Thursday, May 24, 2018

Testing Tour Stop #10: Pair Exploring Kitchen Planning with Alex

This. Was. Fun. And lots of it! Alex Schladebeck and I went out exploring and came back with lots of potential issues and questions.
When Alex scheduled a pair testing session with me I leaped for joy. Alex impressed me a lot already with the talks she gave and how she conveyed her messages. The last time she astonished me was at European Testing Conference last February, where she did live testing on stage, talking about the testing she was doing. How awesome and courageous was that? I was fascinated. As I had met her several times already, I grasped the opportunity and challenged Alex to take it a step further and do it without knowing the system under test beforehand! Well, Alex indeed accepted the challenge and is going to give this session at Agile Testing Days end of this year. I'll be there, front row, cheering her.


First Things First

Alex asked to explore an application together, and she was happy with any proposal I'd bring up. When starting our session, I presented her the kind of applications I already identified as potential target systems. However, Alex had inspired me by accepting the mystery application testing challenge, so I also offered her a different option. We could think of any word that comes to mind, google for it, and then go for the first app we come across. Alex really liked the idea, but then decided to keep that for a future session and instead tackle the IDEA kitchen planner together! Why? Because we normally don't get to test something where 3D is involved. And as it happens, Alex just recently had to plan a kitchen herself. I'd say this qualified her as our subject matter expert!

Strong-style pairing? Sure, let's go for it! Mind mapping tools or anything else for note taking? Nope, Alex confessed she's the old-school pen and paper type of person. So we agreed to both jot down our own notes analogously.

The Fun of Testing & Talking About It

We started off from the following link, pointing us to the Great Britain version of the IKEA kitchen planner: http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/customer-service/planning-tools/kitchen-planner/ It seems when I researched for potential test applications for my pairing sessions I had googled for something like "ikea kitchen planner" and just picked one of the results. Only later when writing this blog I realized that the related pages for the other countries do not only offer quite a different layout, but also not the software we tackled. In our case, two planning applications were offered: the METOD Planner, and the 3D Kitchen Planner. We went for the METOD one as it was advertised as the new one.

The first thing we noticed was the product claim on the homepage: "Choose your style and get your quote in 1 MINUTE". This felt like an open invitation to test for! Well, we stumbled already in the beginning. It took us quite a while until we realized why the claim had been made. The tool basically asked us to provide our kitchen floor plan as input and then automatically filled up the available space with elements of the chosen kitchen style. If the 1 minute claim referred to this calculation done by the tool - well, then it's a valid claim. However, this is not what we expected. The claim raised the expectation that it only took 1 minute from choosing the style until we got the quote. But only shaping our kitchen took us way longer already, let alone choosing the kitchen design. I guess you could compare this to the dubious "5-minute meals" cookbooks! There are always way more things to do that probably take you way longer than it takes a head chef to use already prepared ingredients at their disposal.

