Stop #3: How testing style affects pairing

I’ve been on three stops of my testing tour so far; a busy time both personally and professionally over the last few months has meant I’ve not been able to give my tour the focus I’d hoped when I decided to embark on it. However, the three stops I have been on so far have been very interesting, educational and fun!

I’ve been using strong-style as a basis for the pairing. With each session, we’ve agreed that my pair should take role of the navigator and I should take the role of the driver.

Interestingly, I’ve found that the pairing has manifested in a different way each time. I believe there are many factors affecting this, but in this blog post, three stops into my tour, I’m going to focus on how the tester and their testing style has influenced it.

The tester I was working with for my first stop had a strong consume-first approach to their session. What I mean by this is that they did not have an outline for the session further than the charter, but instead used the information they found during one test to inspire their next test. This contrasts to how I generally work; although I also use information I discover by testing to influence the detail of the session, I generally following a high-level plan for the session that I’ve decided on before I start. I found that this difference in our navigation styles unnerved me as the driver, but as I’d taken this role, I’d agreed to step back and let my pair lead the navigation. Honestly, I found this a bit uncomfortable, and as mentioned in my blog on this session, I found keeping out of the session navigation a difficult thing to do. I was left questioning whether the differences in our testing approaches meant that strong-style pairing was not for us. Or, to fully embrace strong-style pairing, would I need to learn to trust my navigators and embrace their approaches to navigation?

Fortunately, those concerns did not reappear in my second session. This was done with a tester who started her career as a tester in the same department that I did; unsurprisingly, this had resulted in similarities in our approach to test sessions, including in the level of preparation and testing thinking done before the session. As we sat down to begin the session, she outlined her plan for how we would implement the charter, and this helped to reassure me that the navigation was under control. The session went well and we both enjoyed collaborating on some testing as a change to our normal routine.

However, afterwards, I was left wondering how much value the pairing really added! Given that she’d already prepared much of the navigation of the session, the strong-style split meant that she was less actively involved in the session during its implementation than my pair in the first session had been. The information we uncovered during testing did influence which tests we did next, but as she’d explained the aims of the session and general plan for navigation so clearly beforehand, I was able to foresee most the changes to the testing that she would make. I worried that her approach to the session meant that she’d already done sufficient navigator-level thinking. Perhaps this is a habit a tester can develop when they’re used to working on their own: if they separate out the navigator thinking and do as much as possible before the session, they can focus on driving during session implementation? Does this habit limit the usefulness of pairing in a session? At this point, I was already convinced that were many factors influence whether a session itself is right to pair test on, but I was also beginning to realise that a tester’s approach and style might influence how they should approach pairing.

My third session came in the form of revisiting an old team of mine, and pairing with one of the most experienced testers in the organisation. When I planned my tour, I hoped that this session might help to answer my question of how much value pairing can bring to a testing session, as this tester was certainly going to be able to conduct a successful session individually. We paired on investigating the behaviour of a complex system varying user configuration, by sending in seemingly straight-forward user requests and observing whether the system performed as a user might expect. We adapted the roles slightly, as the testing required observing interaction between two endpoints, and it made the testing easier if I drove and observed one of them, and he observed the other. Choosing to be flexible with the strong-style roles added to the session, making it easier to conduct the testing without taking away from the benefits that the strong-style roles were bringing. I was pleased with this use of flexibility, which was more successful than on my first tour stop (which was discussed in my previous blog post). However, when debriefing, my pair admitted that despite the value it brought to the testing, he had found the strong-style structure frustrating. He said that when we found interesting things, he had an urge to grab the controls, but not being able to do that he found his testing flow was a bit impaired. On his own, he would have ‘just tried something’, but he felt that needing to articulate his ideas was a barrier to this; as a result, he thought the testing was less exploratory than it would have been if he was on his own.

How fascinating! He described similar feelings of frustration that I felt in my first session towards losing control of navigation, but towards losing control of driving. Is it just difficult to take a step back and ignore the half of the testing responsibility, if it is so ingrained into your testing practices? Is this perhaps something it takes a while to get used to with strong style pairing? Or do some people just find losing control over half their testing harder than others? My other thought is that perhaps some testers are more attached to one of the strong-style roles; would this last pair and I have been happier if I was navigating and he was driving? It seems like I’m definitely still at the stage where I’m finding more questions on my tour than I’m answering, but I hope to answer these as my tour progresses!

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