Changing the Narrative: Using Storytelling in Software Testing
Stories are so powerful. They change our worlds, they change how we think, and they change how we perceive our surroundings. Even testers can use stories in several ways.
There are monsters that snarl at meetings and threaten terrible consequences. There are magic tokens that will solve all our problems. There are impossible tasks to achieve, with fairy-gold rewards that follow. We tell ourselves stories, then watch our narratives come true.
What narrative did we tell ourselves during that project? Was it a story about fighting the ogres or befriending them? Do we tell ourselves we are worthy of succeeding, or does our story tell us to fail again, like we did last time? Did we say, “They never listen to us,” and then fail to provide any new stories that people wanted to hear?
Here are some ways testers can use stories to their advantage.
Enriching user stories: We can add emotional content and the full user experience to user stories, which gives us an enhanced understanding of the impact of several types of potential fault, especially in the nonfunctional quality attributes. We can do this by interviewing real users or by designing personas to stand for the users. This will provide a better idea of the risks around areas such as security, performance, and portability.
Making test plans and reports more appealing and enhancing test fault reports: The artifacts we produce for testing, whether written or verbal, can be boring. If we use storytelling constructs like those used by journalists, novelists, and thriller writers, we can draw our audience in and engage them in the message we want to put across. Good stories have a hook at the start. A great headline or a killer first sentence make the audience sit up and ask for more.
Providing recommendations: Once our audience is hooked by our plans and reports in the beginning, we need to continue with a succinct, interesting middle and then provide a compelling finish that gives a call to action, a recommendation, or a vision that they cannot resist. Beginnings, middles, and ends are vital journalistic ingredients for reporting what has happened and trying to influence the future.
Learning from analogies: This is where we use stories as similes and metaphors to help understand something more deeply. Parables, fables, poems, and folk tales provide lessons for life, and we can use these models to help us rethink our world. In his books Games People Play and What Do You Say After You Say Hello? Erik Berne discusses how we use fairy tales to negotiate our way through the world by altering classic fairy tales to help us understand human behavior.
Learning through stories can be fun or scary, exciting or relaxing. People tell and listen to stories all over the world, and we access them through books, film, TV, and, yes, our daily work. The direct experience of face-to-face storytelling is still a powerful experience—especially when it has lessons that relate to your testing work.
Isabel Evans is presenting the session Story Time for Testers at STARWEST 2016, October 2–7 in Anaheim, California.