Under the hood

When Jon Bach asked me what one piece of advice I would give a new tester, I answered skepticism.  For example, the people who are giving you requirements may not have complete information.

Question your assumptions

This general approach to problem solving served me well today when my car’s maintenance light came on during my morning commute.  I called a local repair shop knowing it was time to have my oil changed and made an appointment.  Although the phone operator told me there would be a surcharge for my oil based on my car’s make and model, I questioned that judgment.  My questioning approach was affirmed when the two people at the desk each came up with a different recommended type of oil for my car based on their research.

We went back to basics and literally looked under the hood (white box testing anyone?) to check the system only to discover that it wasn’t working as expected: my oil cap was missing!  Lacking that source of confirmation, we broke out the owner’s manual and found the answer (i.e. checked requirements).

Not only did we resolve a pressing question of implementation for work that would be immediately completed but we discovered an existing problem that we assumed was not present (bug).

Most satisfying of all, because the shop providing the current service was part of the same parent company as my previous visit, they were able to provide feedback about problem results to the previous mechanics, thereby improving their system overall.

I think a key part of this interaction was shaped by my in-progress reading of Critical Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan, and Switzler, which Andy Kaufman recommended in his StarEast keynote.  I approached the conversation as an opportunity to learn about my vehicle and allowed the experts to teach me – though even experts disagreed! They taught me how to think through the problem for myself because they perceived this as a team effort.  They also provided the criticism of their counterparts at the other location.  I didn’t need to say anything negative and I saved some money based on their original quote for the work.  Best of all, I know today’s service was better because the people helping me were more conscious of potential problems.

What’s on your reading list that is helping you?

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