03 July 2013

Observation Exercise / Experiment

After attending Ilari's tutorial at Let's Test I decided to write a blog post, with the goal to put what he taught us into my own context as a tester. That post is still in a raw draft state but in the meantime, on a similar topic, I want to share a simple observation exercise/experiment I've conducted.

The experiment
For one week I decided to "actively observe" during my 15 minute walks between job and home. I had no idea what "actively observe" would mean but I figured that would be clear as I tried it (which it did).

First walk
I left my house ready to observe. I started to search broadly just sweeping over my surroundings trying to find interesting stuff. I did this pretty much the whole way, finding nothing. That was a disappointment.

Second walk
On my walk home I decided to stop focusing on finding interesting things instead I simply tried to focus on things and see what came out of it. Bingo! Suddenly I stopped as two cemetery gardeners was cutting the grass with big scissors to get a perfectly straight border between the walking path and the lawn. This made me look at the flowers and suddenly I realized how symmetrically they were arranged. This continued as I started to notice interesting grave stones, grave stones I had missed during my first walk when trying to "observing everything".

Rest of the walks
For each day I seemed to lower my walking tempo slightly and I slowly went back to the sweeping strategy except I didn't just try to get an oversight of everything, instead I swept in the sense of rapidly switched focus from one thing to another.

  • Initially my goal was to find interesting stuff (sweep) but that quickly changed to general curiosity (focus). In the end I didn't care about what I would find, the search in itself was way more interesting.

  • For each day I seemed to walk a little slower. Since I didn't clock myself (which would probably bias me too badly to render any useful results anyway) I can't of course be sure, but it felt like I did.

  • In the beginning I seemed scared of missing something important. That basically made me miss everything.

  • When I swept over stuff the only thing I reacted to was very out of place things (which rarely was interesting to discover/observe) or motion. To change this I had to focus specifically on certain details, living with the fact that I probably missed a ton of things.

  • After a few days I started to look forward to the actual walks, they became a somewhat spiritual exercise. Which isn't strange as it reminds me of many mindfulness and meditation practices I've come in contact with.

  • I think I've started doing this kind of "active observations" in other places as well somewhat unconsciously (just noticed it the other day). This would be quite a significant change since I'm very easily distracted and absentminded, I don't really focus on my surroundings.

  • Being tired (two mornings) or annoyed (one afternoon) significantly limited my ability to observe. This is nothing surprising but still interesting to realize for myself.

  • To be able to ignore moving objects when observing stationary objects takes practice, which is also no surprise but once again interesting to realize for myself.

  • The more I practiced the more I figured out what was interesting for me to observe. In the beginning it felt like I just looked at things for the sake of it, but after a while I started to ask questions and build genuine (I feel) curiosity... I also learned it'll take some time to really master this, my 10x15mins only made me realize I have a lot to learn more or less.
Will this make me a better tester? I don't know and I can't think of any way to measure it and even if I could, bias would probably ruin the measurements. But my guess is that some of these lessons and the practices will help, to what extent I don't know though. Examples could be to practice ignoring movement as I focus on stationary details or the need to focus on specific details rather than sweep. All and all it will at least not make me a worse tester (I hope .)

One interesting question after these kind of experiments... will I do this next week, in a month or a year? I have no idea but I hope so. Just like with training it right now feels like it's a sure thing but give it a few stressed days and I might have lost track, we'll see. No matter what; I've learned some interesting things during this week!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous07 July, 2013

    I get into observation mode when I take my camera and get out there. My goal is to look for something interesting to take a photo of. But this can be anything! So I'm not looking for anything particular but I'm observing my surroundings more carefully to find something interesting.