Two Heads Are Better Than One: The Benefits of Pair Testing Across Disciplines

By Anneliese Herbosa

 "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

- African Proverb

This saying applies to the multidisciplinary function of testing.

Depending on the makeup of your team or your organization’s budget for quality programs and initiatives, testers can find themselves part of groups of many sizes. In big organizations, you may be joining a larger team of fellow testers. In smaller companies, you may very well be the "department of one" lone tester. As for me, I found myself in the latter situation.

After working in a nimble and highly collaborative cross-functional team, with the ratio of testers to other disciplines being 1:1 per project, I have experienced firsthand the positive results that pair testing can yield.

What Is Pairing And Why Is It Important?

While buddying up with someone at work isn't a new concept, the idea of pairing with either fellow colleagues who share your role, or pairing with someone from an entirely different discipline, is one that continues to be a consideration as more agile teams are being formed. This is true of programmers, designers, and beyond.

Which Situations Would Warrant Pair Testing?

There are a couple of scenarios conducive for pairing, including:

  • Testers who are part of a greater testing team - If you are eager to work with and learn from your fellow testers, now is the time. It is never too early or too late to cultivate a culture of collaboration with your peers.

  • Testers who may not know how to lean on others for support - Whether you are the lone tester on a team, or a junior tester who may be shy or intimidated to raise your hand, it can sometimes be difficult to recognise when we need help. Rather than waiting until you start feeling overloaded, there are other opportunities in between to seek help.

  • Non-testers wanting to learn from their peers - If a developer, a designer, or other team member is keen to learn more about the art of testing, pairing up with a tester is a great way to gain insights into the work involved. 

Perfect Pairings

Each cross-functional partner has something unique to bring to the testing table, respectively:

Tester-Tester

No two testers operate quite the same. The way in which one tester approaches their method of testing can differ from the other. That is why pair testing can help illuminate each tester’s unique strategy or approach. Exposure to each other's unique approaches helps build a shared level of understanding and appreciation. For instance, in the test planning phase, maybe one of you uses mind maps, while the other starts by mapping out specific user stories.

Because both of you are in a similar role and are thus operating from a similar state of mind, pairing allows you to bounce ideas off each other to diversify your methods and approaches in real-time. This can reveal different perspectives, some of which perhaps would have never been explored had you both not shared your methods with each other in the first place!

Tester-Programmer

Involving programmers in my testing process sooner than later has proven to be beneficial to my process. They bring additional in-depth technical knowledge and understanding that feeds into the substance of my tests. It's these added nuances that have helped me flesh out my test plans and test suites to be more robust and well-rounded.

  • Boundary testing - Did you try this? What about this particular threshold, or these stress testing parameters?

  • Negative test cases - OK so what shouldn't this feature do? Is the product functioning in a way that it isn't meant to?

  • Debugging and troubleshooting - As testers, there is always much to investigate and unravel. Programmers can be instrumental in helping you peek under the hood of a code base to decipher the underlying issue and add more colour to your bug reports.

Tester-Designer

As visual and interactive storytellers and problem solvers, designers can provide a lot of helpful insight into particular testing scenarios.

  • Low-fidelity test plans - While it can be ideal to conduct test planning based on a working prototype, testers won't always have that luxury. Connecting with a designer and taking a closer look together at early-stage mockups, or even wireframes, can be enough of a jumping off point to help kickstart a test plan outline.

  • Test cases - Since designers have an intimate understanding of user journeys and the various intended use cases, their perspective can help round out test case scripts.

  • Usability and user research - Often, testers focus their testing efforts and resources towards the "happy path" to satisfy the primary use cases and user behaviours. But what about the edge cases, or other scenarios which may not have been accounted for? What is the data telling us, and how does that affect our test approach? 

Providing designers with a line of sight into your test plans can open up a fruitful dialog to help optimise your test case coverage.

Tester-Product Manager (or Owner, Stakeholder, Client)

When it comes to User Acceptance Testing, it might seem natural to reach out solely to clients or real-life users to help in this department. Beyond these individuals, project managers, product owners, or other stakeholders will have invaluable perspectives to share.

  • Product requirements - These people can help you validate your coverage against the agreed-upon project brief and confirm what's expected from a business standpoint

  • Triaging and prioritization - Knowing which features and functionality are deemed most important to business goals can help you take a focused, risk-based testing approach

In general, achieving role empathy is a surefire way to strengthen your working relationship with others. Exposure to each other’s mindsets and methods can illuminate and inspire new ways of solving problems. Ultimately, pairing can give you a more holistic lens through which you can approach your work.

For discussion

  • How do you encourage pair testing as a practice in your own team and workplace?

  • From your own experience, are there any paired partnership combinations that have pleasantly surprised you and have ended up reaping positive results? Who has become your favourite pair working buddy? Share your success stories with peers on The Club.

Author Bio

Anneliese Herbosa is a quality and continuous improvement advocate hailing from Vancouver, Canada. She has held roles in quality assurance, social media and content management, and has worked in tech startup and digital agency environments. She is energised by collaborative and diverse multidisciplinary teams. When her hands aren’t glued to the keyboard or a mobile device, they’re likely holding onto a pen, or drumsticks. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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