Taking notes whilst pair testing

This post has been co-authored by my good colleague Andrew Patterson. He blogs at https://patterson2a.wordpress.com/ and can be found tweeting using the handle @andythepat

I am not going to go into detail about pair testing in this post. Perhaps another day 🙂 There have been many interesting and useful posts on pair testing written by some awesome testers in the last few months. I will list a few at the end of this post for your easy use.

What I would like to talk about is how to modify your note taking style whilst pair testing. Everyone has their own unique way of taking notes. Everyone also has their own fav tool that they use for taking notes. This could range from a humble notebook to the latest electronic tool on the web! All this is fine when you are testing by yourself. However, how do you manage taking notes when you pair with someone else? Having 2 sets of notes for the same test activity seems a little wasted effort. Moreover the combinations of differently styled and structured notes is going to be very difficult to merge at the end of testing. I have been pairing with devs, testers and even product owners in my testing and have come up with a few options for note taking. I will list a few suggestions on how this can me managed:

Only one member of the pair takes notes:

This is perhaps the easiest option. If you are pairing with someone, decide beforehand as to which one of you two would take notes on your testing. The person who is taking the notes gets to choose their style, tool, format etc. This option reduces confusion as the person who has taken the notes knows what they have done and can easily explain the testing activity if the need arises. The downside of this option is that the person who has not made any notes may or may not follow the notes. This problem exists even outside of pair testing. One way of slightly overcoming this problem is to get the notes reviewed by the other person in the pair.  I’ve not done any analysis on this but it ‘feels’ like the work is more productive and efficient when you pair whilst taking notes.  You save all the time spent switching between screens and context switching from note taking to carrying out the tests and thinking about what to test next.

Use a template

As much as I hate this option, it may actually be useful in some cases. Using templates can reduce creativity as a user’s thinking can automatically get limited based on the template.   However, I was part of a team that recently delivered a mini project. We had to provide info on the testing we had done. This isn’t the run of the mill test reporting that I am talking about. We had the choice to provide this info in a way that suits our development process. We came up with a template that we would use for note taking. We collated all our test notes, and sent this as info on our testing. In this case, if we had not used a template, each tester would have written their notes differently and we could not have used our test notes. Using test notes also had the additional advantage that our extended teams could also look at what we had tested and answer customer queries accordingly as and when they arose.

There are a few other advantages of using templates too:

  1. When pairing with developers it is very useful to use a template so that the developers can understand the structure of your testing as well as your notes.
  2. They can provide a good focus where otherwise notes may become disorganized and haphazard.
  3. They can be good for reporting where you can easily pick out stats from particular areas

Use shared docs such as google docs, evernote notebooks, mind maps and wiki pages

This is my favourite option. Some tools offer the option to share a note or notebook thus enabling multiple users to create, edit, update or delete simultaneously.  One advantage of this method is saving time passing test notes between one another as both parties can see the notes updated in real time.  Many shared docs have an autosave feature meaning notes rarely get lost as they are constantly saved.  Also, parties can communicate on a conference call whilst updating the notes (as we are doing with this blog post right now!)  

notes whilst pairing 2

Please feel free to share with me what methods you use for taking notes whilst pair testing.  I would be interested to know what works best for you.


Useful posts on pair testing

Exploratory Testing in Pairs Cem Kaner & James Bach

Pair Testing Katrina Clokie. Katrina has listed further links to other posts here

Stop talking about pairing and pair Tony Bruce and John Norris

The pairing experience: foundations Maaret Pyhäjärvi



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