Mind mapping as a productivity hack for testers: 3 ways to improve your testing process

BY BRITTANY STEWART

Data visualization has been proven to help humans understand more complex information and enhance memory. When I started out in testing, one of my biggest challenges was being able to visualize the relevant data. I felt stuck due to information overload. There were just too many documents to read through and process before I could actually start testing. If you know anything about software testing, you know how complex it can become with all the test plans and strategies, test cases, app features, and test scenarios, etc. After doing some research, I stumbled upon mind mapping and, with my background in design, it is no surprise that I naturally gravitated to this technique.

In this post, I share how I have used mind mapping to become more efficient at my job as a tester. I’ll also share a short guide on how you can get started. Whether you are new at this or you’re an experienced Software Tester, this technique could apply to you if you’re looking for a better way to sort through the mambo jumbo. You may find it especially useful for structuring and sharing relevant testing information with your team and improving your testing process.

What is a Mind Map? 

Before we jump into the fun stuff, here is a little background on mind mapping. A mind map is a simple way to visually structure your ideas to help with analysis and recall. It can turn a long list of monotonous information into a colorful, memorable, and highly organized diagram that works in line with your brain’s natural way of doing things.

Mind maps are generally used to organize information and make decisions. It is commonly used for checklists, Project Management, structured brainstorming, planning, etc. 

Why use Mind Maps in Software Testing?

I was introduced to the concept of using mind mapping to visualize your testing by Agile Testing greats like Lisa Crispin and Janet Gregory. They suggested including mind maps as a visual thinking tool for Agile teams. Mind maps are a great way to visually identify and represent test scenarios and relationships between components, as well as to keep up with changes in plans, features, and approaches in the fast-paced Agile environment.

I have used mind maps to better understand the scope of applications and to quickly visualize the testing efforts required. It has been a simple way to share how software testing activities are going to be performed. The simplicity of the technique gives the testing team and the wider project team and stakeholders clarity and visibility of the testing activities. It also homes in on important information regarding the app’s quality status and can be useful in identifying gaps and bottlenecks in the product and in the development process. It is a great tool for Agile and DevOps teams who are big on flexibility, continuous improvement, and collaboration.

Since applying the technique to my first project and seeing the results, I have not looked back – and here’s why:  

  • Mind mapping has helped to significantly improve test coverage. 
  • I have shaved hours off the time dedicated to creating test cases.
  • Mind maps are super easy to maintain and flexible to changing requirements (which is important on an Agile team).
  • Mind maps make my standups and QA reporting sessions shorter and less painful because they are great communication tools.

In a nutshell, mind maps are a great visual thinking tool that helps structure information, generate new ideas, and provide an easier way to analyze information in your testing activities. 

How to Use Mind Maps in Software Testing

I have used mind mapping to support specific areas in my testing process, but the best thing about the technique is its unlimited application. 

Below I share three examples and a step-by-step breakdown demonstrating how I have applied mind maps on recent projects to: 

(1) share the project test plan and strategy with the team,

(2) create and share lean test cases, and 

(3) create test summary reports.

Feel free to go wild as you explore your own ways to use mind maps in order to increase your productivity and efficiency as a tester.

Use #1: Use to create and share a test plan and strategy

Traditional test plan and test strategy documents are two of the most essential pieces in your testing toolkit but they can be lengthy as well as complex to understand and maintain. Your test strategy gives you a high-level testing approach while your test plan describes testing scope and activities. Even though these documents are usually available to team members, critical project information such as scope, risks, priorities, and responsibilities may be hard to find, unclear and outdated. 

As a tester, there are specific parts of a test plan and strategy that are critical to your role on a project. The mind map can be used to quickly extract and easily share these relevant details. It can serve as a great reference point for your team, and it can be easily updated as items in your project change or new features are introduced.

 

Real-World Example

Here is an example of how a mind map was used to simplify a test plan and test strategy for the testing of a web-based application. 

