Live Blog: Storytelling and Software Testing – Christian Vogt

Woo, I’m riding on the wave of adrenaline of managing that first one! I realised I missed out the questions. My brain needed to de-fry for a little while. I’ll try to improve :wink:

Next up is Christian, talking about storytelling. This is gonna be cool, cos I looooove storytelling.

Christian’s main job is testing, but he also writes books with his wife, and also writes role playing games. My geek joy is high already.

Today, he’s gonna talk to us about storytelling, brain chemistry, and story structure.

He’s starting by showing us pictures: some of them are of films or adverts, some are just pictures. And instantly, we aren’t just seeing the picture, but remembering or imagining the story behind them. Whether we want to be or not, we are storytellers as human beings. We are natural born storytellers.

The reason for this is evolution. People who told stories (like : Tim at the red berry and got sick) helped others to survive. The stories also help us to remember facts as well as understand why something happened. Facts with a story help us to remember them. Stories also put us in the situation of a participant (like in horror films (I can totally relate to this, I can’t watch horror films!!)), which makes us able to experience things.

Stories also affect our decision making. We have analytical thinking, but it takes a lot of energy. So our brains prefer known structures for fast decisions. Stories help to build this background, so that we can make fast decisions. Yes, there is a danger there, but this is how it works. Christian also mentions that it is a fallacy that we are logical. We can tell ourselves we are rational, but we’re not. Stories can be used in a positive way, but they can also be “used against us”. Narratives can be used against us. Narratives that spread fear or support an agenda are examples of that.

Why is that the case? Well, our brain remembers stories, meaning and coherence. The brain also fills gaps automatically. And, it makes us the hero of our own story. It’s easy to end up with a version in our head that matches our view or what we believe…

Now we’re talking about hormones. Cortisol and adrenaline are fight or flight hormones that are produced during stress and fear. On the other hand there is dopamine (focus, attention, creativity), oxytocin (empathy, trust) and endorphins (joy, creativity, relaxation). These things are produced when we hear a story.

But what makes a story? Well, in its simplest form, it’s cause and effect. To make it a good story, we can add consistency, tension, a hero, twists, feelings and pictures. For us as testers, just giving cause and effect is rather boring. Adding people and tension creates a better story. (Instead of just saying we have a critical bug, mention who it’s affecting and what the effect on them will be).

Next up is a more detailed structure of stories, the hero’s journey (I love this!). I’m not going to do all the steps of it (use your google skills, people!). The gist is that there are certain steps that all stories tend to follow, including crossing a threshold to the realm of myth. It’s all metaphorical, which makes it applicable to stories that aren’t fantasy or sci-fi.

This is the recipe that most film companies have followed successfully for years: Karate Kid, Disney, Harry Potter, Star Wars, …

Star Wars is a great example of the hero’s journey. Luke is on Tattoine, and gets his call to adventure (which he briefly refuses). He crosses the threshold to a new world, receives a mentor, meets friends, loses his mentor (spoiler alert!), destroys the death star and returns as a hero. Then the next challenge comes…

So why do we watch what is essentially the same story again and again? Well, the ways of telling are different (Matrix and Harry Potter are kinda different). The reason it moves us is that it is so central to how we view the world – or it’s a model that we can usually adapt to our situation. Christian is currently doing the hero’s journey from the perspective of a parent who wants the kids to clean their room!

To get to software testing: our customer can be the hero. The call to adventure is to use the software. What does that journey then look like for them? (Oooh, I like this idea to generate test ideas: What could be the “death and rebirth” in this product – and how can we test against that?). As well as customers, the hero’s journey can also be used for tester and developer journey.

How can we use this information? One way is to use storyboards. Each little picture helps to tell the journey (for example the user journey). It’s a visual script of the user journey, and a technique used in UX design. The information and discussions are useful for design, development and testing. Christian also reminds us that a user story is the user’s story. We should remember that.

Another way we can use this is “hook, hold, reward”. This is like the story structure: exposition, rising action and reward (it’s also the structure of jokes). Using hook, hold, reward is a way of improving our bug reports.

Instead of something like “bad usability of combo box”, we could have “customer complained, she needed 5 tries to select something because only the first 8 digits are shown”.

To sum up, Christian is telling us to think about stories for communication and reporting, and to put ourselves in the user perspective.