What is it?

Soap Opera Testing is a dramatised method used for testing your business processes. You might want to try it for a super-condensed and thorough way of highlighting bugs. And because it’s fun. Embrace the drama.

Origins

Cem Kaner has been writting about scenario testing for a long time. He published this article on ‘an intro to scenario testing’ and Hans Buwalda presented on ‘soap opera testing’ nearly 20 years ago 😱. They’re both serious tester dudes and this stuff is legit.

How Does it Work?

You might start with a brain storming session with your sales or customer support team. Ask them for stories about things your users have done. Not just the ordinary things, but also some off-the-wall and crazy things. What you’re looking for is drama.

It might help to sketch out the story briefly. Write down steps that are essential, or those that you might make a mistake on. Cem Kaner gives some practical tips here, although you definitely don’t need to read all 500 pages.

Kaner’s Introduction to Scenario Testing is a bit more bite sized and describes the five main points your scenario needs. Namely that it’s a story, it’s credible, it will test the program in a complex way, the results are easy to evaluate and stakeholders will see the point of fixing the bugs identified.

A scenario is a hypothetical story, used to help a person think through a complex problem or system.

Cem Kaner

You then run a test exercise using the characters and scenarios from a soap opera, and analyse the results. You can do this as many times as you want, with as many different scenarios.

Use whatever soap opera you like. We make no judgements. Although fair to say that if you use A Country Practice, you’re showing your age and nobody will know what you’re talking about.

Let’s Soap Up

Here’s an example of Soap Opera Testing using The Simpsons. The program being tested is a mortgage loan application.

Let’s say Homer Simpson wins the lottery, and decides to apply for a second mortgage, for an investment property. Just as the paperwork is about to go through, Grampa Simpson burns his apartment down.

Investment property

Homer decides to help him out with the cost of a rental, meaning he needs to change the deposit he’ll pay on his investment property. Homer signs the amended paperwork but he signs it incorrectly.

Then his application is declined because even winning the lottery doesn’t give you a good credit rating overnight. The Simpsons’ next ‘diddly-door’ neighbour Ned Flanders offers to help Homer out. He’ll put in the 10% deposit.

Ned lends a helping hand

His own house is 90% paid off so it’s no big deal to him, and it will help Homer get around his bad credit rating. The Simpsons’ house is 50% paid off, and they’re putting down a 90% deposit, using Homer’s lottery winnings, and leaving some bowling money left over.

Side investment

They’re about to go to the bank and lodge the paperwork, when Homer’s half-brother Herbert Powell hears about the lottery win. Boy has he got the mother of all investment options for Homer – nuclear powered cars!

Adjust down payment

Homer can get in on the action if he puts some cash into building a prototype. So Homer has to syphon off yet more funds from the deposit he’ll make on his investment property, and change the paperwork again.

Whew, put all that through the system and see where you get to. If you think of more variables as you go, you can add them to the scenario and run the test again.

What We’ve Tested

A whole heap of stuff.

We tested rejections, with Homer’s first application, and signature recognition when he goofed up his name.

We tested multiple applications made by the same person, with an adjustment in the deposit amount made after the application had gone through.

We tested how to register multiple assets with different mortgage amounts, and a different percentage of ownership. What’s more, the owners of the properties and mortgage were not residents at the same address.

The applicants had different credit ratings, which affected the different algorithms in their application process. And they weren’t related, and didn’t intend living together at the property, which was for investment only.

Here’s a snappy list:

  • Rejections
  • Editing documents
  • Multiple applications from the same person
  • Adjusting deposits
  • Multiple assets with different mortgages
  • Different percentage ownership
  • Different credit ratings
  • Unrelated co-owners
  • Investment property applications

It only takes a little imagination to try to find many more bugs using a soap opera scenario, versus the standard “works as expected” response we’d have gotten from the test-case walk through.

Here’s a three minute recap in a lightning presentation I gave at the Selenium Conference in India.

You can access the slide deck here

have fun with Soap Opera Testing and tell me about your scenarios – add a comment below.

This article came into existence with the help of Fiona Stocker, a freelance writer and editor from the beautiful Tamar Valley in Tasmania

Visit Fiona’s website here

Join the Conversation

4 Comments

  1. Good job on the extremely quick lightning talk. lol.

    I find scenarios (and I suppose soap operas) to be quite common when dealing with automated UI tests. For example I work an eCommerce company and we have a bunch of automated UI tests that go through all of our distinct eCommerce checkout flows. Imagine searching for and selecting a product, adding it to cart and then going through a typical cart checkout with shipping and billing information. They are scenario tests by definition as they are based on a credible, complex, motivating story and the results are mostly easy to evaluate.

    Thanks for sharing!

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