Test Plan & Test Strategy MindMap

As you can see in the image above, we focused on creating different nodes to represent the most important data.  This mind map shows an expanded view of a test plan and strategy mind map with coloured nodes to represent the following information:

  • Team members and their roles (e.g., Product Owner, QA Consultant)
  • ‘Definition of Done’ (e.g., Minimum test coverage)
  • Deliverables for the project (e.g., Test Cases, Test Reports, and Bug Reports)
  • Environments we are testing in (e.g., QA, Dev, Prod)
  • Browsers or platforms we are testing on (e.g., Web and Mobile)
  • Types of testing required (e.g., API, Functional, Regression)
  • Testing tools (e.g., JIRA, TestRail, Postman, JMeter)
  • Major project milestones (e.g., Sprint Demo Dates and Launch Day) 
  • Test automation scope areas (e.g., Authentication, Header & Navigation, and Filters) 

I’ve created a free editable template that you can download here. This will only be accessible to you after you've created a Mindmeister account. Then, you can simply duplicate the template and get started with editing the template to match your needs.

Use #2: Use to create and share lean test cases

Good test cases that guide testing activities in an effective and efficient manner are critical. However, within a  waterfall environment, the creation of test cases can be unnecessarily tedious and inefficient. Traditionally, the process involves creating test cases and test scenarios at the beginning and then executing those test cases at the end of development.

Over a two-month period using this traditional approach on a project, the team encountered some significant issues:  

  1.  We spent (read: wasted) too much time during the test execution phase to modify and update previously created test cases. 
  2. User flows and scenarios were not always clearly defined.
  3. Collecting and sharing feedback with the team on test cases and scenarios was difficult due to the complexity of the documentation.
  4. Collaboration was a pain and meetings were unnecessarily long. 

To resolve these issues, I experimented with mind mapping. This allowed me to quickly and easily design a lean test case suite that was simple to share and maintain without compromising on test coverage. Essentially, we used mind maps to turn the complex test case scripting process into a lightweight, iterative one that focused on the user interaction with the application features. It helped us to clearly outline the user flows and scenarios. It also aided with the definition of areas with more complex business and application logic that would require heavier testing. An added bonus for us was how it helped identify gaps in security and usability that we missed in the planning process. 

 

After 3 months of using mind maps, it became evident that this approach was a more efficient way of creating and sharing test cases. It provided great value not just to testers but to the wider product team and stakeholders.  

To show this principle in practice, let’s imagine testing a simple social networking application called “Eccentric” – a mobile and web app designed for young women to engage in a safe digital community. Users can interact by posting, sharing, liking, and commenting on videos and images. The application also allows parents (Admin) to engage and monitor their child/children’s activity.

We will start with the breakdown of user stories for 3 main features of this application:

  1. Sign Up 
  2. Profile Page 
  3. Discovery Page
User Story Breakdown for Eccentric

Steps to Using Mind Maps to Create Test Cases for a Social Networking App

Now that we have an understanding of the app, let’s walk through the steps I used to create a mind map for test cases for Eccentric:

 

STEP 1: Identify the users of the application

Based on the user stories shown above, we have three users: Admin, users over 13 years old, and users under 13 years old. These users were set as the main topic nodes on the mind map:

Mindmap showing users of Eccentric.

STEP 2: Identify the features of the application

By reviewing the requirements and carrying out exploratory testing, I outlined a full list of the high-level features of the app. For this example, I simply added the main features to each user topic node created in Step 1 as individual branches.  In this example, the mind map shows that each user has access to three features: Sign Up, Profile, and Discovery.

Mindmap of user profile features for Eccentric.

STEP 3: Identify the basic actions to be performed by the users on each feature

In this step, we identify and add the actions that can be performed using each feature. It is important to add ALL relevant actions for each feature, even if they are not clearly stated in the user stories. This improves your test coverage by making it easier to analyze all user flows and uncover potential defects in a more comprehensive and accurate way. 

For Eccentric, some of these actions included “Create or Upload”, “Update or Edit”, “Delete or Cancel.” From the feature branches added in Step 2, each basic action related to each feature was added as a new branch. For this example, we also detailed the actions for the sign-up feature of our Social networking app “Eccentric” using various possible inputs. 

Mind map showing basic actions for profile feature.
Mind map of Sign-Up feature for Eccentric.

It can be easy to miss areas in your application that have more complicated business logic. Adding all actions to your mind map allows you to quickly notice areas where the logic is more nuanced. If your mind map is done correctly, it can also help you notice constraints in user flows and related app functionality/features.  

