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InfoQ Homepage Articles Enhance Your Testing Strategy with Mind Map-Driven Testing

Enhance Your Testing Strategy with Mind Map-Driven Testing

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Key Takeaways

  • A mind map is the ultimate thinking tool that leverages the full potential of the brain. The usage of mind maps is not just limited to brainstorming and note-taking.
  • Traditional test documents are huge, time-consuming, lack the flexibility to changes, and limit agility. Testers create several such documents for the sake of it, without verifying if it truly adds value.
  • Mind maps act as lean test artifacts which reduce waste and trigger creative thoughts. Lean documents using mind maps are easy to create, update and review.
  • Mind maps can save a tremendous amount of time in documentation while enabling you to focus on what really matters: test idea generation and actual testing.
  • Mind map-driven testing leverages mind maps in different software testing activities.

What is a mind map?

A mind map is a visual thinking tool. A mind map reflects externally what goes on inside your mind. It enables you to visualize your thought process. Mind mapping is an effective learning technique that works best with your brain.

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. A Mind map allows complex information to be presented in a simplified visual form. Every mind map is created around a single concept. The concept is represented as an image in the center to which the associated ideas are added. Major ideas are connected directly to the central concept, and other ideas branch out from those.

The science behind mind mapping

The British psychologist Tony Buzan popularized mind maps in the 1960s. However, mind maps have a very long history; the earliest known mind map dates back to the third century.  Mind maps were used by several geniuses over centuries. During the Renaissance, the great genius Leonardo da Vinci supposedly used mind maps for note-taking. Beethoven, Newton, Darwin, and Disney have all used mind maps or mind map-like structures for enhanced learning or to represent their thoughts.  This raises a question: what is so special about mind maps? For this, you need to understand the science behind mind mapping.

The information in the mind map mirrors exactly the way your brain functions. The concept of mind mapping is based on the principle of Radiant thinking. This principle states that brains are radiant and our brains do not think in terms of lines and sentences, but rather in terms of imaginations and association.

In the 1960s, Dr. Roger Sperry carried out research that confirmed mind maps as a brain-friendly/brain-compatible technique that works best with your brain.  Dr. Sperry found out that the evolutionary part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, had two hemispheres that were responsible for a whole lot of intellectual skills. He called them Cortical skills.

Image credit 

The research showed that the left hemisphere was responsible for words, numbers, logic, and analysis. The right hemisphere was responsible for colors, daydreaming, 3D, rhythm, and imagination. Dr.Sperry found integrating these cortical skills in learning will boost the performance of your brain. Keeping these skills isolated from one another will not leverage the full potential of the brain. Traditional ways of learning restrict you to using only words, numbers, day-to-day, and logic. When mind mapping, you're using a whole lot of these cortical skills, making it an effective learning technique.

Why use mind maps in testing?

The usage of mind maps is not just limited to note-taking or brainstorming. Just like a Swiss Army knife, a mind map can be used for multi-purposes, to solve many different problems that we face in the day-to-day world. The software testing community has been using mind maps for a very long time. I am one of the many testers to embrace mind maps in software testing.  I drew my first mind map when I was in school. Mind maps have been an integral part of my life since then.

During the early days of my testing career, I experimented with different ways of using mind maps in software testing. I started creating mind maps instead of lengthy test plans.  I realized that software testing is all about test idea generation, and a mind map is a perfect tool for generating ideas. Mind maps allowed me to plan, organize, and present my ideas effectively. I wanted to find ways to give feedback on development as early as possible.

I extended the usage of mindmaps to record my exploratory testing. The radiant structure of a mind map helped me unleash my creativity and enabled me to see the big picture while testing. I started sharing the final version of the mind map as a report with my developers and stakeholders. It conveyed all the important information like feature coverage, test cases that were executed, and their results on one page, which saved more time involved in test reporting. I wanted to share my ideas and knowledge about mind maps so that a larger audience could benefit from the ultimate thinking tool. So I have been presenting this idea in ConTest-21 and several other conferences.

What are the challenges with traditional test documents?

Traditional testing documents are time-consuming and bulky. Despite spending a lot of time creating lengthy standardized documents, they are hardly read or reviewed. When working in an agile environment we embrace changes,  but these documents may limit us from being agile since their structure is not flexible to changes. These days, we testers work in highly compressed test execution cycles; by spending too much time in documentation, we might end up having minimal time to perform actual testing.

A document is useful only when someone reads it. Lengthy linear-styled documents are boring to the brain making them hard to review.  The structure of traditional documents is not flexible to changes, making it laborious for the author to add, remove, or update additional information in case of frequent changes. When no one reads, reviews, or updates the documents, they become out-of-date quickly and fail to add any value.

I am not against documentation. In some cases, documentation is a requirement; for instance, by FDA (Healthcare) or for military or safety-critical software. Sometimes we create documents for the sake of it, which we should avoid and instead find better alternatives.

Mind Maps as lean documents

Unlike traditional documents, the structure of the mind maps is flexible to changes. In case of a change, you may have to add an additional node or may delete a node. Modern mind mapping tools make it a breeze.

Mind maps give you the birds-eye view of the content, which will make spotting the required changes easy and quick. Updating, reviewing, and maintaining it becomes simple. Modern mind mapping tools come with version control capabilities and let you compare changes in different versions of the same mind map.

We do not use long sentences/paragraphs in a mind map. The ideas are represented using keywords or with a minimal text approach, which makes mind maps lightweight and easy to absorb.

