Coming up with a heuristic

When working with James Bach a few weeks ago, we spent a lot of time talking about heuristics. I have been using Jame's heuristic test strategy, but it's not mine so I struggle sometimes with remembering all the mnemonics, where they come from, and why they are there. James recommended that I try to develop some of my own heuristics. So I of course asked him how. Here are the general guidelines he gave me:

  1. Attempt to solve a problem.
  2. Conceive of a need or desire to add structure to that attempt. OR Notice a pattern.
  3. Look for a pattern in the problem you are solving.
  4. Try to understand the pattern as best you can:
    • What's the essence of this pattern?
    • How can I simplify this pattern?
  5. Label it.
  6. Try it (experiment with it).
    • Be a skeptic.
    • Vary your label.
    • See if you actually remember your heuristic when you need it.

He pointed me to his general functionality and stability test procedure for a detailed example.

So here is my first stab at a heuristic. My heuristic is for test reporting:


Based on the test reporting post - with Neill's suggested change - the mnemonic stands for the following:


That covers steps one through five... now I just have to use it and see if it helps.


I see I didn't convince you on Intent... or did it just not work in the mnemonic?

When I look at this, I see two different categories in your heuristic.

Mission, Coverage, Obstacles, Status and Risk seem to be "topics to report on" (Audience dependant, of course)

Audience, Techniques and Environment seem to be things to consider when framing the information in the "topics to report on".

As an asside, if you were to write the 'MCOASTER' article, where would the line be between obstacles and risk? Are you referring to "Obstacles to completing your test" and "Risk to the project" or do both relate back to "Mission"? If they both relate back to Mission, what makes them non-redundant? I'm not saying that they ARE redundant, just that if all I have is the heuristic, I'm not sure what the difference is.

So, all that said, if *I* were to use your heuristic, I'd have an easier time remembering this.

MORCS-TEA Partly because the thought of what kind of tea Morc from Orc would drink ammuses me, and I find that mnemonics work best for me if they are either amusing or used a LOT...

Report on:


If I were to adapt this to a personal heuristic for *me*, I'd use...

SICO-TEA because in truth, I really don't like tea so this would also amuse me.

Report on:
O-bstacles (and associated risk because they go together naturally in my head)


I guess all that is to say, are you looking for something that works for *you*, or something that you think would help you *and others*?

Scott Barber
Chief Technology Officer
PerfTestPlus, Inc.
Software Performance Specialist,
Consultant, Author, Educator

It's a mnemonic for me. If others like it, that's ok to. I remember it by saying "my coaster" which is the place I put my test plan so it doesn't stain the coffee table. Or you can call it "Mc Oaster" which is some new oyster based sandwich at Mc Donalds. Mmmmm....

Obstacles are things keeping me from doing my testing. Risks are why I’m testing whatever I have selected as my coverage.

I think I understand what you mean by intent, but I probably address that under mission. Can you give me examples of intent?

I have always liked the ideas of mnemonics but I have never been very good with them as a aide memoir. I find this to be the case if I vocalise or even subvocalise them.
One of the things i liked about the James Bach Course I took a few years back was the way he presented the mnemonics and heuristics, which was along the lines of: here is something that works for me, this is why and how it works for me, here are the tools of critical thinking that helped me create it, now use it - reframe it - or create your own that works for you.
By seeing how other people form them it can help demystify the process and provide a powerful range of tools for the testing practioneer and help others bring them successfully to their own testing context.
Neill McCarthy
"Agile Testers of the World UNIT !"