Plenty Questions

Here’s a little game to help you think of context when testing. It’s called “Plenty Questions.”

It goes like this:

I give you a riddle and you figure it out, asking an unlimited amount of “yes” or “no” questions.

For example: “A woman died because she was a voracious reader. How is this possible?”

Although you can go right for guessing the situation I have in mind, one of the game’s powerful lessons is to encourage you to examine every word of the riddle.

For example: “woman”…

Q: Was this a mother?

A: No.

Q: Was this woman previously a man?

A: No.

Q: Was this woman older than 80?

A: No.

Then “died”…

Q: Was she reading a book about committing suicide?

A: No.

Q: Did she die of a heart attack at reading something alarming?

A: No.

Q: Did she die because she was constantly reading and did not make time to eat or drink?

A: No.

Let’s try the word “because” (an affect of “cause”)…

Q: Did she die while in the act of reading?

A: Yes.

Q: Did she die from an outside influence?

A: Yes.

Q: Would she have died of this particular cause had she never read books?

A: No.

And then “voracious”…

Q: Was she a speed reader?

A: No.

Q: Did she read more than 100 books a day?

A: No.

Q: Was there an aspect to her reading style that is important for me to know?

A: Yes.

And finally, “reader”…

Q: Did she read out loud?

A: No.

Q: Did the volume of pages she read have an effect on her?

A: Yes.

Q: Did the manner in which she was reading cause her death?

A: Yes.

It’s useful to examine the context, but also our assumptions about definitions of words. Words convey images in our head and my images may be different than your images. helping you assemble pieces of the puzzle.

This is important because in testing, it’s useful to push back when someone says:

1) “When are you going to be done?”

Is “you” the test team or you, personally? Does “done” mean done for the day or done with this project?

2) “Try it and see if it works.”

What techniques are involved in “trying”?

What are you supposed to see?

What requirements are in your head at the time and to what degree should it meet requirements

3) “Perform the following regression tests”

“Perform” in what amount of time?

Do you want me to follow the steps as written or can I improvise?

How will I know if we’re regressing in the user’s perception of quality?

Since the questions in Plenty Questions are yes/no, it’s also a useful exercise for practicing the skill of lawyer-like inquiry which is useful for testing assumptions you have that might be faulty, for creating a foundation of logic, and for sparking your imagination for variables that might reveal new problems.