Agile Testing Days, part 1 of ?: Brainstorming!

After consolidating my notes and photos from Agile Testing Days (so many devices! Plus sketch notes!), I realized it’s way too much for one post. I’m taking the advice of tweeps and serializing this novel. First up: the workshop I facilitated on Advanced Topics in Agile Testing. I must emphasize that I was only a facilitator. I organized brainstorming exercises, and we all shared our experiences. We generated some interesting ideas!

We had 18 participants including myself, and they were truly advanced, lots of experience in both agile and testing, working in a variety of domains. I was so happy to meet so many people who have improved their process and product. Most work in globally distributed companies.

Goals and Purpose

We started by setting SMART goals around the testing-related problems and obstacles each participant faces on their own teams. For example, one team had a goal “get faster feedback with automated tests in three months using nightly builds”, another had “automate regression tests which cover the work of several teams”. Not everyone managed to follow the whole SMART pattern, but we had plenty of interesting issues to address. Topics ranged from how to get started with ATDD to “dev and QA love”.

Brainstorming techniques

Then we tried different brainstorming techniques to come up with small experiments that participants could try back at work. The first one was impact mapping. Most people weren’t familiar with it, so I gave an introduction. Workshop

Each table group took their highest priority topic and started out by explaining the “why”, the purpose of the goal. Next, they brainstormed about who could help attain the goal, or who might get in the way of success. The next step was to consider each “who” and decide how they could help or hinder, the impacts. Finally we discussed deliverables, the “what” for each “why, who, how” combination. After each ’round’, the groups shared their outcomes. To wrap up, each team chose one or two experiments to try when they get back to work. The general feeling was that these were doable experiments worth trying.

The exercise generated lots of interesting ideas. One group came up with the idea to pair across teams in order to improve communication and get a better understanding of the product. Another team proposed creating a definition of done for each epic to improve test coverage.

Mind Mapping

To address the next highest priority goal for each group, we used a simpler technique, mind mapping. The free-form discussion with everyone adding nodes to the group mind map stimulated helpful thoughts. The groups ended up using sticky notes as the nodes, which was a bit more practical with five or six people working on the same map.


After lunch, everyone self-organized into new table groups, and we tried another brainstorming technique, “brainwriting“, to come up with experiments around the next highest priority goal. This works in five minute intervals. Each person starts writing ideas on a piece of paper. At the end of five minutes, they pass it on to the person on their right, read the ideas on the new piece of paper they received, and see if that sparks more ideas.

brainwritingThe room was quiet for 30 minutes as everyone wrote. I was surprised how many unique ideas each group came up with. And I was surprised how creative people got, using mind maps and graphics to illustrate their ideas.  This proved the most popular brainstorming technique. As one participant commented, it’s fair, because everyone gets an equal chance to contribute.

More techniques

The next go-round, teams used the “super powers” technique, where you dream what you’d do if you had super powers such as x-ray vision or the ability to teleport, or SWOT analysis – What are the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats currently relevant to your goal?

Some groups tried both. The SWOT was confusing, the difference between weaknesses and threats for example is a blurry line. These techniques weren’t as popular as brain writing, but led to some creative experiments.

Sharing experiences

In between brainstorming sessions, we had large group discussions on topics that emerged. I enjoyed hearing the different experiences team members shared. Since I was facilitating, I couldn’t easily take notes, but I learned some insights into tough areas such as working in a highly regulated domain. Pore over the photos for some inspiration.

Try it yourself

See more photos from the workshop, sorry they aren’t more organized, but maybe they’ll inspire you to try some of these techniques yourself, with your own team! Identify the areas where you want to improve, set SMART goals, and brainstorm small experiments to try. Learn from those experiments to chip away at obstacles and achieve your goals of high-quality software that delight your customers!

6 comments on “Agile Testing Days, part 1 of ?: Brainstorming!

  1. I attended this workshop on the first day and took so much from it.

    We are going to be running some impact mapping sessions with our Product Owners and Business Analysts in the coming weeks.
    We are hopefully going to use the Brain Mapping in our next retrospect. I found this the most useful technique of all for generating tonnes of ideas.
    I always knew about mind mapping but never used it enough in my day to day work. Since I’ve come back we started a new initiative and I was inspired to use mind mapping. It worked so well and we all got so many ideas out of it.

    The main thing I took from the day though is that it should be FUN. All these techniques are fun and that makes it a lot easier to stay motivated when solving problems. Thank you Lisa.

  2. Thank you for sharing! It’s a great idea to try out and compare techniques like this. I’m thinking that maybe it could be valuable to try different test strategies for the same problem in a similar manner. That way you could practice finding a good technique for a certain type of problem.

  3. Hi Mary,
    Thanks for your contributions to our workshop! I hope you’ll blog about what you try and how it works out, please send us links!

    We’re thinking of trying brainwriting here as well, I was amazed how much creativity that generated.
    — Lisa

  4. That’s a good idea, a sort of set-based development, trying two different approaches for the same thing.

    Some teams in the workshop tried both super powers and SWOT analysis on the same goal and generated some good ideas from each.

  5. More and more I feel that the use of meetings early on in the process help to highlight things to investigate. So learning more techniques to generate those insights is invaluable. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to utilising them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Recent Posts: