Testing Dojos from the Back of the Room

Last week I organized together with my colleague Meike Mertsch a Testing Dojo for a client of ours. The testers there had attended some Testing Dojos in the past, but with some drawbacks. As part of the clarification process the testers picked an internal application – their billing system. I knew that a billing system can be quite extensive to test within a setting of a single hour. So, I asked for an introduction in the morning, in order to make up my mind on the mission for that dojo. One thing I noticed in the morning was the applicability of the 4Cs scheme for the dojo.

The 4Cs are described in Sharon Bowman’s book Training from the back of the room. The 4Cs stand for Conntections, Concept, Concrete Practice, and Conclusion. My colleague Stefan Roock also explained me that he sometimes exchanges Concrete Practice with Concept in his classes. I found that we could apply the same pattern to the billing system testing dojo.


Since the billing system is large in nature, we needed to make a connection to the known stuff of that billing system. The teams had rarely to do with the billing system. So the tacit knowledge was hard to grasp, and it was hard to keep the lessons learned for that system. I knew we needed to bring up a connection to that past knowledge. We picked to have a group brainstorming to bring back the few elements of the billing system that stuck in the heads of the testers in the beginning. We spent 10 minutes on that.

Concrete Practice

We had overall roughly two hours. I had planned to run a combination of Weekend Testing sessions in pairs of two or three and Testing Dojos intervened by short debriefings about the findings. I ran a similar setting back at WeekNight Testing live in March 2011. We scheduled two to three 20 minute sessions of testing with 5 minutes of debriefing and pair switching. The twenty minutes seemed to be enough to run one or two tests in the billing system. So, it was a good fit.


We mixed this up with the concept the testers should learn more about. For the billing system there was a RESTful interface. This was introduced and documented in the company’s wiki, but just one tester appeared to know about this. So, we derived a mission which included the REST API for testing the billing system. We had print-outs of the documentation with us, so every pair could get a grip on it. This worked surprisingly well.


For the conclusion we sat together for the final half hour and talked about ideas for improvement in the billing system. To get the discussion started I asked the participants to apply wishful thinking, and come up with anything they would like to see there. Despite stuff like influence on time and running bills for single accounts, there were also concerns about traceability like logfiles and progress report.

After that Meike came up with an action list. She asked for things that the participants can apply right away as well as for volunteers to carry out the actions and follow-up on them. We identified two points which two of the participants put on their agenda.


So, the 4C model worked surprisingly well with this sort of Testing Dojo. It was absolutely necessary to make the connection to the system in the beginning. The attendees knew a lot about the system. We had to bring this together. Together with the complexity of the billing system, we would have been lost if we had skipped that part.

The debriefings after each session were also necessary with the pair switch to spread not only the knowledge but also bring several learning insights based upon different machines. From the discussions in the morning I got the notion that previous Testing Dojos did not come with a mission as well as debriefings. Since the Exploratory Test Management Roungtable at last year’s EuroSTAR conference I consider the mission and the debriefing the most mandatory element of any session-based test management implementation. The experiences at this client underlined this impression.

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