Sunday, February 22, 2009

Understanding the problem: the skilled helper

How often are we offering solutions to help people based on our experience? Somehow we are trained to identify possible problems and judging them against our best-practices. Because we are always in some kind of time pressure we tending to help claiming our approach is proven and has some successes.

For example: we are asked to structure the test process and our best practice is the TMap approach. Instead of identifying the actual problems we are defining the test process based on their phases and to see what context we have to work in we perform a so called Product Risk Analysis (PRA).

For some time I'm trying to understand the Context-Driven-Testing (CDT) approach. I think the main idea here is to understand the context first before you come with solutions.

To understand the context you first have to listen. This reminded me about a book I read some years ago: The Skilled Helper: A Systematic Approach to Effective Helping by G. Egan.

I think this approach fits well in our profession also. Aren't we also "helpers"?

Egan's approach consists of three stages which might prevent us jumping into conclusions/solutions. Every stage consists of three steps with continuous evaluation (E).

Stage 1 - The present scenario: Help clients identify, explore, and clarify their problem situations and unused opportunities.

Stage 2 - The Preferred Scenario: Help clients develop goals, objectives or agendas based on an action oriented understanding of the problem situation

Stage 3 - Formulating Strategies and Plans: Help clients develop action strategies for accomplishing goals, that is, for getting from the current to the preferred scenario

I think these stages and steps can be combined with Heuristic Test Strategy Model can help define the correct context and choosing the best strategies and plans for that certain context.

For more information about Context Driven Testing see:
The Seven Basic Principles of the Context-Driven School
James Bach
Michael Bolton
Cem Kaner

For more information about Egan's approach you also might check: Introduction to ‘The Skilled Helper’ A Systematic Approach to Helping


  1. In particular the "Project Environment" aspect of the Heuristic Test Strategy Model is important... customer, information sources, developer relations, test team, equipment and tools, schedule, test item (that is, the thing we're testing), and the deliverables.

    You might also appreciate the context model at

    ---Michael B.

  2. You made me curious about the Context-Driven-Testing, I am going to check it out!

  3. @Michael, thanks for you comment. I admit that the "Project Environment" is one important aspect of the Heuristic Test Strategy Model.
    What I tried to accomplish with this blog post was to remember and visualize that it is important first to listen instead start asking questions to get information which can be used in predefined models like TMap or ISTQB.

    In the past I heard about the model how helpers in the social science could approach people with problems. This model was from G. Egan. Based on your blog and James I learned that we need to get the context first to be set before we decide what strategy we use.

    @Brian: Context Driven Testing is a very interesting approach. I heard about it already for 1 year ago, I think I getting the meaning behind it just now. It took me some time because I don't want to get in the pitfall to claim I do context driven testing and actually using it the wrong way. I think you have to be skilled to be able to understand it. Still: you should check it out. There are lost of articles and discussions about them and I'm certain it will help you as well as the customer.