SmartQA Community

#27 : A special on “Thinking”

SmartQA Digest

This features a great TEDx video titled “How to think, not what to think” as this week’s SmartBites. This is complemented with an interesting article that I wrote titled “Do brilliantly ‘right’ after taking a ‘left’!”.  After all a logical left-brained thinking complemented with a creative right-brained thinking will result in brilliant testing, right?
The “nanoLearning” smartbits gives you a quick overview of “Systematic Inventive Thinking”, a problem solving method that enables you to find innovative solutions to problems bounded by hard constraints.
The typical way in how we take notes is linear, with text from left to right and lines following each other. Do you know that Sketchnote is a creative way of note taking that stimulates your visual thinking? Read about this brilliant book “Sketchnote handbook” featured in “expandMind” section. I was blown away by this book where each page is a Sketchnote produced by hand!
I am very keen to expand the readership of SmartQA digest and transform the way how people perceive and do QA. I seek your help in forwarding this email to passionate engineering & QA colleagues. I am sure that they will enjoy the complimentary ebook  “Raise your QANSCIOUSNESS – Test effortlessly” on signup. Have you had a chance to read this?



Featured image for article "Sketchnote"


Sketchnotes are purposeful doodling while listening to something interesting. Sketchnotes don’t require high drawing skills, but do require a skill to visually synthesize and summarize via shapes, connectors, and text. Sketchnotes are as much a method of note taking as they are a form of creative expression.

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Thinking Visually

Ashok : As an avid visual thinker who uses Sketchnotes to communicate, please tell us the importance of visual thinking and how it can help us understand/think better and influence people?

Anuj : I think, one of the ways Visual thinking has helped me is to find a way to better stay in the moment and what I mean by that is when we are in the moment, we will be able to appreciate life even more than what it is. So, staying in the moment in one of the big benefits. While I don’t claim to be a big one, every artist seeks inspiration from life happening around them and the quest of seeking that inspiration itself is one that lets you live that moment better than in a condition without that, so that is one. 

The second way visual thinking I believe has helped me is – One of my online friends is Tanmay Vora, a very good Sketchnote artist. One of the blogs that he wrote and that stayed with me, talks about one of the principles he follows  – to consume less and create more. In essence, what he means by that is, people with all the revolution which has happened around smart phones are always consuming content. We can blame apps for it – in a way they have been designed to create that stickiness, but we are always in the consumption mode. What happens if we start eating lot of food? It shows up on our body. Ironically, consuming lot of content does not show up as visibly in our minds. We can feel our minds getting bloated up, getting overwhelmed with lot of stuff, but you got to catch those signals. So, in order to balance it out, one of the principles of consuming less and creating more comes into picture. How it helps the visual thinker in me is that if I read stuff, I try to restrict myself to reading good stuff, and whatever I read I have a kind of pact with myself that I will create something out of that, be it a blog, a sketch or some other consumable form. That really creates balance because you are not holding up information for too long and getting it to stale in your mind without it being put to the right kind of use.

Third way visual thinking has helped me is – I will tell you an instance where I had organised one of the sessions on quantum computing. As complex a subject as that is in today’s times, it was equally important for people to figure out how to explain it simple. So, one of the things that I had set myself to do in that session was to Sketchnote the session live. Eventually, it turned out to be a good summary and in doing so, I realised that Sketchnoting is helping me actively listen to the speaker. What I mean by active listening is that again I am not consuming the content for the sake of consuming the content. I am creating something out of it and also actively removing the noise out of the whole experience of listening. You can’t write each and every word in a Sketchnote, but you can write the key points and summarise it. I did present it to the speaker after the event. So, bringing in the ‘intention’ in the listening is one of the key traits that I learnt. 

Overall, the main areas where visual thinking has helped me, is to be more aware, be more present in situations and listen intently and balancing that continuum of creation and consumption which is important.

Ashok: So what you are saying is it does help you certainly be more mindful, absorb better and obviously assimilate it and keep up with the most important things so to speak and do it very continually along with the person who is doing his job.

Anuj:  I would like to add how will it help QA professionals.More often QA professionals find themselves in a situation where the bug reports, unfortunately still are considered as the key output. In absence of any innovation happening in creating new bug reports, they are again thought of as one of the predictable outputs from the profession. What if you create a Sketchnote out of a bug report? I think that might help people look into your bug with more interest and getting more motivated to fix them.

