Two missing ingredients of our reports.

Have you been to a dinner party with some friends when someone asks the traditional conversation starter “So what do you do”? The deep silence seemed to follow my response everywhere.

Photo by Scott Warman on Unsplash

For me, the question mostly was a conversation killer and not a starter. Why should someone be interested? Especially outside of our domain, who cares if I was a coder, test automation specialist, or a support manager for our product line?

We are good at parroting the title which stands in our business card or the organization chart. It is the what we do, and to me, it has become is the easy way out. Sometimes people come up with quick answers just to make the question go away. But let’s dig a bit deeper.

By choosing the easy way out, we mostly dismiss the two essential components that constitute the majority of a successful talk, presentation, pitch or an idea. The structure is a tool for impromptu speaking situations as well, like a job interview or a toast at the party. And yes. For testing professionals, it might become a valuable pattern of reporting too.

  1. What?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

WHAT? is the introduction that establishes the context of our idea. It does not mean an information vomit of all that we know, but to give enough for the conversation to continue. The what might even be the everyday life of Frodo Baggins or the young Skywalker of our story; A first invite of the adventure. A call to action which the hero, of course, rejects.

Photo by Thomas Schweighofer on Unsplash

If you were a reporter composing a story here, you might ask things like:

  • What is the challenge we are facing here?
  • How did we get here?
  • What is the occasion we are celebrating here?
  • What is the position of the audience here?
  • What is it about this situation that is good/bad?

Now our hero is called forth into the adventure. But why should the hero care? Why should anybody care? Our structure remains incomplete if we leave out the part of “So what?”

SO WHAT? Is the part of our structure that to me seems most difficult. Let me give you an example. I’ve met with many testing professionals who wonder why it isn’t enough that we simply do an excellent job in finding bugs and reporting them on the Jira?

I believe that the results of our work is only as good as the impact it makes on others. If nobody isn’t willing to change their thinking, decisions or actions based on the results we provide, is there any point in doing the work in the first place? So how could we help others to become more interested in the results we have?

“Most of our results magically become interesting to others when we first become interested in what interests them.”

By understanding the motivations of others, we pave the way to serve our work and its results in an engaging way to others. The reporter-you could use questions like these to move forward:

  • What emotions are engaged here?
  • How does it make people feel?
  • What implication does our idea have on their life?
  • Which critical questions does this idea now pose?
  • Are there conclusions that we might draw here?

Now let’s consider our hero again. There is an adventure ahead. The hero has taken heed of the calling or got forced into it. No matter which way it happened, there is a reason and motivation to follow through. So what should we do with the One Ring? What should we do about Philosopher’s Stone or the Holy Grail? Our structure remains incomplete if we leave out the last part of “Now what?”

NOW WHAT? Is the part we mostly forget. Considering testing reports for example. I only rarely see ones that remember to propose next steps that the testing team should take. Similarly, we might have a massive set of data generated by the load- and performance testing sessions but what should we do about the information? What are the conclusions and actions afterward?

Our ideas consistently fall short of their full potential, and at the same time, we resign from our ownership if we don’t learn to propose next steps.

We must convert our conclusions and motivations into go-forward actions, a direction to take now that we know what we know.

If we don’t do it, one of the two things will happen: Nothing happens, OR Someone else will tell us what to do next. Either way. The seedling of our idea will wither and die.

If you were the reporter for the third time now, you might want to brainstorm questions like these to get started:

  • Where could this reflection lead us in the future?
  • How should we apply the ideas learned or discovered?
  • What should we do the next time differently?

Finally, the hero sets out on the quest to save the world or the prince held captive in the tower. The idea has been set out in motion.

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