House rules for bug reports

Some people liked the TV serie about a doctor with a walking stick. This blog is about rules, which are applicable in a company or an office

“There is 1 rule: There are no rules.”
3rd movie about Mad Max

“This is not logical.”
Leonard Nimoy

Let me finish
The most dreaded part of the game: she or he will win for sure. Or worse we have to hang on for another hour. Of mental mockery. This is a sign of unbalanced game. A game you only play once. I am not writing about life here. This is not serious.

Some smart people developed some house rules to balance the game or to accelerate the game. Preferably both.

There is also some serious stuff to do.

One of the basic skills of a tester is to write decent bug reports. There are complete courses for them. I want to share some of my thoughts about them. Particular how house rules are applied to bug reports.

The trick for a good tester is to find the house rules for bug reports. Sometimes they are familiar. Let’s examine an imaginary situation.

  • Select movie Monsters Unlimited.
  • Select two for tickets.
  • Press Next.
  • Add Cola.
  • Set Cola to 1.
  • Add Lemonade.
  • Set Lemonade to 2

Actual situation:
The following message is shown: “You ordered too many drinks.”

Expected result:
It must be possible to order more than 1 drink per ticket. A warning should be shown.

That looks like a pretty example, how to describe a problem.

Let me determine some house rules:

  • Every button press is described.
  • It is completely repeatable.
  • The actions are described in an objective way. No hard feelings. Devoid of emotions.

This is logical.
Leonard Nimoy.

  • It describes what I would expect as a tester.

There are some serious drawbacks:

  • It is hard to read for a dev.
    One dev once gave up after reading my reports.
  • It took me time to write it well.
    You might have notice the tickets and drinks are set in different ways. And I am quite experienced.
  • A standard reaction is: “No user would ever do that.”
    Bug reports are not about proving the odds, but about telling the plausible.

So the trick is to modify or add house rules for bug reports. As a tester I have to make reports. As a dev someone else has to solve them.

It is time for Finding Marlin
“Finding Marlin you wrote?”
“Yep and I …”
“Don’t write any more.” [I just did.]
“It is about three fishes. Now the dad has been caught. Now his son and his blue thin friend whose name I always forget, go on a heroic journey to get dad back.”
What is your favourite sea dweller?”
“So the dolphins are going to help.

“Thanks for your help.”
“Huh, I was just brainstorming about a movie spoiler. ”
“You just described a realistic situation, what people do in a particular situation.”
“Talking about fish?”
“Yes and showing how people can act in a natural way. ”
“I just happen to like movies.”
“And that’s what makes this talk completely plausible.”

Actually, Marlin stands for ‘Make a real life impression now’.

If I can tell a realistic user story, then devs are compelling to solve the problem. It is not something like this:
“As a cinema visitor I want to order my snacks and drinks before the visit, so I can save time.”
This is an abstraction.

It is about thoughts and needs. Let’s read a mind.
“In the movie Monster Unlimited there are too many monsters, so Mike and his blue furry friend have to move to the desert. That thought makes me thirsty. I need 2 lemonades for sure ”

Is this plausible? I think so.
Let’s ask the PO or Product Owner. Fine with you? So what are we waiting for?

Let’s tweak again
I do a small rewrite of my three drink bug report:

  • Order two tickets for Monsters Unlimited.
    [Hey. That is great. I can order my drinks in advance. Let me see]
  • Order 1 Cola.
    [Looking at a desert makes me thirsty, so I take an extra drink.]
  • Order 2 lemonades.

Actual result:
A message is shown, that at most 2 drinks can be ordered. [I need that drink. This is ridiculous.]

Expected result:

It must be possible to order more than 1 drink per ticket. A warning should be shown. [I take the consequences].

Let me extract some modified and new house rules:

  • The actions are written in a more natural way.
    This speeds up my reporting and it is more readable. I am not programming the programmer. I wouldn’t dare to.
  • Thoughts have been added, so people can identify themselves with the user.
  • Emotion has been added.
    This is a dangerous one. It is extremely helpful in the steps and can become harmful in the actual result. My thumb of ruie is, that it is allowed for a customer and in a few cases for a tester. A customer is not always a tester.

