Activities for Observational Skills
Open Your Eyes, Kim Dokhac
When I managed a department I often made time for fun activities with my staff. The best part about many of the activities is that they were also learning activities that related to the work that we did. So, learning = fun!
When projects (or life) get chaotic it is easy to get caught up in the little details and forget the big picture. Our projects were often quite chaotic, so I had been seeing this happen regularly with everyone. The result was that people lost sight of what their primary goals were. When this happened in my department, people lost sight of their primary goals as testers – to find important software defects fast!
To alleviate the problem, I revisited activities that emphasized observational skills. Activities like these helped rebalance and refocus people, and improved their test efforts thereafter.
Observational Activities Included
- Which way is she spinning?
- Are the two blocks different colors?
- Spot the Differences
For each exercise, we used the following process:
- Load the exercise
- One minute to observe and make any notes of observations
- No discussion allowed
- When one minute passed, everyone stopped making notes.
- One-by-one, each person read the notes that they made.
- No additional comments could be made until after everyone had read their notes.
- Group debrief and discussion followed.
We used this process for several reasons:
- To allow each person to have their own unique experience, without influence from other people’s experiences.
- To hear what other people observed afterwards, to determine how they viewed things differently than you.
- To begin to understand our own observational bias’.
- To collaborate in techniques we could each apply to increase our observational skills.
Observational Exercises & Notes
Try the exercises before you read the observation and debrief notes!
All three exercises lead to sharing of interesting observations and discussions. Below, I have included some of the observations people made during each exercise and the learnings thereafter. You may notice that the second exercise (blocks) resulted in the most active discussion, with valuable insights that we could relate back to our daily work activities. Is this some sort of observational bias in itself?
Spinning Silhouette Illusion
- The girl is spinning clockwise. She is using her arm and leaning slightly to help keep herself balanced. She appears to be bouncing. Her leg seems to come down on an angle.
- The girl is spinning on her heels and her toes never touch the ground. Her body is bent backward to help stay balanced, and her right arm is always up. She is jumping in the air while spinning. The shadow for her right foot only shows when she is facing forwards.
- The girl is spinning clockwise, then counterclockwise. After I noticed the title of the exercise, I watched her foot disappear in shadow. When I looked back up and she was spinning the other way!
- The girl is spinning clockwise with her hands open, and leaning slightly. She is possibly nude and has a ponytail. She is landing on her left foot after jumping.
- The girl is spinning to her right, and never spins to her left arm. Her body does not move relative to her other body parts (as if she’s frozen), even though she is moving up and down on her heel. Her head is tilted to the right and her knees are locked.
- There are lines in background behind the girl!
Debrief: How does this exercise relate to the everyday?
- We all notice different things in the same situation.
- Some people were not able to see the girl spin in both directions. This reflects limits that we each have in day-to-day life. We may never be able to notice particular things that other people are able to notice.
- Sometimes the things we notice are not important. How do we learn to notice the important things before the trivial ones?
- They are the same colour, if you mean the letters (A & B).
- No they are not. B is not as dark as A, based on the cast of the shadow.
- We know they are supposed to be the same colour, but we can’t see that they are!
Debrief: How does this exercise relate to testing?
- Testing components in isolation without interacting with surroundings isn’t necessarily valid! In this exercise, looking at just the block colours, without taking into account the shadow casts gives a different perspective.
- In testing you may not be able to deduce things correctly on your own, but may need to harness other tools to help you see what is really going on.
- In testing, I would file a bug against the image because it doesn’t meet the spec (they’re the same colour).
- Sometimes when you think something is happening, it isn’t actually happening at all.
- Without the letters, you wouldn’t even stop and think that the blocks should be the same colour.
- In reality, the blocks aren’t the same colour, the shadow is causing them to be the same.
- What is a shadow? Which concept is correct?
- Is this a 3D image, or a flat image?
- Hey.. what is reality here? Which reality is correct? Whichever one makes the business the most money!
- The spec should have been more clear as to what the expectation is.
- The environment plays an important role – what we are testing behaves differently under different circumstances.
- Your experience is all relative, and is based on your frame of reference.
Spot the Differences – Castle Picture
- All of the identified 13 differences were noted, plus one extra one!
- No one was able to spot all the differences.
- Most people saw different combinations of the differences (no one noted the exact same differences).
- Very interesting that someone was able to find a difference that was not noted on the exercise webpage.
- Seeing things at eye level is different than seeing things from a different perspective (from below, or up higher). This is called Parallax.
Everyone thought this was an insightful session. They left feeling more open-minded and positive about their work and how to approach their work differently. It was nice to escape the day-to-day grind and have an experience that could be more generally applied. Final remarks and reflections that were made as the session wrapped up were:
- Observation is crucial.
- Finding ways to be more self-aware to turn off our blinders can help us be more observant.
- Looking at things as a team, or a group, and comparing results helps get more coverage and notice more things.
- Everyone applies a different method when experiencing something, and sees different things.
What About You?
I hope you found value in these activities as well. What did you observe, or not observe? What bias’ did you discover in yourself? How can you relate your discoveries to your job or how you interact in life?
I would love to hear about other exercises you have done too!