After selecting one of the proposed kitchen styles, we were referred to a floor plan editor, asking us to adapt the displayed room shape to our actual kitchen.
  • The floor plan editor area was sized so large that it exceeded our screen space. This way we did not notice at first that the kitchen plan already had a door on the bottom wall. Therefore we wanted to add a door. A sidebar on the right offered us structural elements: a door, or a window. We thought we could drag the desired door to the floor plan, but found we had to click on it so it got added to the selected wall. Interestingly, the top wall was selected by default, so the door got added to the same place where elements for sink and cooking area were placed by default. As they overlapped, they were highlighted red to indicate that they were invalidly placed.
  • Although we were not able to drag and drop an element onto the floor plan, we could instead drag and drop it within the editor area to change its position. As expected, we could only move it along the walls, not into the middle of the room. We found we could resize the elements as well as the room walls. When reducing the size of the walls, the door did not move with them so it got displayed outside the kitchen. Well that's one option to handle that. At least, it got validated as incorrectly placed.
  • The room could only be adapted to rectangular forms; we had no wall elements or any option to shape corners or define other angles. Well, I guess that's a feature which did not make the MVP covering most of the use cases.
  • When selecting the door we added, it offered us some action buttons. One of them looked a lot like an undo button, but indeed it changed the direction in which the door opens. An undo button was dearly missed; it's an editor after all and as users we would like to be able to return to a previous state. Just these action buttons would deserve a separate session already.
  • We noticed several localization issues regarding translations. For example, structural elements offered the tooltips "DOOR" and "WINDOW" which look much like labels which had been missed to translate; especially as other tooltips showed "Sink area" and "Cooking area". We also came across several spelling errors, letting us note localization as a follow-up topic to be explored.
We noticed several areas we could dive deeper into. For now we decided to move forward and pressed a button to "design my kitchen". Our editor area changed and we now saw a 3D visualization of our kitchen. Quite some things to discover here!
  • Again, the editor area was larger than our screen size so we tried to scroll in that area; and noticed that using the mouse wheel here would zoom in and out of the 3D view. As a user I really dislike these kind of implementations which limit the scrolling area available, forcing me to scroll in the sidebar area on the right.
  • This sidebar now offered different kitchen layouts to select the outline of the kitchen furniture. We decided to go for the largest option and wanted to see if the windows we placed were handled correctly. We found an icon in the editor toolbar showing a moving camera - which turned out to be a 360° viewer. However, once clicked, the view continued to move without stopping! Quite unexpected.
  • We realized that the door for which we had changed the direction earlier was displaying the handle on the wrong side in the 3D visualization.
  • When clicking an element in the editor it got selected and the sidebar offered us related alternatives. After choosing another option, however, all related elements got changed, not only the one we selected. Weird! We'd rather have everything selected so we have a preview what gets changed and what not.
  • We thought about getting back to the floor plan. Maybe the "2D" toolbar icon would lead us there? But no, it was a 2D view of the kitchen walls. It also offered an option to view the kitchen from top - but wait, why is the countertop suddenly displayed in black when we had changed it to a white one before?
  • When exploring the different modes we noticed how the toolbar options changed. Interestingly, the toolbar did not build up from the left to the right always. When selecting top view in the 2D mode, another option vanished in the middle of the toolbar. Why had it not been placed on the right hand side if it does not apply for all modes? This expectation probably has a lot to do with the direction we're used to read in, we assumed these kind of expectations are heavily cultural.
We had noticed a few buttons offered for navigation. However, with what we saw before, we were already scared to use those buttons. Not a good sign if people would have to trust IKEA that they really deliver the kitchen as designed! It's not the cheapest product, either.
  • Starting from the 3D view, we chose to risk the browser back button. And it took us back to the homepage without a warning that our changes would get lost. Dislike!
  • We decided to give it a try and use the browser forward button now which took us back to the floor plan, not the 3D view. And most interestingly, no action buttons were offered on elements anymore, so we could not delete any elements we placed! This was the time when Alex shared that you can actually use the following as a heuristic for testing: "if you run out of paper space for your notes it's a bad sign" (freely quoted). Even weirder behavior showed when trying this later on again. Now the elements were not even displayed anymore. Also, when I now misplaced elements, went forward to design the kitchen, then confirmed the warning about the incorrect positioning, I suddenly saw the 3D view without the toolbar in the editor area!
  • We started again from the 3D view and now gave the back button offered by the application a try. This time we were instantly taken to the floor plan as expected, with all action buttons working.
  • Refreshing the page? Oh, getting back to the homepage with everything gone.
  • Home button? It also took us back to the homepage without a warning that our changes would get lost.
  • New button? Again no warning! Really? Also: this time we went to the floor plan instead of the homepage; but how to select the kitchen style then?
By navigating back and forth, we found further issues with the different editor views on second sight.
  • In the floor plan, we placed two doors on each side of a corner. Although we flipped one door to open to the outside of the room, the elements were highlighted red as incorrectly placed. We started to drag them farther away from each other, but validation only passed at an unexpected wide distance. In our eyes, they still should not interfere at all when being placed more closely. Well, with both doors pointing to the inside they might, so we switched the door back inside - and suddenly the validation passed! Flipping the door back to open to the outside again, it failed again. Fascinating.
  • In the 3D view, we discovered that the arrows offered in the toolbar moved the room exactly in the opposite way as we expected. This felt really strange!
  • Moving the camera, we noticed it was hard to get back to a centered view. We found the camera icon reset the view (side note: the icon rather looked like a screenshot icon). However, depending on the selected kitchen layout, it reset the view to a different perspective so it happened that we were looking at a different wall than when first navigating to the 3D view.
  • We wanted to delete a kitchen element in the 3D view but selecting an element only provided us with an edit icon. Clicking it, we found the remove option hid inside the edit menu! Why? After removing an element you could fill up the space again with a new element. However, this new element now did not offer the removal option anymore in the edit menu!
  • When choosing a different thing for the kitchen parts standing on the floor, the related cupboard elements were listed in the recommendations on the sidebar for easy selection. But if we first changed the cupboards, then the related floor furniture was not listed in the recommendations. Alex wondered whether staff are trained to do it this way and never the other way around so they won't notice this?
  • We found that there were actually two kind of signals to indicate an ongoing process, a progress bar and a loading circle. Why two different ones? This does not feel consistent.
Throughout our testing session we found that we often wanted to try the same things, having the same thoughts in mind. We also talked about why we wanted to try those things. Alex made a great point here. She said it got obvious that we applied our knowledge of how software is built when testing. Like that sometimes technically things are only updated in case you click outside an element. That elements could share the implementation although they should differ (like being able to delete the last window but not the last door). That it would be interesting to compare the application with the other 3D Kitchen Planner and see whether a potential re-use of implementations might have introduced issues.

