Friday, June 8, 2018

Testing Tour Stop #12: Pair Exploring App Development with João

Recently, I've been at a lot of stops on my testing tour. Here's the summary of another one, and there are more still to come! This time, I had the honor to pair with João Proença. João was one of those people who got inspired by Toyer's and my pact as learning partners at Agile Testing Days 2017. A few months later at European Testing Conference 2018 we had several long conversations and found that perfect mixture of similarities and differences in each other where both can learn a lot from. Toyer and I are really happy that he decided to join our extended pact group along with Dianë Xhymshiti! All in all, it's a pleasure to exchange knowledge with him, so I was really happy he decided to become part of my testing tour.

Preparation? Already done!

Now, normally it was me who prepared a system under test or even a topic to pair on, as most people didn't have a clear notion of what to tackle. This time, however, I did not have to do anything besides looking forward to the session. The reason was that João managed to enable us to have a look at one of his company's products: OutSystems' development environment. How great is that?! Here's part of the email he wrote in advance of our session.
What I'll be proposing we do tomorrow is a bit of paired-up exploratory testing over the "first experience" one has with the product my company, OutSystems, offers. The fact that you know little about it is great!
I'll give you a bit more detail tomorrow when we begin, but we will most likely be using the currently available features of the OutSystems platform, but also some new unreleased ones our teams have been working on!
A couple of teams here that work on product design and UI development are very interested on the outcome of our session and have asked me if we can record it, so that they can watch it later and collect feedback.
Would you be ok with us recording our session for our internal use (a video of our interaction with the platform)?
Recording? I even discussed that idea with Cassandra on our common stop, so yes I really wanted to give it a try. And all this to help people improve their product? Of course, that's exactly what I love to do!

Getting Our Session Started

OutSystems claims to enable you to "Build Enterprise-Grade Apps Fast". On their website you can find the following definition of their product.
OutSystems is a low-code platform that lets you visually develop your entire application, easily integrate with existing systems, and add your own custom code when you need it.
Crafted by engineers with an obsessive attention to detail, every aspect of our platform is designed to help you build and deliver better apps faster.
In the beginning of our session, João explained that OutSystems' development environment, service studio, has major release cycles of a few months just like other IDEs as Microsoft's Visual Studio or Apple's Xcode. The goal was to tackle the software from a newbie perspective. Product design people were really curious about the experience a new user would have, so João asked me to really speak my mind during testing. Sure thing!

We agreed to split the testing session into the following two steps.
  1. We do the "Build a Web App in 5 min" tutorial for the current version 10.
  2. We create a new app in the upcoming service studio version 11 which is currently under test and not yet released.
João does not work on the team developing the UI, so the whole topic was also new for him. Still, of course he's an advanced user already and knows his way around the software. Therefore, we decided that I would be the navigator for step one, and for step two we can switch roles as he also did not see anything about it yet.

Then it was about time. We started recording, and we started testing.

The Joy of Exploring a New Applications

Now, I won't share the video recording, and I won't share any details about the second step testing the beta version, trying to create a web app for a real use case. What I can share, however, are the highlights of the first step, doing the tutorial of the current version to get a first feeling for the IDE. Why? Because the great thing is, you can simply try it for yourself! Personal environments are completely free and available in the cloud as long as you keep them running. For our session, João had prepared everything up to the point that we started the five minutes tutorial to develop a new web app.

