Friday, 15 June 2012

The best way to find errors in your work - simple - don't look for them!

There is a lovely interchange between Captain Barbossa and Elizabeth Swann in "Pirates of the Caribbean":

Barbossa: Aye, we're good and lost now.
Elizabeth Swann: Lost?
Barbossa: For sure, you have to be lost to find a place that can't be found, elseways everyone would know where it was.

Barbosa gives us a very important clue about how to find errors in your own work - you tend to be naturally blind to them so consciously looking for them is not very effective. Psychologists call it Cognitive Dissonance - you see what you want to see. So how do you get round it - here are 3 suggestions:

1) Get somebody else to look at it - this is the best way
2) Describe your work to another person - this is good when you can't do no. 1.
3) If you cannot do no. 1 or no. 2 try this:  instead of testing or checking your work directly do something obliquely related. For example if its software instead of testing it directly try to write the user guide and just make a note of all potential issues or questions this reveals to you about the software as well. Then explore each of them from a testing perspective.

There used to be a movement called "egoless programming" which was all about taking the "I" out of the creative review process - we need to get back to "egoless design".

Ken Thompson (aka The BumbleBee) blogs about bioteams, virtual collaboration and business simulation at