Are you in for a little experience? Have another read.

  • Order two tickets for Monsters Unlimited.
  • Order 1 Cola.
  • Order 2 lemonades.

Actual result:
A message is shown, that at most 2 drinks can be ordered. [This is ridiculous.]

Expected result:

It must be possible to order more than 1 drink per ticket. A warning should be shown.

“This is ridiculous,” sounds a lot harder than in the first rewrite, when only 1 thought has been added.

I will come back to the emotional part later and a few decimeters lower.

A more important question is: Why did I stop the presses? I mean the description of presses on a button or mouse.

This might be a lack of detail for some people.
“You ordered 1 cola and 2 lemonades. Right?”
“So how did you do it?
Add 1 cola, add 1 lemonade and add 1 lemonade.
Or was it: add 2 colas, drop 1 cola, add 2 lemonades.
Or: add 1 cola, add 1 ginger ale. Drop 1 ginger ale, add 2 lemonades
I could even add some steps to go back, select Finding Marlin, order 2 drinks, change movie to Monsters unlimited, add third drink. But you wrote, that you did not do this. … Maybe.”

Sometimes programmers are great debriefers for testing.
What did you actually do? Why do you think this was a useful test? Did you also have a look at the other features? Did you also check the interaction with the other modules?

“They scare, because they care?”
That is not the appropriate way to write about devs. I do not have to fear, if I can answer their questions. And yeah I make mistakes like devs. Then I have to admit, that I was wrong.

Back to the example:

  • Order 1 Cola.
    [Looking at a desert makes me thirsty, so I take an extra drink.]
  • Order 2 lemonades.

Now I can make another house rule: take the shortest route.
Of course the devs have to agree. Then you have a new rule. In da house.

Can this lead to a discussion?
You bet.

“Did you test other combinations?”
“No, I was just exploring the web site.”
“Did you know you cannot order the lemonade in the winter?”
“So you better test it. It took me some time to program that.”
“Thanks for the information. I wonder how I can change the system time. Maybe you can help?”
“Well that is easy. You …”
I just leave these 2 techies alone. I have another interesting section coming up. In the meantime ..

is a scenic tour also plausible:

  • Order 3 donkeys.
  • Order 2 dragons.
  • Reduce the number of donkeys to 1.
  • Reduce the number of dragons to 1.

This is still the shortest route. Every step was needed.
You might call it Advanced Donkeys and Dragons. So long the troll stays away.

Lectori Ludum – Game for the reader
The game shown in the picture is the pocket version of the Hive. It is a 3 dimensional game and it has house rules.  And it is about bugs.
I like it’s complexity. In case you want to buy it, you could use this link.
End of commercial break.

Let me get emotional
I promised you to explain, why emotions are important. I already gave a small hint.

This is something I experienced.
I was in the hospital. The nurse behind the desk tried to formulate excuses to me:
“I did not give [your case] a high priority. You sounded completely in control. ”

This is a big disadvantage of being a tester. I had been programmed – I know: bad word choice. – to give an objective report, which put me in the middle of the line.

A bug report is a thing I not only make for work, but also in private life. If I don’t like something, then I want to get things fixed. So if I order a book and the book is damaged on arrival, I file a bug report. If the book seller does not provide a good service, I get angry. So why can I not show anger to get things fixed?

Do users of software have needs and feelings?
I think they do.
What about persona?

This is a description of customer with all her or his interesting characteristics. A good name can help a lot.

I do not have any experience with it. Personally I think it can be useful. No pun intended. I am a personal ally of the User experience or UX designer. That’s an intended pun.

Let’s start a thought experiment.
So we have the excited Kid, the bragging teenager, the unlimited cinema visitor, ….

Of course the excited kid will not handle the payment on a cinema web site, but she or he will definitely want to choose her or his own drink and snacks. “Dad, how can I order a Cola? It has already been chosen.”

