The What-If heuristic

Sometimes you must find a way that you don’t know where it will lead or where it will end. Looking for software bugs that no one knows of is always a challenge. To find them, new methods from “other worlds” can sometimes be useful.

In his book, “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft”, Stephen King shares some of his experiences of writing and how he have developed as an author. One of the things he writes about is when he starts to write a new story, he doesn’t know how it will end. He puts a character in a specific situation and begins to think how this character would react in this situation.

What if a famous writes crashed his car during a snow storm in the middle of nowhere? What if the the person who find him there would be an obsessed fan of him and his books? What if this obsessed fan would take him home without telling anyone else, how would the story evolve from there?

This What-if thought was the start of the novel Misesy. When King started to write the book he had anticipated another end than in the final novel. During the process of writing he got to know his characters better and got a feeling of what they would do. He started to think, this is not the way the author would react when realizing he had been kidnapped in the middle of nowhere.

What if a software tester created a story like this before starting to test? How would the testing evolve from there? The story could be something like:
What if an old-school administrator close to retirement was forced on this new report system by his boss? What if he had a badly written manual? What would he do from there?

Or maybe:
What if David Developer had had a stressful morning and a hard time to sleep? What if David also had two other projects to commit to, what would happen to this new feature he just committed to be ready for test?

One thing is to start the story. The next step is to get to know the characters so well that the end of the story will present itself. Hopefully, for the future users of the application, this ending will be a happy ending.

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