Lateral Tester Exercise II – Everyday Analogies Rikard Edgren

Analogies are powerful when they help us understand something (they shouldn’t be used to argue.)
And virtually any analogy can be good, you don’t know until after you have tried.
So this exercise is to use an analogy from your daily life, compare it to testing in general, or to your current area of concern.
Follow the thinking, work in several rounds to see what happens.

My little example is software testing vs. boiling potatoes:

Often potatoes are peeled, but not always. You can also use tools to speed the preparation phase.
Testing conclusion: you might not need to spend time preparing; and if you do, can you use tools?

Potatoes grown by yourself, or nearby, tastes better, are often cheaper, and more nutritious.
Testing conclusion: Outsourcing or commercial tool package might not be good for you.
Your own solutions, the strategies and ideas grown in your environment can be the best.

When are potatoes ready? Easy, you just feel if they are soft, but not musky.
Testing conclusion: Difficult, but if tests aren’t revealing new information, it is over-cooked?
However, it would be nice with a stick to check the product’s temperature…

Potatoes aren’t dined alone, it is part of a meal, with a mix of tastes.
Testing conclusion: You need to adapt to the rest of the dinner, who is it for, in which situation, for how many? What kind of testing is performed by others?

But I have not found a solution to this interesting question:
What is the salt of software testing?

Henrik Emilsson January 23rd, 2011

Salt is to Boiling potatoes as Communication is to Software Testing.

Rikard Edgren January 23rd, 2011


Richard January 24th, 2011

Salt: Not all food needs the same amount of salt: boiled potatoes need less than pickled cucumbers need less than a salt-baked fish.
Testing: Apply testing as it is needed; from a business standpoint you can have too much.

Salt: Many steps of cooking require salt to be added albeit in different amounts and different forms.
Testing: Test early, test often. Keep an eye on the type of testing you are doing and make sure it is applicable to the phase of the SDLC.

Martin Jansson January 24th, 2011

I like the salt and potatoes analogy. I think you can work on just those two:

Salt can be poison to babies.
Eating the leaves of a potato plant is poisonous.
Leaving the potato in the sun will make it poisonous.

Testing: Keep it simple. You do not need to walk into all traps out there.

Potatoes can be used in various diches, in different forms. In different cultures potato playes different roles. In some it is the main dich while in others its treated as something at the side.

Testing: As a tester you can be agile in a team, you can work solo, you can be a necessary evil?

Torbjörn Ryber January 25th, 2011

If you are into snacks there are thousands of variations of potato crisps with different flavors, cooking methods and in different containers. And then there is Pringles where you make potoato flour and then create a dough and put it in a machine to make every piece look exactly the same. They are not very good, taste like flavored paper, but you can get them anywhere in the world in the cylinders. They are advertised like they are the best solution to everyones snacks cravings.

Testing also comes in various formats and it is wonderful to explore the variations. They all fit in their context, real pieces of testing. And then there is the heavily advertised ISTQB certification – wherever you go you can find it – it is not very tasty but you know what you get…very little value for money.

My father in law is of the old scholl. Boiled potatoes is what fits for each meal. Cous-cous, quinoa and jasmin rice are strange visitors that must be avoided.

Just like testing -many people would rather have it the way it has always been rather than making an effort to try something new. They think that anything else than testing folklore of scripted test cases and traceability is not really boiled potatoes – and they are right – it is sometimes a change to the better! But it must be avoided!

Lynn McKee January 25th, 2011

Great analogy! Of course when I first thought about the Salt I was stuck on how when it is rubbed into wounds it hurts like crazy. Therefore my salt analogy was ill informed/poor management involvement and its affect on testing. In cooking potatoes though the salt generally has a positive effect unless you inadvertently add way to much.

Torbjörn’s comment is fantastic and I love the analogy of couscous, quinoa and jasmine rice being strange visitors to be avoided.


Adam Yuret January 25th, 2011

Maybe the salt is usability testing? For example: paper-prototyping getting the users involved in designing a great experience. Without it you have passably edible potatoes, but not very enjoyable to eat. But truly great UX is so much more than just salt. Maybe, done right, it’s the perfect storm of salt, butter, sour cream and bacon bits. To take the analogy further, maybe too much of those things is unhealthy to the project and the costs of those additions outweigh the benefit. All things in moderation, lest you become an obese software consumer. 🙂

Rikard Edgren January 26th, 2011

More great stuff!
I didn’t think the boiling potato analogy was that good, but when several people get involved and think, you can get a lot of good ideas.
My guess is you could use any analogy and reach far.
de Bono recommends using analogies that involves a process, a transformation of something, e.g. brushing teeth vs. software testing is quite fun to do.

Khurram Bhatti January 26th, 2011

The taste (quality) of potato will be good with salt and the quality (taste for user) of the software will be good with testing.

Henrik Emilsson January 26th, 2011

@Khurram Bhatti: Nice one!!!

Shile February 11th, 2011

An apt analogy here!

Potatoes can be made into chips or fries, whichever suits the appetite.
QA analogy: Testing methodologies depends on requirements.

[…] by Rikard Edgren’s text about using everyday analogies and compare them with testing I started thinking about this. To me, exploring the world of Super […]