We also wondered why we did not find an option to export what we planned in the METOD Planner so we could import it to the 3D Kitchen Planner for more detailed planning? We wondered whether IKEA staff used the METOD Planner themselves when consulting customers? When transferring my notes into digital form I got curious. I finally went further and after designing the kitchen chose to "save & see my quote". I had to accept a legal notice first, then select a store (Great Britain only), and then finally received the quote and a related project code. However, I couldn't copy it, interaction was disabled! I wonder why. Well, instead they offered me to download my project code; but it downloaded it as an image! So I tried to print the quote, which triggered the generation of a pdf file. Here I could finally copy the code from to store for future reference and recover my kitchen plan.

All in all, we found lots of potential issues. But the question is always: Are they relevant? Are they known but their fix would just not provide enough value? Maybe. Still, as users (okay agreed, testers) from the outside we stumbled.

Interestingly, when Maria Kedemo learned that Alex and I tackled an IKEA application, she offered to forward our findings to whom it may concern.

@Maria: Done :) Thank you!

Reflection Time

First of all: We agreed that the session was a lot of fun. We really enjoyed doing hands-on testing together! Alex shared she was once again shocked and excited at the same time when testing a productive application and seeing how many potential problems there are! This is like a litmus test for her: if on the surface there are so many problems already, then there are more problems deeper down.

Alex had the impression that our strong-style pairing was not really strong-style, but more of a discussion, talking about testing while testing. In my opinion we adhered to the driver role as being the one on the keyboard executing the navigator's intention; however we let our driver co-navigate in addition. Still it felt right and was a fluent back and forth with both of us contributing in many ways so it was absolutely fine for me. The interesting part of talking about testing were the times when we realized what we were doing, and why we were asking the questions we asked. We often wanted to try the same thing, we used oracles to decide what to expect, we used our insights how systems are built, making all this explicit.

Alex also shared she was nervous before the session as she does not get to do hands-on testing so much anymore. This is really interesting. Although I am doing lots of hands-on testing on my job, I am nervous before each and every pair testing session, even if I know my pair like in the case of Alex! Fear and uncertainty about my skills were major reasons why I decided to do the testing tour in the first place.

During our session, I felt we sometimes lost focus, we saw so many things at so many places. As Alex put it nicely: the squirrel factor. She agreed that we had many threads going but we either followed them or left them for later exploration. Well, especially for new applications this is often how you do it, you first go broad and then do a deep dive into single areas. Still, I felt I have to focus on smaller parts more, this was also a lesson from previous sessions. We both agreed that it would be great to go back on it and do another session, diving deep this time.

Also, once again, I have to get better at note taking. After our session, my notepad was a mess; and once again I would have failed Maaret's test to be able to say quickly how many issues I found, how many questions, how many future charters I discovered and why, and so on. Why does that still happen when pairing although I know it better already? Last time I even thought about recording the session. It would not have helped me presenting a quick overview, but it indeed would have helped me to recapitulate the session as my notes were quite sparse when compared with what we found.

One more point Alex brought up was that sometimes we're testers in every situation, seeing issues in processes at airports and everywhere else. I so much relate to that. I like to say that being nitpicky might not be the best quality around family and friends, but it's a great card to play while testing.

The Testing Tour Experiment

This was my tenth stop. So in fact my original experiment is completed!
  • I did 10 pair testing sessions before end of October 2018, each lasting at least 90 minutes.
  • I paired with 9 different testers from both my company's internal and the external community.
  • The topics focused on exploration and automation, as well as covering special topics like security or accessibility.
  • I published one blog post per testing session and also made this personal challenge transparent in my company.
Now, did it prove my hypothesis that pairing and mobbing with fellow testers from the community on hands-on exploratory testing and automation will result in continuously increasing skills and knowledge as well as serendipitous learning? I would indeed agree. However, I will have to have a closer and more critical look when preparing to share my lessons learned at CAST and SwanseaCon.

Still, theoretically I could stop now. But I decided I'll continue to accept sessions until end of October. Why? Because I'm still learning, I'm still contributing, so it's the right place to be and the right thing to do. Going on a testing tour worked very well for me and I recommend to give it a try.

2 comments:

  1. Wow, I'm so impressed you've already done 10 sessions. Which means I missed some posts so I have to go find them now! Congratulations! And thank you for sharing these detailed notes about your pairing sessions. I get a lot of ideas from them.

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