A small side step.
For marketing people this is cool: can I sell packages to the kids?
For the regular movie visitor a limited collectible cup for the drink can be quite tempting. Gotta have them all.

Back to the Excited kid.
“Dad, did you really choose Finding Marlin?”
“Yes, I did. Just pick your drink and snack, dear.”
“What is a kid package?”
“I think it is a drink, a snack and maybe a toy in a box. Does the web site show some description?”
[A little silence]
“I can use a link. Yes you are right, dad. ”

[Another little silence]
“How can I get back on the page?”
“Push the back button.”
“It does not work.”
“Just close the tab.”
“It works.

Where is the page for the drinks and snacks? I cannot find it dad.”
“Let me have a look dear. That is strange I cannot find the tickets.
We have to start all over again.
O dear, all tickets have been sold out.”
This will start an outburst of emotions. In turn these form a good starting point for Non Violent Communication.

Last week while I was still assembling this blog post, I saw a tweet of Santosh asking about NVC. He had read a conversation between Jari and Lucian. And he couldn’t resist himself to “barge” in. I sent him a link to some basic  resources.

NVC stands for Non Violent Communication. This model uses 4 elements: observation, feeling, need, request. Luckily there is a cinema example available for use.

  • Observation
    The kid tried to figure out, what a kid package was. This led to a situation, that tickets were lost.
  • Feeling
    The kid is sad and the dad angry.
  • Need
    The kid has a need to share: to tell about the movie at school. The dad has a need for independence, that his kid can order her or his own drink and snack.
  • Request
    Would you please provide a way to show information about the kid package without losing the ordered tickets?

Browsing through these four elements makes the request reasonable. I am tempted enough to call it logical.

[Answer on, why his parents married]
“That was logical.”
Leonard Nimoy [TV serie]

By the way it took me a while to determine the need of the angry dad on A need is personal. The basic thing is to describe the point of the view of the user. As an observer I have to be very careful to fill in the need of the user. It is not possible to read one’s mnd, but it is possible to ask about someone’s need.

Now I am quite close to the heart of the bug report. If someone asks to solve a bug report, then it is easy to program the expected result. If I test something, it is easy to check only for the expected result. And of course I can test all the other impacted functions and data, but does it really solve the problem?

Let’s have another look at the kid package problem.
A programmer could program the interaction as follows:

  • if the mouse is on the kid package, a small message will be shown containing the description of the package.
  • The message will disappear, if the mouse is moved.

As a tester I can easily determine, that the impact on the data and features is minimal. So it looks easy to test.

Well. There is a huge problem lurking there.

Let’s take a closer look
“So I have 2 tickets for Finding Marlin, 1 cola, and 1 carrot.”
“A carrot?”
“What’s up, doc?

So I go to the ticket counter and get tickets, the package, the drink and the veggie.”
“No, you only get the tickets. The rest you have to collect in the shop.”
“There is no place for all the snacks and drinks.”
“Sounds fair to me.”

“If I enter the shop I pick up my order and continue to the movie.”
“You actually have to collect all your ordered stuff yourself.”
“Just imagine a cola standing there for a few hours. It might have less bubbles and is warmer. Now think about ice creams. Or your carrot’s waiting days for a nibble.”
“You’ve got a point.”

“But where does it state that I have to collect all the stuff?”
“It is on the voucher.”
“Which voucher?”
“The one you get at the ticket counter.”
“Okay. Can you please show me 1?”
“Sure. Here’s one.”
“Hm that is small font.
That means I still have to be 10 minutes earlier to collect my order.”

“So I order, I show my voucher and see the movie.”
“Yes, you just go to the counters to claim the voucher.”
“Wait. You said counters. But I do not have to pay again.”
“The counters have a scanner for the vouchers. There are so many orders, that there is no standard voucher.”
“Okay, let me summarise again.”
“Collect order, go to the counters, show voucher and see movie.”
“You’ve got it.”

“So I go with my voucher to the voucher queue.”
“There is no voucher queue.”
“Wait a minute. I have to get in the same queue like the other people.”

