Mum's the Word

A few weeks ago I put out an appeal for resources for testers who are pulled into live support situations:

Looking for blogs, books, videos or other advice for testers pulled into real-time customer support, e.g. helping diagnose issues #testing

— James Thomas (@qahiccupps) October 28, 2016

One suggestion I received was The Mom Test by Rob Fitzpatrick, a book intended to help entrepreneurs or sales folk to efficiently validate ideas by engagement with an appropriate target market segment. And perhaps that doesn’t sound directly relevant to testers?

But it’s front-loaded with advice for framing information-gathering questions in a way which attempts not to bias the the answers (“This book is specifically about how to properly talk to customers and learn from them”). And that might be, right?

The conceit of the name, I’m pleased to say, is not that mums are stupid and have to be talked down to. Rather, the insight is that “Your mom will lie to you the most (just ‘cuz she loves you)” but, in fact, if you frame your questions the wrong way, pretty much anyone will lie to you and the result of your conversation will be non-data, non-committal, and non-actionable. So, if you can find ways to ask your mum questions that she finds it easy to be truthful about, the same techniques should work with others.

The content is readable, and seems reasonable, and feels like real life informed it. The advice is – hurrah! – not in the form of some arbitrary number of magic steps to enlightenment, but examples, summarised as rules of thumb. Here’s a few of the latter that I found relevant to customer support engagements, with a bit of commentary:

  • Opinions are worthless … go for data instead
  • You’re shooting blind until you understand their goals … or their idea of what the problem is
  • Watching someone do a task will show you where the problems and inefficiencies really are, not where the customer thinks they are … again, understand the real problem, gather real data
  • People want to help you. Give them an excuse to do so … offer opportunities for the customer to talk; and then listen to them
  • The more you’re talking, the worse you’re doing … again, listen
These are useful, general, heuristics for talking to anyone about a problem and can be applied with internal stakeholders at your leisure as well as with customers when the clock is ticking. (But simply remembering Weinberg’s definition of a problem and the Relative Rule has served me well, too.)
Given the nature of the book, you’ll need to pick out the advice that’s relevant to you – hiding your ideas so as not to seem like you’re needily asking for validation is less often useful to a tester, in my experience – but  as someone who hasn’t been much involved in sales engagements I found the rest interesting background too.
Image: Amazon

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