Flipability Heuristic Rikard Edgren

Credit cards are taking over the usage of notes and coins.
This has benefits, but it is not possible to toss a coin with credit cards.

Bob van de Burgt coined (!) the term flipability at EuroSTAR 2010 Michael Bolton tutorial, coin exercise.
It is a lovely word, and can be used more generally to describe how products can be valuable in other ways than the intended purpose, it’s part of a product’s versatility.

If you ask your customers, I bet you will be surprised by a couple of ways they benefit from your software. It might be exploitations of bugs, that it might be a bad idea to fix.

As you’re testing software, you can look for other usage that might be valuable. It is probably not your first test idea, but it could be the start of next great feature, or the beginning of a cool story; hence the Flipability Heuristic.

Michael Lindqvist May 12th, 2011

Totally agree. While testing music software I have found that what was once thought of as a buggy and “challenging feature” later turned into a feature that in it self spawned other products.

Rikard Edgren May 12th, 2011

When I turn on my XPERIA it sometimes show the time from last usage for a tenth of a second, before switching to “now”.
First I saw it as a minor performance issue, but now I want it as a feature.
With small kids at home I tend to forget things, so when I put a dough in the oven and check the time, I have forgotten it after 5 minutes when it is time to lower temperature from 250 to 210 degrees.
A mobile (used as watch) with the feature “split-second short-term time-memory” would save me.

Henrik Emilsson May 12th, 2011

Very nice.
But Rikard, it is not fair to equal the “Bug-or-Feature Heuristic” with “Flipability Heuristic”.
Can you give some examples on what differ between those heuristics?

Rikard Edgren May 13th, 2011

Good point.
To me, “bug or feature” is a game a tester play when finding peculiar behavior.
Flipability heuristic can be used in other situations and by other roles.
Bug or feature aims for a conclusion, flipability broadens your thinking.
However, I guess you find other usage by chance, so the intersection between these two is common.

the_qa_guy June 8th, 2011

I remember a story that a professor once told me that points in a similar direction:
Ferrero used to sell their sweet “Mon Cheri” in hard transparent plastic boxes. Some while ago they decided to increase the profit margin by changing the packaging.
Sales dropped immediately – turns out that the customers weren’t buying Mon Cheri only because of the sweets but also because the packaging could be reused for storage of buttons, needles and other small items.
Now the hard plastic boxes are back…

I guess what I want to say is: This doesn’t only apply to software 🙂

Rikard Edgren June 8th, 2011

Nice story!
Makes you think it is necessary for all product companies to ask their customers why they buy the stuff, and let them speak for a while to dig up the side-purposes.

Shrini Kulkarni June 27th, 2011

For those who did not attend Michael’s tutorial – you did not explain the flippability heuristic itself.

Flippability – ability of the coin to be flipped? How does that related to something that is not so common or remote feature or bug of a software being valueble to customers?

Again taking coin as example – are we not stuck with “binary” only 2 possiblities?

You should probably search for better word to indicate “new viewing direction-new perspectives”. How about “Chamaeleo Heuristic” or “Caumoflage Heuristic”?


Rikard Edgren June 27th, 2011

Shrini, I can’t give away too much of Michael’s exercise, but I can explain the reasoning behind flipability:

The purpose with coins is to use them as money.
But people discovered that you could toss the coin (flip it), in order to get a 50/50 decision (yes, it’s very close to 100% binary by nature)
This is very useful to many, but was not the original intention (I assume.)
I think it is so useful, that if a “non-flippable” coin was produced, it would not be popular (and how would it look?)

To watch out for positive, unintended side-effects is the essence of the flipability heuristic.

The best heuristics are the one you name yourself, so I think you should use chameleon or camouflage, and fill it with the nuances that are useful to you.
I will stick with flipability, because I like the word.