Sunday, July 25, 2021

Open Testing with Confluence

I am a believer in open-notebook testing. I make my work visible to anyone who wants to look at it, while it is in progress.

Why? Well, I dislike information silos, publishing keeps me thoughtful about my work and my standards high, and sometimes someone will spot something I've missed or mistaken.

But I also want my testing to be friction-free. In this context that has two aspects: I need to be able to (a) record and (b) share what I'm doing with as little impact on my work as I can manage.

I've written before about the way I take notes in a text editor using a simple markup language. In my previous job I ran a little script on my testing notes and pasted the output straight into the Mediawiki instance we used.

Unfortunately, in my new job we use Confluence. Also unfortunately, I found that support for even its own markup language was unreliable and so I had to find a new route.

What I've iterated my way to over the last four months is, again, a simple markup language and a script, but this time the markup is based on Markdown and the script uploads the notes itself, along with images, attachments, and labels.

Here's a snippet to illustrate the kinds of things I do:

## Annotations

I've used the WIP! annotation already, but I have others:

OK! Yes, this worked!

FAIL! No, this didn't work.

?? Question, or something to come back to investigate.

!! Problem, or surprising finding.

TODO! Another task, maybe in the testing or in the notes.

And here's how it renders in Confluence:

When I'm working I'll make a directory for a new task, create a file for my notes, and start writing as I test. A default file will usually have the following:

  • A date stamp in the title so that when the pages are published I can easily see when they're from.
  • First section is Mission, so it's clear what the work is attempting to do.
  • Next section is Summary, for stakeholders, a high-level perspective on the activities, results, risks, next steps. I'll mark this work in progress until I'm done testing.

As I work, I'll Cmd-Tab into the text editor (I'm using VS Code at the moment) to pop in a note or take screenshots that I'll drop next to file for later upload.

Periodically, I'll upload the notes to Confluence so that what I've got so far is visible, and so that I can reference it in e.g. Jira tickets or Slack conversations.

This process is not static. I alter it as my needs alter. For example, this week I changed the markup that I use for inserting links because I found it too easy to make a mistake. Next week I might change it again because now it's close to Markdown's table notation.

You might think that you couldn't possibly write a tool like mine? Well, you might be surprised at how dumb my script is. I have bludgeoned my way to making it work with lots of trial and error and I don't care that it's not beautiful or efficient. It is valuable for what it's cost me.

What value have I got from it? To start with, it fulfils my philosophical requirements: it is easy for me to record and share with very low friction. I make notes in an environment tuned very specifically for my needs but share in an environment tuned for the general good. Also, it has saved me person-years worth of frustration with editing in Confluence.

The value is not just to me. Others like my testing notes and find them useful. Not just the people I'm working with either, those who are searching in Confluence can come across them too. I have recently added the ability to put labels into my text file and have them respected by Confluence, so now my notes can also be automatically added to groups of related pages.

To be clear, though, while the tooling is helpful, being able to take the right notes at the right cost at the right time and right level for the right people is a skill. I've spent a long time working on that and expect to continue doing so while refining the tooling to reduce whatever friction I encounter. 

Here's the full demo page I made for this post, and a zip of the script and the source documents that it was created from:

Highlighting: Pinetools

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