Alexandra: Bad Habits During Testing Activities

Those bad Bad habits, who doesn’t want to get rid of them?…

Let’s consider the following hypothesis: small habits that slow me down in my work or stand in the way of solving problems could accumulate and have quite an impact on my work. This could mean that they are the silent, unnoticeable factors that influence my testing in a bad way. One such habit may not make a big difference, but when dealing with more, they could have a considerable influence.

Starting from this idea, I began thinking about those small things I do frequently that lower the effectiveness of my work; what could they be? In a way, my bad habits are the opposite of my skills (the thinking tools that help me solve problems). But skills are heuristics, they don’t guarantee a solution. Could this mean that bad habits can also be useful sometimes, by helping to solve a problem instead of standing in the way of the resolution? Do they really stand in the way of me improving my testing? How bad are they?

One way to find out their impact on my work is to get rid of them. So I set out to understand what they are and how to stop doing them, and then I would further analyze the outcomes. I could then decide I want to use them in some situations, or when not to use them. Here’s my current rough model on the dynamic involving bad habits in my work:

bad habits model

The goal of this article is to create a starting point with a taxonomy of bad habits and ideas on how to remove them from my testing activities.

My Testing Activities

To know what my bad habits are during testing activities, I need to understand what my testing activities are first. Having in mind my current project, a project I started working on only a bit more than a month ago, here are some of the activities that I have:

  • Getting access to the system
  • Finding out how the system works
  • Finding out the project context
  • ­ Understanding how the system will be mostly used
  • ­ Analyzing project artifacts, like development tasks and existing bug reports
  • ­ Searching for problems in the system
  • ­ Reporting problems
  • ­ Verifying fixes
  • ­ Discovering risks
  • Generating test ideas
  • Mapping the system
  • ­ Discovering relevant/interesting flows through the system
  • ­ Simulating longer term usage of the system
  • Asking questions about the project and the system
  • ­ Interacting with team members
  • Investigating the code
  • ­Generating test data
  • Creating high­volume test data
  • Creating experiments which help me gather relevant information

How to Notice the Bad Habits

The tricky thing about a bad habit is that I do it all the time, without making a conscious decision to do it. So how can I notice it?

Some options could be:

  • ­ getting feedback from others
  • ­ writing a log of what/how I did and going back to it a few days later
  • ­ make experiments ­ start work on a project that is different, putting myself in new situations, or  change the way I do some of the activities.

This way I can probably notice what I do differently, or I am able to study my reactions better, because I am in a different context than the one I am used to.

A question that came up while thinking how I could notice them was this: Are they based on bad decisions in the face of tempting factors, like choosing the chocolate instead of the healthier veggies, or is there a different mechanism behind them?

Maybe they are a shortcut my brain applies for a problem that is difficult to solve. Or it’s a way of  avoiding doing things that I don’t want to do in that particular way. Since I am the one who decides how I do my testing activities, and which activities I do, analyzing them might lead me to a better understanding of how I organize my work and how I could change it.

A List of My Bad Habits

My bad habits are bad in a context. They may also be helpful in some contexts. When trying to identify them, I look back at different situations and go through my observations. Here is a list I have so far, without mentioning the context:

  • ­ get interrupted easily, and sometimes even look for distractions during an activity
  • ­ lose focus without consciously deciding so
  • ­ stay too focused and missing out on alternatives
  • ­ not keeping close to me useful testing resources when I test
  • ­ not looking for similar/duplicate bugs before growing excited with a bug I found and logging it
  • ­ use filters in the bug tracking tool and forget that I’m using them
  • ­ not start with a systematic research on the structure of the product I’m testing and beyond it (like frameworks it uses)
  • ­ not talk often with team members
  • ­ get surprised when I run out of test ideas and not know what to change in my thinking to get different ideas
  • ­ think hastily that I know how a part of the system works
  • ­ procrastinate writing daily in my work log
  • ­ get caught up with tasks and postpone reading daily something that could help me in testing
  • ­ not actively ask for critical feedback enough
  • ­ not try to prove myself wrong often enough
  • ­ feel bad about not knowing stuff
  • ­ forget to take a moment to enjoy the ride
  • ­ not analyzing enough specific events or decisions in my work

How to Get Rid of Them

Will I be able to get rid of all my bad habits, though? I have a feeling there will always be new ones creeping in, or new ones discovered. Also, as Jerry Weinberg’s “The harder law” states, “Once you eliminate your number one problem, YOU promote number two”. So probably there will always be plenty of bad habits I could be working on. Then, what is my goal?

Moreover, every day I make choices when I test. Choices about what I want to learn and how, choices about how I want to help, choices about how to solve problems. One thing about  choices though is that they are… hard to make. And sometimes straightforward, perfect choices don’t present themselves. Maybe never.

So… what’s the point of trying?

Well, that’s how I move on, by making those imperfect choices, and by trying to do things better tomorrow than I do today. So the purpose would not be to get rid of bad habits once and for all, but to get rid of some of them, while learning about myself and improving in my testing activities.

And acknowledging that the world I operate in is complex and multi­dimensional in terms of the outcome of my choices is part of that. Experiencing this process of getting rid of some habits can help me internalize this conclusion.

I looked at some things I did or I want to try doing, some habits I want to create to prevent the other, bad, habits. Here’s what I came up with by now:

  • ­ small tricks can help a lot, like un­ticking the ‘remember me’ checkbox when logging in on apps that distract me.
  • ­ putting events in my calendar for things that are important for me to do regularly and not skip.
  • ­ focusing on one at a time. Thinking about solving many at once can get me overwhelmed.
  • ­ put the habits on a list to make them explicit. They are easier to avoid that way
  • ­ put myself in a comfortable environment or situation when I want to tackle more sensitive habits ­ like being around people I trust and in front of which I would not feel very bad if I reacted badly.
  • ­ put testing inspiration (like cheatsheets, articles, books) on my desktop, so that it’s easy to reach.
  • ­ work on the habits I find difficult to change before I’m tired from doing a million things and cut myself a slack when I am tired (accept to set lower expectations for myself then instead of being disappointed)
  • ­ deliberately practice/experiment with different behavior and make a note of the results, so that I can keep track of what worked and what didn’t. This means thinking in advance of how I want to change and then try to organize my work so that I can do things differently and monitor the outcomes.
  • ­ find other people who want to get rid of the same habits and try to work together with them, getting and giving support
  • ­ think why the activity I’m doing could trigger that/those bad habits. Could I change anything about the activity itself? Is there a different way I could be looking for test ideas so that I would not have the tendency to look for distractions when I stumble upon a more difficult flow? Maybe my distraction is a sign for another underlying issue.

This list got longer than I had thought initially. I’m sure there are some other ways to be discovered, though.

Do you have any other ideas and opinions on bad habits and how one could get rid of them?

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