Lean principles talk about eliminating anything that does not add value to the customer. Mind maps help you eliminate waste (documentation) and focus on what really matters (testing).  Additionally, they amplify learning while you reduce waste. The best part of mind mapping is that you generate more ideas when drawing them. A Comprehensive Study of How Mind Mapping Technique Helps to Understand Concepts in Science Teaching from IJSRP shows that mindmaps can help you think with greater clarity to explore relationships between ideas and elements of an argument and to generate solutions to problems.

Instead of creating a 100-page test plan (which probably no one will read), you can create a one-page mindmap. A simple, readable, and easily maintainable test plan is much better than a 100-page test plan. An overloaded test plan makes it difficult for everyone to grasp all the details. Attention spans decrease exponentially with height on the corporate ladder. Test plans make a difference only when leaders review and give feedback on the same.

Traditional document - Test Plan

Better alternative - A one page Test Plan

Mind map-driven testing

Software testing is a creative activity, and mind maps are perfect to unleash creativity. Test idea generation is the cornerstone of software testing and mindmaps are the best tools for brainstorming and organizing ideas. Mind map-driven testing is all about leveraging mind maps in different software testing activities, from test planning to test execution.

Example of a test plan using mind maps that describes the test strategy, objectives, schedule, estimation, deliverables, and resources required to perform testing

Below is an example of using mind maps in exploratory testing. I was testing a newly developed feature. I was working as a lone tester then. I used this mind map to brainstorm ideas, execute my tests, and to list issues and questions. I later used the same mind map as my test report. My developers and stakeholders loved the idea. I shared the picture of the mind map in an email with an executive summary which was sufficient for everyone to understand. The success of agile hugely depends on rapid and quick feedback. My intention here was to give quick feedback on the recently-developed feature. I did not spend time on writing extensive test cases, bug reports, or creating a test report. My entire focus was on test idea generation and testing, rather than on documentation. You will save a tremendous amount of time in test documentation with this approach.

Below is an example of collaborative mind mapping to generate test ideas. My team and I worked collaboratively on this mind map for our regression testing (most mind mapping tools provide this capability). I created the mind map covering test ideas for the major functionality. My team started to expand the mind map by branching out more and more test ideas. We kept adding new nodes when we found unique scenarios that uncovered the bugs.

Creating good mind maps

I highly recommend following the best practices popularized by Tony Buzan. Try to follow these best practices -

1. Start in the center of a page

Why? Because starting in the center gives your brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.

2. Use an IMAGE or PICTURE for your central idea

Why? A central image is more interesting, keeps you focused, helps you concentrate, and gives your brain more of a buzz! Hand drawing or personalizing the central image helps to remember the information in the mind maps.

3. Use COLORS throughout

Why? Because colors are as exciting to your brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your mind map, adds tremendous energy to your creative thinking, and is fun! Colors unleash imagination and derive mental shortcuts.

4. CONNECT your MAIN BRANCHES to the central image and connect your second and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc

Why? Because your brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.

5. Make your branches CURVED rather than straight-lined

Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your brain. Curved lines give you a visual rhythm which not only makes your mind map pleasant to look at, but also helps your brain to engage better.

6. Use ONE KEY WORD PER LINE

Why? Because single keywords give your mind map more power and flexibility. This is because long lines and sentences will restrict your thinking. Keywords help you to absorb large amounts of information and to trigger more associations.

7. Use IMAGES throughout

Why? Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your mind map, it’s already the equivalent of 10,000 words of notes!

Image courtesy: Wikipedia.org

Many of us fail to utilize the full potential of mind maps. Mind maps are not just tree-like structures with mere text. Plain text is boring to the brain. Mind maps need to include colors, images, numbers, code, curvilinear branches, and keywords to stimulate your entire brain. If your mindmaps are getting too large, consider splitting them into several smaller linked mind maps.

Conclusion

There are several benefits of embracing mind map-driven testing -

  • Mind map-driven testing can enable testers to prevent comprehensive forms of test documentation and focus on test idea generation.
  • Mind mapping-driven testing exposes you to your thinking. It enables you to brainstorm and organize your ideas effectively.
  • Lean test artifacts help you provide quick feedback to your developers and stakeholders, hence reducing the time-to-market of your software while ensuring high quality.

When adopting mind maps over traditional ways of testing and documentation, you may face the below challenges - 

  • Often, the organizations and leaders do not accept the radical change of using mind maps, which can be discouraging for testers.
  • Leaders may resist changes because they lack awareness about this approach and are concerned about how it would impact the business.
  • Currently, all the mind mapping tools are generic and not designed for software testing or test case management. So, it may not be straightforward to replace scripted testing using mind maps. However, they blend in well with exploratory testing.

The first step in this transition is to share your idea with your team and get their feedback. Once your team members are on your side and embrace mind map-driven testing, you can influence your leaders to adopt this approach. The key is to educate them and demonstrate the value you get from this approach. Take an incremental approach,  set up a proof of concept (POC), and decide if mind map-driven testing works in your context.

About the Author

Prashant Hegde is a passionate tester. He has ably led test teams to success in many organizations and helped them improve their application quality process. Hegde currently leads the QA team at MoEngage. MoEngage is the leader in the mobile engagement market, with a presence across Asia, Europe, and the US. Hegde enjoys sharing his experiences by blogging and participating in agile communities around the world. He is a frequent speaker at industry conferences having lately spoken about mind map-driven testing at ConTEST 2021. Twitter: @Praz_hegde, LinkedIn, Website.

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