“But there are no real benefits to the service. I only pay in advance.”
“Yes, but I like the idea of a special voucher counter.”

“The user story was:
‘As a cinema visitor I want to order my snacks and drinks before the visit, so I can save time.’
If I look for a need, i would say the need for ease. Within minutes I should get everything: just show the tickets and collect everything.

What about this?
How much time does it take to collect the order for a customer?”
“3 minutes.”
“So if I couple the GPS location of the customer to the order, then it is easy to collect the order. What about that?
Faster service and happier customers. Just make them smile.

And I could continue writing about what to do with the money in case if the customer does not show up. Or the customer changes his mind over the snack. Every solution should be focused on the need for ease.

Let me speed up the reporting
Navigation can be compressed using arrows. E.g. Menu => New.
If too many arrows are used, then the user experience should be improved.

It is possible to save time by adding bug descriptions in the comments instead of linking new bug reports to the report. If the devs can keep up with your pace of reporting, this saves lots of time. In one project I had a supplier, who had no overview and was slow. Then separate bug reports were extremely handy.

During my first year in an agile team
“I found a bug.
Do I have to report it?”
“You can talk about it?”
“So I do not have to write it.”, I wondered.
“We are talking.”, my scrum master answered with a smile.

Let me think
Post Ludum [After the game]
A continuing thought from me: are there other house rules to break? For better quality of life and work.

Why am I now thinking about retrospectives? It must be a flash of insight. I just wrote one : )







Let me write
I thank you for that.

Let me talk
I wanted to write a small blog post about bug reports and it almost turned into a talk. Too many stories in my head. So …

my proposals for talks for test conferences will be sent in the following months.

Let me thank you.
Thanks for reading. Real thanks again.

daD Talk

One of the things I wanted to develop is critical thinking. Not only by myself, but also by my kids themselves. The led to a rather unpleasant start of one of those dad kid conversations.

There was no way back: a subject I tried to delay for a few years:
computer security.

The complaint about a program was packaged as a request:
“I want to have a computer, which can execute [dangerous module] programs without using [dangerous module].”

I exhaled. My kid had absorbed the information and realised that the use could have a severe consequence for the computer. No more computer time. On the other hand the disadvantages were too big to forget about it.

I tried to find a solution, but I could not find one. If a program can change things on a computer, then it can do bad things.

While blogging I realised I was wrong. There was a work around.
There are programs, which can do same things like the original program, but they are built differently. They are called emulators. Some gamers like to play low resolution games on emulators of very old operating systems.
Wow, that’s my kid.

It’s hammer time
“If you have a hammer, then you can use it to break a window. But that’s not right.”
My kid nodded.
“So I program the hammer, so it cannot be used for a window glass. Then I can go to a door and use it to break a lock. I can program it not to break a lock. Then I can use it for a window frame.”

It would be easier to tell the hammer it could only be used on wood. This looks brown and it has grains. But it could be changed, so that everything looks like wood.”
I made a wide gesture with my arm pointing to different objects in the room.

“But I could change the picture. All objects would look like wood. That is not a good idea, so I store the picture in a book. But the picture in the book can still be changed.

Then I could place a lock on it. But the lock could be picked. I could place a better lock on it, but then the whole book could be replaced by another book.

And that’s why it is so difficult to secure things.”

Another unpleasant guest
My kid had seen a cool app. And it should be installed absolutely. So I did my dad thing:  looking at the permissions, which I would grant to the app. It could handle my files. It was just a game and why should game have a peek at my files? Time for the bad news.

So I told my kid, that the app would access files on the phone. The reply was to buy a phone just for games. Then I told that after a while the phone would be also used for other purposes like making pictures. “You don’t want your pictures in someone else’s hands.” There was a lack of nod.

I needed another way to tell the warning. A visual one.
“Suppose someone comes in. He looks television for the whole evening. And he eats the whole fridge empty.

If you protest, he will say:
“You said I could come in.”

The next evening he comes back. He takes the table and the sofa out of the house.

If you protest, he will say:
“You said I could come in.”