Pair Testing: Working Together to Define Quality

  Juni 22, 2018

When you think of software testing, you probably think of an individual sitting at their computer performing manual tests or maybe writing up a Selenium script. In this scenario, they are also the sole person providing feedback on the test case and recording any notes or documentation.

However, pair testing is a little different, and it’s gaining popularity among the testing community.

So what is pair testing, why would you want to do it, and how do you do it right? A

What is Pair Testing?

It takes two to tango, or pair test. Pair testing is usually done with a tester and a developer or two testers, but the tester can pair with anyone they think would make a good partner such as customer support, product management, or even marketing.

While testers don’t usually want people peeking over their shoulder while they do their job, pair testing encourages two people to work together towards share objectives in testing.

The two will work at the same machine with one person controlling the test through the mouse and keyboard and one person giving feedback, asking questions, taking notes, and making observations. Both parties should be taking part in a collaborative discussion about the test scenario.

Pair testing is similar to the idea of pair programming where two developers work together, and one writes the code while the other reviews, ask questions, or makes suggestions. In pair testing, however, both participants are going through the functionality, usability, or visual representation of that code whether it be a new feature or a completely new UI.

In Lisa Crispin’s pair testing blog, she says her partner has likened pair testing to riding in the passenger seat versus driving the car -- “You have so much more chance to look around.”

Basically, pair testing is just two people testing the same scenario together instead of one, using their unique skills to provide additional insight to the rest of their team.

Benefits of Pair Testing

  • Cross-Team Collaboration - By combining the unique skills of different team members, you can gain more insight into what is needed for the specific scenario to be successful. Pairing with a developer, for example, means less back and forth between both roles when new code needs to be tested. Working with another tester or a product manager would give another insight. Each of these roles can then work together to decide what is working well and what may need to be changed or fixed.
  • Two Perspectives - When testing, you’re always limited to the fact that not every user journey will be accounted for. The reality is, it’s impossible to think of every possible combination of actions that could be performed. But by having two participants think about a case, it means there's another set of eyes and brains to consider new possibilities or strategies.
  • Breaking Down Silos - When things are moving fast in Agile development teams, testers can often end up in siloed roles -- especially if they’re working on a small or single team. Pair testing helps break down barriers, work with new people, and get testers’ constructive feedback ideas out in the open so each role can better understand where the other fits in and how it leads to quality.
  • Exploratory Testing - Because of the nature of pair testing, it’s usually an exploratory effort. Where exploratory testing is so important for finding bugs and providing feedback on new features, it still doesn’t always get the dedication it deserves. Pair testing encourages teams to make more time for exploratory testing to collect and deliver that valuable feedback.
  • Having a Witness - Sometimes it can be hard to recreate bugs, and then when that happens, make a case that they need to be fixed. But the best way to solve any mystery case is with a witness. By having someone to see bugs as they come up and help determine whether or not it should be considered a bug in the first place, it is easier to pass to the development team with certainty for fixing.
  • Training Opportunity - Not only is pair testing a great way to help the team deliver with an extra measure quality, it’s also a good way for each participant to learn from each other. For newer testers, matching up with a mentor for pair testing is a fun and productive way to teach them what goes into a successful test session. For other roles that may be interested in testing more, this can teach them what to look at. No matter what level or expertise, there’s always something to be learned from your partner in pair testing.

How to do Pair Testing

Pair testing really isn’t that different from other methods of software testing, but there are a few things you may want to do in preparation.

Following these steps will ensure that it’ll be a productive use of both your time.

  1. Identify the test case you want to work on and why you think pair testing is a solution.
  2. Identify who you want to work with and what each person’s role will be. What do you hope to gain by working with this person specifically? Will one person be operating the machine the entire time or will you switch?
  3. Determine an objective from your pair testing session. Do you want to find bugs or suggest new features? Maybe you want to define tests that should be automated -- maybe all of the above. Understand who you will be bringing your results to if it’s different than your normal report.
  4. Create a timeline that gives yourselves enough room to explore and meet these objectives while staying focused on the tasks at hand.
  5. Come up with a few specific cases you want to be included in the pair testing. Katrina Clokie suggests writing down a simple checklist of ideas.
  6. Speak your mind and ask questions. Mike Talks says that “pairing is an interactive partnership,” which means both parties are equally contributing thoughts, ideas, and suggestions regularly throughout the test.
  7. Be open to differences of opinion, styles, and techniques. While this can lead to conflicting points of view, it’s always important to respect the other person’s feedback and try to learn from it and accommodate it.
  8. Keep notes and documentation that you can use to share results with other stakeholders.

This, of course, is a very basic process for pair testing, but in real life, the test case, your partner, and objectives will all affect how you go about pair testing. These should give you a good foundation to get started and ask the right questions.

Two is Company

Pair testing is one kind of what Malcolm Isaacs calls “social software testing”. When following an agile methodology and shifting left, it's crucial for testers, developers, product owners, and other participants in the SDLC to come together for collaboration. Pair testing is just way one to do this.

While it may not be as deeply technical as, say, test automation might be, there are clearly many advantages to having two team members get together to discuss the quality of the application under test -- what's working, what's not, and what needs to change?