Tips on Asking Really Good Questions

November 24, 2015
Sean
Sean

A big part of examining an app, a website, or another piece of software is learning to ask the right questions. By asking the right questions, you learn more about what is expected and unexpected behaviour. This helps you figure out what the known (and unknown) boundaries of that product are.

Getting into this mindset is important, not just for software testers but for the people working with them as well. Sometimes you need to ask yourself, what isn't being tested? What blind spots do we have? What biases do our testers have?

It's worth it to read all six of the tips, but my favourite are tips 4 & 5:

4. Ask Five Whys

Asking “Why?” five times is a popular root-cause analysis activity. It’s an iterative question-asking technique used to explore the cause-and-effect relationships underlying a problem.

Here’s an example:

The vehicle will not start. (The problem)

  • Why? The battery is dead.
  • Why? The alternator is not functioning.
  • Why? The alternator belt has broken.
  • Why? The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life.
  • Why? The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule.

Because you continued asking why, you finally got an answer that gives the root cause.

5. Ask a Rubber Duck

... Although it’s usually a programming technique, the idea is applicable in software testing as well. Of course, you can explain the problem to your peers to jumpstart your thinking instead, but asking the rubber duck keeps you from interrupting your coworkers—and it sounds more fun.

Besides asking the right kinds of questions, what else is part of the software testing and QA mindset? Share your tips with us.

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