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Exploit visual thinking – Smart exploration of software 

In today’s world of Agile development, where minimal documentation and rapid evolution of features rule, understanding what may be appropriate for end users, what may be intended behaviour and what is actually present, requires not only a logical mind but a very creative mind. A smart approach to understanding the various parts, connecting to the bigger picture, and identifying missing parts in a rapid manner is the order of the day.

It is interesting that in the current technology/tool rich world, we have realised that human mind is the most powerful after all, and engaging it fully can solve the most complicated problems rapidly.  One of the key ingredients of an engaged thinker is “Thinking visually”, to clearly see the problem, solution or gaps. 

Design Thinking relies on sketching/drawing skills to imagine better ideas, figure out things, explain and give instructions. Daniel Ling(1) in his book “Completing design thinking guide for successful professionals” outlines this as one of the five mindsets – “Believe you can draw”. 

Sunni Brown(2) in her book “The Doodle revolution” states “doodling is deep thinking in disguise – a simple, accessible and dynamite tool for innovating and solving the stickiest of problems“ by enabling a shift from habitual thinking pattern to cognitive breakthroughs. 

David Sibbet(3) a world leader in graphic facilitation and visual thinking for groups in his brilliant book “Visual Meetings” outlines three tools for effective meetings to transform group productivity : (a) ‘Draw’ to communicate visually (b) ‘Sticky notes’ to record little chunks of information and create storyboard (c) ‘Idea mapping’ which are visual metaphors embedded in graphic templates and worksheets to think visually. 

Dan Roam(4) in “Show and Tell” states that the three steps to create an extraordinary presentation are (a) Tell the truth (b) Tell it with a story and (c) Tell the story with pictures. The book ‘written’ beautifully in pictures entirely is about ‘how to understand audience, build a clear storyline, create effective visuals and channel your fear into fun’. 

Jake Knapp(5) in “Sprint – How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days” outlines a five-day process to problem solving relies on SKETCHING on Day 2. He says that “we are asking you to sketch because we are convinced it’s the faster and easiest way to transform abstract ideas into concrete solutions. Sketching allows every person to develop those concrete ideas while working alone”. 

Not to forget my very good old friend “mind mapping”, from Tony Buzan which I have extensively used to understand, document, come with up with ideas and the plan.

It is interesting to note that visual thinking has taken centre stage now with mind mapping, sketch noting and doodling as a means to unleashing the power of the mind. 

As software QA folks, going beyond the given documentation (detailed or otherwise) is very necessary. In the current times with documentation being terse, a logical approach to exploring and covering a lot of ground rapidly and taking notes that forms the basis for a great visual summary is very necessary.  Mind maps have been very useful here and we now have other tools like SketchNote and Doodling.

These visual tools are useful not just for capturing information to aid understanding but can applied to create plans, and design scenarios to validate better. These allow us to move from the structured templated documentation to a breezy and creative way that not only allows to expand our thinking but ensures that we are terse and focused and in a flow. 

As I explore the product and ideas start to flow, visual tools are what I resort to using both software tools and good old paper to ensure that I can capture this rapidly and ensure I stay in the flow.

I use mind mapping extensively to take notes as I explore a product to understand using the tool iThoughts on my iPad along with sketches and doodles in my notebook accentuated with colour pens and PostIt.

Templates that have typically served as the backbone for test documentation are like “horse blinders”, for they provide a sharp focus in a narrow field restricting purposefully the peripheral vision enabling strict compliance. On the contrary “Fish Eye Vision” allows for a 360 degree vision to be able to see all around. Visual thinking enables this “fish eye vision”.

“Software testing is a funny business where one has to be clairvoyant to see the unknown, to perceive what is missing and also assess comprehensively what is present ‘guaranteeing’ that nothing is amiss.”

As much as tools and technology helps us to perform tests far better,  “Smart understanding and documentation” based on visual thinking tools can be very useful in today’s rapid product development cycle.

Testing is scientific exploration and the first step to do this smartly this is
“Exploit visual thinking – Smart exploration of software”.

(1) Daniel Ling “Completing design thinking guide for successful professionals”, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015.
(2) Sunni Brown, “The Doodle Revolution: Unlock the Power to Think Differently“, Portfolio, 2014.
(3) David Sibbet, “Visual Meetings: How Graphics, Sticky Notes and Idea Mapping Can Transform Group Productivity”, Wiley India Private Limited, 2012.
(4) Dan Roam, “Show and Tell – How everybody can make extraordinary presentations” Penguin, 2014.

(5) Jake Knapp, “Sprint – How to solve big problems and test new ideas in just five days”, Bantam Press, 2016.