W5H3-A model for communication in software development

I first gave a talk about my model for communication at DEWT6 (Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing) in January 2016.

At the core is a very extensive mindmap which is intended to model all the different aspects of communication before it takes place in the context of software development, especially software testing. My examples are geared towards this area but it works for completely different areas as well.

The idea is for an upcoming conversation, meeting or other communication event to go through this model in advance and take notes (if needed) in order to improve communication.

People at DEWT suggested that they can see it being useful for retrospectives as well – how you use it is up to you. Adding to it may feel right, removing some parts to make it easier to work with – work with the mindmap that is right for you. After the talk Zeger van Heese (@testsidestory), suggested adding “feedback” to the mindmap and how to ensure that what was said wasn’t understood in a different way. That makes a lot of sense to me so that’s in now, thanks for the contribution!

W5H3 mindmap

Click on the map or here to go the Biggerplate site if you’d like to download the map. Without it understanding the model will not be easy if not impossible.

It may be useful to start at the top right (Who) and then walk your way through it in clockwise direction. That way it’s easy to figure out Who one wants to communicate with, What should be communicated and so on.

Adverse factors is an area that lists a couple of problems why communication may fail and what to look out for, something to check your approach against once it’s about finished.

Here’s an example how you may want to use it:

“I want to talk to a Software Tester about the testing they’ve just done.”

  • Who is clear in this example, the tester.
  • What I want to talk about needs to be clearer in my head. It could be test coverage, approach they took, potential problems discovered, …
  • Why do I want to talk to them about it? Do I feel unsure that they have the skills to cover all aspects? Maybe it’s an area that I don’t know well and want to learn something about. Maybe there are several aspects as to why I want to have this discussion. To me this is one of the most important but often overlooked areas. The 5 Whys technique may be used here as well to get to root reason for communication.
  • When do we have a discussion, right now, in an hours time? Maybe schedule in a weekly or daily meeting?
  • Where do we want to have this conversation? In my office? Do I sit with the Tester in their open space office? Do we go to a meeting room or even go offsite? How does the where impact communication in this case?
  • How much do we communicate? If the Tester is new in the team there may be a need to communicate a lot more tacit knowledge compared to long time employees in the company. Do I want to get a high level overview or go into specific details?
  • How many people are present for this conversation? Is it a 1:1? Would it make sense to ask other testers to join us and have a group discussion?
  • How is the biggest part and needs a lot of attention. The how is where all the information from the previous questions is distilled into an approach. The participant(s) may be insecure but experienced, boisterous but newbies, feel more at ease in a structured environment or not, some people can be criticised easily but feel not taken seriously if that doesn’t happen and so on. Different tools can be applied and combined in order to reach the goal of this conversation. Feedback from the communication partner determines how the approach may need to be changed during communication.

Check the adverse factors node for anything that may have a negative impact that hasn’t been covered by the rest of the model.

The “NOT” heuristic

I used the NOT heuristic to both get more ideas and to validate the thoughts that I have.

I’d ask not only Who do I want to communicate with, but also who NOT? Why do I want to communicate with someon or why NOT? This way it’s less likely that certain aspects are missed and it’s easy and fast to do.


Making notes while learning

It’s been a while since I last blogged – mostly as other things in life took over and I needed the headspace to concentrate on non-testing stuff. In order to get back into the mood I re-read some older testing books but also a few new ones which are not exclusively about software testing plus a variety of blogs.

Here are a few examples from the ones I read in the last couple of months:

Tacit and Explicit Knowledge by Harry Collins

#Workout: Games, Tools & Exercises to Engage People, Improve Work and Delight Clients by Jurgen Appelo
The Cynefin framework in testing explained by Duncan Nisbet

In previous training courses I did one trainer mentioned that if we remember 30% of what he taught we all did well. I’m naturally cautious if someone gives me a percent number but it sort of feels about right. Because I didn’t want to forget the important parts after reading the books I started taking notes in OneNote (any text editor will do).

To  keep my notes arranged in a (for me) intuitive way I created a couple of documents; General Management, Testing and because it’s such a large area one for Management 3.0 for Jurgen Appello’s work. In each document I created sections and then pages where I keep a summary of book, article or blog that I think is useful to remember in a years time.

For the Tacit and Explicit Knowledge book, which isn’t an easy read as fellow testers have affirmed, I found it useful to learn the terminology of the book; I summarised what is tacit, explicit and ostensive knowledge, how does he define an action and a string and what are the enabling conditions of communication. Taking notes while reading the book helped understanding the rather scientific style of Harry Collins writing.

For other books and articles what often helps most, because it’s usually a summary in its own right is using diagrams or pictures. The Cynefin framework is really visual and with the picture and a few explanations underneath I’d be able to explain it as an elevator pitch. Sometimes a single picture like the one from Michael Bolton’s blog Oracles from the inside out  is enough to let me remember what it was about and show the model to someone else.

For the Management 3.0 workout book I created its own document and there are many different sections that couldn’t be compressed down into a single page. In addition to summarising the content I also created single pages with lists that would come in useful when using some of the examples in earnest. Adding a couple of my own ideas what would work or where I’d see problems or at least question marks means that I can take what I learned and apply it whenever I need to.

This way I can now delve into the different areas (documents) if I want to get inspired or only vaguely remember a specific model and look it up. The summary is usually enough for me to remember corresponding details as well so creating it was time well spent.

I hope you find this useful too.