicate a defect.

In short, I was counting on Jack and Sandy’s test sessions to increase Sandy’s understanding of the technical aspects of testing as well as to gain more product knowledge. It also wasn’t all one-sided, as I knew Sandy’s background in customer support might shed light on the product from a user perspective—a perspective in which Jack didn’t have background. It wasn’t all hope; I had briefed both testers before the session about the different ways I felt they could help each other.

Another advantage of paired testing is improved bug reporting. Having a second person to review a defect report while a defect is found and being reported is helpful. Cem Kaner and James Bach discussed this advantage at StarWest in 2001. Less experienced testers can readily observe the details that go into a defect report. And together, testers can assess a defect’s severity.

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