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The power of checklist

Recently I read the book “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande. 

“An essential primer on complexity in medicine” is what New York Times states about his book whilst The Hindu states this as “An unusual exploration of the power of to-do list”.

As an individual committed to perfection, in constant search of scientific and smart ways to test/prevent and as an architect of Hypothesis Based Testing, I was spellbound reading this brilliantly written book that made the lowly checklist the kingpin, to tackle complexity and establish a standard for higher baseline performance.

The problem of extreme complexity The field of medicine has become the art of managing extreme complexity. It is a test whether such complexity can be humanly mastered: 13000+ diseases, syndromes and types of injury (13000 ways a body can fail), 6000 drugs, 4000 medicines and surgical procedures each with different requirements, risks and considerations. Phew, a lot to get right.

So what has been done to handle this? Split up knowledge into various specializations, in fact, we have super specialization today. But it is not just the breadth and quantity of knowledge that has made medicine complicated, it is also the execution of these. In an ICU, an average patient required 178 individual interactions per day!

So to save a desperately sick patient it is necessary to: (1) Get the knowledge right (2) Do the 178 daily tasks right.

Let us look at some facts: 50M operations/year, 150K deaths following surgery/year (this is 3x #road-fatalities), at least half of these avoidable. Knowledge exists in supremely specialized doctors, but mistakes occur.

So what do you when specialists fail? Well, the answer to this comes from an unexpected source, nothing to do with medicine.

The answer is: THE CHECKLIST

On Oct 30, 1985, a massive plane that carries 5x more bombs roared and lifted off from the airport in Dayton, Ohio and then crashed. The reason cited was “Pilot error”. A newspaper reported, “this was too much airplane for one man to fly”. Boeing the maker of this plane nearly went bankrupt.

So, how did they fix this issue? By creating a pilot’s checklist, as flying a new plane was too complicated to be left to the memory of any one person, however expert. The result: 1.8 million miles without one accident!

In a complex environment, experts are against two main difficulties: (1) Fallibility of human memory, especially when it comes to mundane/routine matters which are easily overlooked when you are strained to look at other pressing matters of hand (2) Skipping steps even when you remember them, as we know that certain steps in a complex process don’t matter.

Checklists seem to provide against such failures and instill a kind of discipline of higher performance.

Peter Provonost in 2001 decided to give a doctor’s checklist a try to tackle central line infections in ICU. So what was the result after one year of usage? Checklist prevented 43 infections and 8 deaths and saved USD 2M! In another experiment, it was noticed that patients not receiving recommended care dipped from 70% to 4% and pneumonia fell by a quarter and 21 fewer parents died.

In a bigger implementation titled the “Keystone Initiative” (2006) involving more hospitals of 18-month duration, the results were stunning- USD 17M saved, 1500+ lives saved!


So where am I heading? As a Test Practitioner, I am always amazed at how we behave like cowboys and miss simple issues causing great consternation to the customer and users. Here again, it is not about lack of knowledge, it is more often about carelessness. Some of the issues are so silly, that they can be prevented by the developer while coding, and certainly does not demand to test by a professional. This is where a checklist turns out to be very useful.

In an engagement with a product company, I noticed that one of the products has a product backlog of ~1000 issues found both internally and by the customer. Doing HBT level-wise analysis, we found that ~50% of the issues could have been caught/prevented by the developer preventing the vicious cycle of fix and re-test. A simple checklist used in a disciplined manner can fix this.

So how did the checklists help in the field of medicine or aviation? They helped in memory recall of clearly set out minimum necessary steps of the process. They established a standard for higher baseline performance.


So how can test practitioners become smarter to deliver more with less? One way is to instill discipline and deliver baseline performance. I am sure we all use some checklist or other but still find results a little short.

So how can I make an effective checklist and see a higher performance ? Especially in this rapid Agile Software world?

This will be the focus of my second part of this article to follow. Checklists can be used in many areas of software testing, I will focus in my next article on ‘How to prevent simple issues that plague developers making the tester a sacrificial goat for customer ire by using a simple “shall we say unit testing checklist”.