Take the "Groove Test" and Get Out of Your Rut


When does a groove become a rut? Elisabeth Hendrickson has experienced both grooves and ruts while testing a seemingly endless software project or series of projects. Here she explores the subtle slippery slope from groove to rut. She also discusses common causes. Once you fall in, Elisabeth has some pointers to help you climb out.

Groove. Groovy. In the groove. The word "groove" has positive connotations. We're in the groove when we're focused and productive. When I'm finding lots of bugs in new software and simultaneously learning a lot about the system, I'm in a groove. However, being "in a rut" has negative connotations. When I'm doing the same thing over and over again, I'm no longer in the groove, I'm in a rut. So how do you know when a groove becomes a rut, and what can you do about it? It's a subtle change that slowly sneaks up on you. Comparing activities day to day reveals little difference. Yet the more we wear the groove, the deeper it gets.

Imagine you're a tester assigned to find bugs in a project. With the first build of the system into test, you're just getting started. You're not yet in the groove. By the next build into test, you've got a handle on things. You're beginning to get an idea of where the weak spots are and you're having fun exploiting them to find serious issues. A few more days into the project, somewhere around build 3, you become a bug-finding machine.

But by build 10 or 11, you're beginning to dread new builds coming into test because it means rerunning tests to ensure nothing else broke as a result of recent changes. Your energy flags. You begin to wonder if the developers put the bugs there on purpose just to test your bug-finding skills. Within a few more builds you're spending most of your time running tests you've already run. You're using the same test data as before because it would take too much time and energy to come up with new test data.

Now you're in a rut. The longer the project goes on, the more deeply entrenched you become. If subsequent releases of the software have only minor changes, you may even extend your rut from one project to the next. I know because I've done just that, only to wake up one day and realize that I haven't done anything new for months. Being in a rut is a dangerous state for a tester. Given that there are an infinite number of tests we could conceivably run on any given piece of software, we need as much creativity, originality, and energy as we can muster. Certainly, there are times when we need to rerun tests. However, even when rechecking areas of the software we've already tested, we can vary the tests. Varying tests and test data ensures that we're looking at the same functionality, just in a different way.

Taking the "Groove Test"
When working on a long project, I monitor the depth of my groove to ensure it hasn't become a rut. Whenever I've been working on a project long enough to get in the groove, I begin asking myself these questions at the end of every day:

   1. Do I still feel like I'm in a groove?
   2. Have I done anything innovative today?
   3. How could I update my test data?
   4. Can I think of at least three different ways to run each of the tests I just ran?

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