Monthly Archives: March 2013

Trying on hats

After having missed out on a couple of EAST gatherings lately, I finally managed to make it to the this month’s meetup this past Thursday (the group’s 11th meetup since its inception, for those who like to keep scores). This meetup was a bit different that past ones, in a good way. Not that the other ones haven’t been good, but it’s fun to mix things up. The plan for the evening was to study, implement and evaluate a Edwards de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats technique in a testing situation. The six thinking hats is basically a tool to help both group discussions and individual thinking by using imagined (or real) hats of different colors to force your thinking in certain directions throughout a meeting or workshop. Another cool thing at this meetup was that there were at least a handful of new faces in the room. We’re contagious, yay!

We started out by watching Julian Harty’s keynote address from STARWEST 2008, “Six Thinking Hats for Software Testers”. In this talk, Julian explains how he had successfully implemented Edward de Bono’s technique when he was at Google and how it helped them getting rid of limiting ideas, poor communication, and pre-set roles and responsibilities in discussions and meetings.

So what can we use these hats for? Julian suggests a few areas in his talk:

  • Improving our working relations, by helping reduce the impact of adversarial relationships and in-fighting.
  • Reviewing artifacts like documents, designs, code, test plans and so on.
  • Designing test cases, where the tool helps us to ask questions from 6 distinct viewpoints.

Julian recommends starting and ending with the the Blue Hat, which is concerned with thinking about the big picture. Then continuing forward with the Yellow Hat, which symbolizes possibilities and optimism. The Red Hat, symbolizing passion and feelings. The White Hat, which calls for the facts and nothing but the facts (data). The Black Hat, the critiquing devil’s advocate hat, which looks out for dangers and risks. And finally, after going through all the other hats to help us understand the problem domain, we move on to the Green Hat, which let’s us get creative, brainstorm and use the power of “PO”.

PO stands for provocative operation and is another one of de Bono’s useful tools that helps us get out of ruts. If you find yourself stuck in a thinking pattern, you have someone throw in a PO, in order to help people get unstuck and think along new lines.

There are five different methods for generating a PO: Reversing, Exaggerating, Distorting, Escaping and Wishful Thinking. All of them encourages you to basically “unsettle your mind”, thereby increasing the chances that you will generate a new idea (a.k.a “movement” in the de Bono-verse). You can get a brief primer here if you’re interested in learning more, though I do recommend going straight for de Bono’s books instead. Now, we didn’t discuss PO much during the meetup, but it reminded me to go back and read up on these techniques afterwards. Would be fun to try out in sprint planning or when breaking down larger test ideas.

So after we’d watched the video through, we proceeded to test a little mobile cloud application that had been developed by a local company here in Linköping. The idea was to try to implement the six hats way of thinking while pair testing, which was a cool idea, but it soon became clear that we needed to tour the application a bit first in order to apply the six hats. Simply going through the six hats while trying to think about a problem domain you know nothing about didn’t really work. Also, bugs galore, so there wasn’t much really need to get creative about test ideas. Still, a good exercise that primed our thinking a bit.

Afterwards we debriefed the experience in the group and I think that most of us felt that this might be a useful tool to put in our toolbox, alongside other heuristics. When doing test planning for an application that you know a bit more about, it will probably be easier to do the six hats thinking up front. With an unknown application, you tend to fall back to using other heuristics and then putting your ideas into one of the six hats categories after the fact, rather than using the hats to come up with ideas.

I also think the six hats would be very useful together with test strategy heuristics like SFDPOT, examining each product element with the help of the hats, to give your thinking extra dimensions. Same principle as you would normally use with CRUSSPIC STMPL (the quality characteristics heuristic) together with SFDPOT. Or why not try all three at the same time?

As usual, a very successful and rewarding EAST meetup. Sitting down with peers in a relaxed environment (outside business hours) can really do wonders to get your mind going in new directions.

For a more in depth look on the original idea of the hats, see Edward de Bono’s books Six Thinking Hats (1985), or Lateral Thinking: A Textbook of Creativity (2009), which describes them pretty well as well if I remember correctly.

Edit: If you want to read less about the hats and more about how the meetup was actually structured (perhaps you want to start your own testing meetups?), head on over to Erik Brickarp’s blog post on this same meetup.