A Handy Note-taking Template for Exploratory Testing

November, 8th 2017Simon Tomes

The importance of note-taking

Imagine for a moment you share a link to your testing session notes. Perhaps you're sat next to a developer, tester and/or product owner. You walk them through your recent testing session.

What learnings do you feel are important to share? How do you communicate to resonate with your audience? Note-taking supports and enhances both an in-person and remote working culture. Writing notes help you be present.

I was grabbing a cup of tea the other day when a colleague stopped by.

"I just want to say thanks for the notes you put together. They were really helpful"

It caught me off guard and I was a little confused as I'd already debriefed with someone else. I initially thought "Why had he read my notes?". Then it dawned on me he was genuinely grateful for what I'd shared, no other motive. Straight up positive feedback!

I left with a surprised smile and later reflected on how the effort I put into my notes had paid off!

A little note-taking structure goes a long way. It prompts thoughts and real experiments – before, during and after each session. Your notes are the springboard to a successful testing story. Learn-packed exploratory testing sessions contribute to successful products – make each written session count!

Cassandra Leung urges us to provide insight. As Maaret Pyhäjärvi points out, we're not here to stick stuff in JIRA, we’re here to provide actionable information.

With actionable information we increase the likelihood of purpose-driven conversation and collaboration.

A handy note-taking template for an exploratory testing session

The following template provides triggers for an exploratory testing session. It's a way for you to experiment with your own structure. To help you tell a testing story – whether debriefing in real-time or asynchronously. I’ve had success with this template. It satisfies two audiences: One that just needs a summary and another who loves detail.

Example sessions

Example 1: Explore Lean Coffee Table (leancoffeetable.com), cross-browser, to learn about sharing a board with others

These examples are coming soon:

How I capture notes

I take notes like I'm creating a story for someone else to read. This includes a bit of show and tell. Great storytelling uses show more than tell. Sometimes it feels more natural to tell your notes what you’re doing. The show comes alive with screenshots, GIFs and video.

As I explore I write notes imagining I'm taking someone through my actual process, steps and thoughts. Imagine saying it out loud and just type. ‪You can always edit later.

It’s hard to resist the desire to share discoveries immediately! For this reason I find time boxed sessions helpful. Typically 45 mins max.‬ Time’s up, stop the session. You can always run another. Likely the next one is more effective because of the conversation you’ve had during debrief. ‪‬

Shorter sessions reduce the probability of overwhelming your audience. Share a summary. Focus on the information you think is most important.

My time boxed exploratory testing sessions typically follow this pattern:

I go into this in a bit more detail on the following Ministry of Testing article: Three Digestible Diagrams to Describe Exploratory Testing.

I break my session notes into three parts and use a three-step approach to debriefing:

3 tips to enhance your note-taking experience

  1. Write sh*t, you can edit after the timer stops
  2. When stuck go back to the goal/mission, heuristics, oracles and questions to consider. Trigger ideas!
  3. Read through your notes at least once before sharing. Have you answered everything you considered earlier? Do you need to create more charters (goals/missions) for unanswered questions? Do the notes make sense to the target audience? Edit as appropriate. Capture a summary – these are key learnings and the essence of your discoveries.

Testing is learning about ourselves and the people we work with and build for to discover what is and what might be. Your notes become the lodestar for distant uncharted territory. Make the most of them.

Let’s collaborate!

I’d love to learn from you. How do you take notes? How do you structure your notes? Are these templates useful?

We’re developing TestBuddy – an exploratory testing note-taking tool for development teams. Sign up to the prototype and give it a try.

Main Photo credit: Francisco Moreno