Creativity in Testing: A Workshop

I was recently inspired to organize a workshop to inspire creativity in testing at my workplace after reading Andy Glover’s Visual Testing Workshop on the Ministry of Testing website. I have always enjoyed Andy’s cartoons, especially those related to testing. Our primary objectives for the Creativity in Testing workshop were to connect with other testers and experience how the use of art can spark creativity and be harnessed to use in our work as testers. My colleague Mark Leibowitz and I connected with the art liaison at the company’s Creativity Center, Nicole DiCello. The purpose of the Creativity Center is to promote creative play, team building and spark innovation. This resource gave a good place to start.

There’s no such thing as mistakes

We held the workshop in two sessions, each focusing around a different collaborative art project. The two rules were (1) there are no mistakes, and (2) you do not have to be artistic to make art. The first session involved creating a collaborative painting, and the second session  was used to create a collaborative tape and wire sculpture. The second session concluded with a mind mapping exercise to design test plans for each other’s software projects. The creative art work activities done prior to the mind mapping enhanced the mind maps, and the ideas generated around them. Although we were not all familiar with each other’s applications, we found it inspiring to contribute ideas to each other’s mind maps, and question and challenge each other, creating several mind maps worthy of bringing back to our desks.

Engaging in creative play

This workshop offered several useful and interesting lessons for software testing.  Engaging in creative play can inspire testers to design more robust and effective test plans or software designs. The experience of collaboration around art projects in a relaxing setting opened up the group to listen to each other’s ideas, consider each other’s suggestions, and gain a new perspective on what team work can mean. The workshop also demonstrated how the use of imagery and visual cues can be used in testing to communicate ideas for design or test planning. The workshop introduced these concepts and opened the door to thinking about software testing as a profession that can benefit from creativity

When testers are part of a team with the specific purpose of developing a certain project (agile or otherwise), the team owns the project, evolves with the project, and contributes whole-heartedly to the project. The team knows the strengths and weaknesses of the features and user requirements inside and out. Other times, testers may be assigned a project to test that is already in progress. It can be a challenge to take ownership and find ways to inject creativity into a project which is already underway. The tape and wire project reflected  this dichotomy also found in testing back to us in an unexpected way.

Injecting creativity

During the activity, we worked in small groups, creating original sculptures made of tape and wire. Just as we began taking ownership of these unique creations, we were asked to leave the table with the project we were working on, and begin working on the project at the table to our left. Several testers were uneasy to leave a project they had become invested in. Others were glad to leave the first project and looked forward to working on something new. This exercise gave us an interesting insight into the expectation for testers to be flexible which can make it difficult to become full invested in a project. On the flip side, it taught us something even more.

We learned that even if a project is not our own from the start, we can still explore ways to inject creativity in the process of test planning or testing itself. The sessions showed us that if we feel empowered to step away for a moment and play, or do something creative, we can return with renewed energy and interest in the project. Another way to incorporate creativity could be to keep a journal and some markers, or some putty or tape and wire nearby to help shift gears into creativity mode. Taking a ‘play break’ or ‘creativity moment’ can provide a fresh, and perhaps more creative, perspective to our work.

Empowered to question

The experience in this workshop was like a microcosm of our experiences in the testing world. We left the session feeling empowered to question user requirements or software design. We learned that taking a break from our desks to do a creative task can jump-start creativity and improve our productivity and boost effectiveness as testers. We left the workshop with new experiences, new tools, and a new perspective about the usefulness of including creativity in software development and testing. We realized that taking the time to stop and listen to those around us, to feel empowered to think outside the box, to exchange ideas with others, and to express thoughts and ideas in an effort to improve the product were important concepts to bring back to our groups. Many participants found it stimulating to share ideas with testers from other applications to gain a fresh perspective of a design or user story. We found that taking a few minutes to shift one’s mindset does not take long, and can have profound effects on creativity and productivity, even in the workplace.

Using materials and creative art sessions to spark creativity, regardless of one’s artistic abilities, proved to be refreshing and energizing. Using visual tools other than words or prose, such as mind mapping, as tools to share broad ideas, concepts, designs, or test plans can be an effective and efficient way to share ideas. Most importantly, at the end of the session, we experienced a few ways to find creativity in testing.

 About the author

Shoshannah Gil is a QA analyst at a medical software company based in Massachusetts providing EHR solutions for healthcare organizations around the world. She has been a tester at the company for 7 years. She has a passion for questioning, learning, and trying new ideas to support quality improvement, testing, and life in general.

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