One of the major topics we came across all the time during testing was usability.
  • Issues with the tutorial itself. Even recognizing the tutorial as tutorial. Same navigation button in the tutorial sometimes referring to the help, sometimes to the next step. Not seeing helper arrows pointing to the area of interest. Not displaying these arrows when viewing the tutorial steps. Not having it obvious that you don't need Microsoft Excel. Confusing ordering of explanations what to do. Missing steps to take. Constant re-positioning of the tutorial dialog; at one point even misinterpreting this behavior as the next step, triggering me to execute it twice. Having not reached 100% when finishing the tutorial.
  • Inconsistent or misleading styling. Surprisingly different styling for the tutorial, the tutorial steps, as well as any other application dialog. A new application button that looks inactive and does not draw attention. Triangles used as navigation arrows which rather look like running an app.
  • And more issues. Superfluous scrolling not providing more options. A wizard step only providing one option, so why having it at all. Doing the same thing twice leading to two different results on purpose. Viewing your new web application first in the smartphone view. Unexpected field validation in the resulting demo application.
I talked a lot about the feelings I had regarding the application. As a new user, it's very important for me that I don't get lost but find my way through the first steps easily enough, that I get aha moments of what's happening so I learn, and that I don't get annoyed or frustrated by the software. At several points, however, I got those feelings. I had to learn the tutorial's way how to lead me through first, and then could successfully complete it.

I tried to really slip into the shoes of a new user. From a technical point of view I understand how things are built and why certain decisions had been made, but from a pure user point of view I would have asked many questions, so I raised them. Especially as I understood the tutorial trying to take the user by the hand and to make it as easy as possible for them to create a first app. Furthermore, new users will always compare the system at hand to applications they already know, using those as oracles for their expectations.

In our second step, we switched roles and learned about the new version with several things revised. We found again quite interesting things which I cannot disclose here, but João took them with him to forward them to the team.

All in all, all this is of course only part of the story, from a tester perspective. Trying to find those things that can still be improved. The product looked really nice and easy and I would love to dive deeper into it!

In Retrospect

It was a really nice experience to have everything so well-prepared by João - my thanks to him for that! It was awesome to explore yet another completely unknown application. It was fun to be an actual new user as a tester and imagining the perspective of a real new user at the same time who wants to start developing an app, trying to learn what they would learn. It was great we collaborated well and our results were really productive. It's absolutely awesome we have a video recording of our session! This way we could focus on learning and providing feedback. The downside, of course, was that I now had to go through nearly two hours of video material to be able to extract the goodies for this blog. For real-life sessions I would not skip note taking as we did so I would still get that quick overview of issues, questions, or further areas to explore about. Still, video recording can be invaluable there, too. It's proof of what actually happened! Awesome to reproduce and report bugs, or even to investigate them.
Sometimes there are bits of information that are crucial but you only acknowledge that afterwards when you had to go back. ~ João
When watching the recording, I saw lots of things I did not realize during testing, even though João drove for me and I could focus on observing and navigating. Exploring a video recording provides lots of feedback as well! About the application as well as about our own procedure when testing, our thoughts and ideas. Lots to learn from.

We set off exploring with certain goals in mind, and we reached our destinations. However, we did not structure too much how to get there. This is the sort of freedom I love when exploring, with every step we learn more about potential ways ahead of us and can decide which to take. We don't have to follow the one and only route strictly but can discover so much more on our way, even if it's not in our focus.

On a meta level, I noticed that with more practice it's getting indeed easier for me to pair with other people. It still helps me if I had met them already in real life. I feel the fear to look silly is getting less so I can focus more on the actual task at hand and freely express my thoughts. Sessions were constructive from the beginning, but were mostly covered by a layer of doubt about myself to deal with on top.

There's another thing that only came to my mind when writing this blog post: it felt awesome exploring an IDE. Again. I only realized now that I have way more experience in that area than I might have told even myself. As a user of IDEs like Eclipse or IntelliJ of course. But even more importantly, as a tester. I spent my first years as a tester testing an AI middleware for computer game developers. We developed our own engine, IDE and server, and we also integrated in Unity. I did lots of exploring back then already, I even wrote those kind of beginner tutorials myself! :D And I loved this awesome domain.

Finally, the very best thing: João said he took a lot of value out of the session himself. He can now bring the issues we found to the teams. It was great to hear that they do lots of usability tests and really care about the feedback, using it to improve the product!

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