Inspectional Testing is about time

Stefan Kläner commented on my last blog entry saying:

But an inspection for me is a somewhat regular process. Like state authorities would inspect restaurants to make sure they work according to certain standards, or an internal check if your company fulfills all FDA requirements before an FDA audit.
So in my opinion inspection would be a repetitive task. To stay at your windshield-example (which I like), you would inspect it in the morning, to check if it is frozen or not. Obviously you wouldn’t inspect in in the summer, that’s why I wrote “somewhat regular” as it is usely triggered by an event.

In order to answer the question, I have to get back to my initial inspiration, which is the book “How to read a book”.

On page 18 of this book, the authors give a brief overview of what consists inspectional reading in the four level model of reading the authors follow within the whole book:

The second level of reading we will call Inspectional Reading. It is characterized by its special emphasis on time. When reading at this level, the student is allowed a set time to complete an assigned amount of reading. He might be allowed fifteen minutes to read this book, for instance – or even a book twice as long. [“How to read a book” has 419 pages – MG]
Hence another way to describe this level of reading is to say that its aim is to get the most out of a book within a given time – usually a relatively short time, and always (by definition) too short a time to get out of the book everything that can be gotten.
Still another name for this level might be skimming or pre-reading. However, we do not mean the kind of skimming that is characterized by casual or random browsing through a book. Inspectional reading is the art of skimming systematically.
When reading at this level, your aim is to examine the surface of the book, to learn everything, that the surface alone can teach you. That is often a good deal.
Whereas the question that is asked at the first level is “What does the sentence say?” the question typically asked at this level is “What is the book about?” That is a surface question; others of a similar nature are “What is the structure of the book?” or “What are its parts?”
Upon completing an inspectional reading of a book, no matter how short the time you had to do it in, you should also be able to answer the question, “What kind of book is it – a novel, a history, a scientific treatise?”

(How to Read a book – Mortimer Adler, Charles Van Doren)

In the excerpt above please notice that you can exchange easily the words around reading and books with testing and software, and yet still receive a similar meaning.

With Inspectional Testing we want to find out what the product is about, what its purpose is, and what value it should provide to the customer. We want to find out within a relatively short period of time what the product does, and which areas we want to focus on later – in later charters.

Please also note that Inspectional Testing is not poking around with the keys at the product. It’s about finding out what the product does, and what it doesn’t in a structured manner. We want to get a high overview quickly, so that we are able to tackle risks of our testing process fast with follow-up charters. We take into consideration the opportunity costs of testing – that is any test that we run today accompanies for other test that we cannot run during this time.

Also note the difference to what I call Elementary Testing (to keep the analogy to the first level of reading) which is taught by more traditional testing courses like ISTQB or ISEB. Please also note that you cannot test at the Inspectionally without the elementary knowledge of what testing is about. Oh, sure, you can do that, but that’s not Inspectional Testing. More on this in a later blog entry maybe.

To sum up, Inspectional Testing is about managing time well. We want a quick understanding of the application in order to find out quickly on which areas we will have to focus during follow-up sessions. We will have to do that in a skilled manner using any techniques that come to mind. We do this with the underlying assumption that complete is never possible, and that we have an incomplete model of the application in question, and want to extend that model.

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5 thoughts on “Inspectional Testing is about time”

  1. Thanks for the answer.

    I got your point, I just struggled with the name.

    An inspection (at least for me) is more about completeness and not that much a timely matter.
    To abuse that restaurant example again: They would every standard, which you have to follow to run a restaurant. They will not finish before they checked all of them.
    The kitchen could look perfectly clean, but there could be rats/cockroaches nevertheless.
    So they follow a somehow established process.

    When I want to find out if a book could be interesting or not , I scan multiple pages very fast so that I get an idea about the book.
    I don’t follow a process (maybe unintentionally, but that’s another topic), but I would look for keywords or patterns.
    So for me scanning is more suitable, because it represents the timely aspect a bit more than inspection would do. But I confess, bringing scanning into a “fancy” name looks hard.

    But that is probably only my understanding, and it wasn’t my intention to start a naming discussion :)

  2. We are a not-for-profit educational organization, founded by Mortimer Adler and we have recently made an exciting discovery–three years after writing the wonderfully expanded third edition of How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren made a series of thirteen 14-minute videos–lively discussing the art of reading. The videos were produced by Encyclopaedia Britannica. For reasons unknown, sometime after their original publication, these videos were lost.

    Three hours with Mortimer Adler on one DVD. A must for libraries and classroom teaching the art of reading.

    I cannot exaggerate how instructive these programs are–we are so sure that you will agree, if you are not completely satisfied, we will refund your donation.

    Please go here to see a clip and learn more:

    ISBN: 978-1-61535-311-8

    Thank you,

    Max Weismann

  3. The analogy to reading and understanding a book and testing is very good and shows some important things about your concept of ‘inspectional testing’. The term itself is a bit vague – isn’t all testing about inspection? – but by emphasizing the time and “getting the most out of” parts of it, I’m getting a better picture of what you are explaining.

    The time part is actually particularly interesting. I have never myself thought of any particular kind of testing discipline to be depending on time as such. We tend to see time as an annoying limitation. As in “there are too few hours in the day”, like a friend of mine wrote on his Facebook status the other day. But time is an inherent dimension of reality and testing cannot exist outside it… Interesting and thought provoking!

  4. Having seen Markus use this during a recent week night testing session & demonstrating it with a mind map I can see the value of this technique greatly.

    You can see his mind map here:

    I think something we’ve not landed on, or certainly hasn’t been highlighted enough is the fact that like reading a book which could be looked upon as our test basis, we don’t actually need the functionality in place to do Inspectional Testing. With purely requirements this could be used proactively to generate test ideas & would also be an excellent idea to use when generating initial test plans or test proposals.

    I like it & will certainly apply it in the future. Michael Bolton discussed something similar with me previously from a proactive viewpoint called Rapid Reporting ( Which is similar in that its generating a map of the feature under test & pinning test ideas or charters against them.

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