Listed below is an example of nuanced business logic for Eccentric:

  1. Admin users should be able to add their bio and name and  ‘Custom Profile Photoonly;  
  2. Users under 13 can only select a ‘Preset Profile Photo’, a ‘Preset cover photo’, and their name and bio;  while
  3. Users over 13 can add both ‘Custom Profile Photo’ and ‘Custom Cover Photo’. 

This was a critical distinction for us not to miss in testing since the app needed to be compliant with COPPA, which restricted the collection and use of sensitive information for users under 13.

Mind map of constraints for each user flow for Eccentric.

(Optional) STEP 4: Convert mind map content into written test cases

Written test cases are still important, and you’ll probably need test cases to add  into your test management tools. The mind map can help to better organize your test suite. To do this, I simply expanded the mind map after completing Step 3 and analyzed the information by following the lines between the nodes from left to right. ‘

Here’s the expanded view of the mind map when complete:

Expanded View of a Testing Mind Map

Many test scenarios have been highlighted in the expanded mind map above, but I’ll only focus on a few to demonstrate the conversion. Reading from left to right, test cases can be written like this:

  • Verify that an admin user can sign up with a valid password.
  • Verify that an admin user cannot sign up with an invalid password and email. 
  • Verify that an admin user can successfully reset a password.
  • Verify that a user under 13 can sign up using valid Facebook credentials.
  • Verify that a user under 13 can share images and posts via social media.
  • Verify that a user under 13 can add a cover photo and profile photo from the preset gallery.
  • Verify that a user over 13 can edit bio and name.
  • Verify that a user over 13 can delete a profile and cover photo.
  • Verify that a user over 13 can sign up using valid Twitter credentials.

Use #3: Use as a test summary report

A test summary report is ordinarily used to provide an overview of all testing efforts at the end of a project. This is typically shared with stakeholders to give them the insight needed to make decisions regarding the product and how resources are allocated to testing. In my engagements, I have used mind maps to reimagine how test summary reports are presented and when. This has helped with increasing transparency into testing activities and results from a high level. 

Using the mind map, I was able to quickly share during my weekly updates:

  • A snapshot of all testing activities completed so far; and
  • A high-level report of areas of the application that had defects and required more focus from a development standpoint.

To prepare this summary report, I simply used visual cues, such as green check marks to indicate feature areas that were fully tested and passed, x’s to show areas with a high number of defects or that needed more work, the lock to show areas that were not ready for release, and a flag to show areas that have not yet been tested.

This is what it looked like:

Mind Map as a test summary report

Although very simple, stakeholders found this to be very helpful in understanding testing progress and product development needsI would not recommend using the mind map as a pass or fail report for each test case/scenario because it can become complex and hard to maintain; instead I recommend using it more for feature and functionality test coverage reporting purposes. It is not a replacement for test case results captured in your testing tools. It is simply a brief overview that you can quickly share with the team regarding what is good to go and what is in the no-go zone.

 Additional Tips for Creating your Mind Maps

After more than a year of using mind maps, it became evident that this approach was a more efficient way of testing and provided great value not just to testers but to the wider product team and stakeholders.  Here are a few tips and reminders to help you with your new mind mapping journey:  

  • Use a mind mapping tool you are comfortable with to create and share mind maps with team members.
    My top recommendations are Mindmeister, Xmind, and Miro.
  • Remember to check out the free editable template I created to help you get started. 
  • Ensure sharing or export features are available on your mind mapping software. Remember that the value of the mind map is really found in the ability to share and collaborate with the team. I found it difficult to share these visuals with the team when using the apps in Trial mode.
  • Keep mind maps up to date in accordance with your sprint and test cycles for test summary reporting.
  • Present the mind map in a collapsed view first, then expand as needed throughout your presentation. Mindmeister helps to simplify this process.
  • Adding images to the notes also enhances the readability of a mind map but try not to add too many or it will become clustered.
  • Always remember that brevity is the true value of the mind map – The less words, the better. 

Feeling inspired? 

As I’ve demonstrated, mind maps can be a great tool to use in an Agile software testing environment. It allows you to quickly create test plans, test cases, and test reports that can be shared and easily understood by all members of your team. There are several other applications of mind mapping to testing that you can explore. There are no hard and fast rules, and this flexibility is what makes it great. It may not work for everyone, but if you are like me and are looking for an easier way to visually capture your testing efforts and share your work with your team, I encourage you to try it. If you are looking for additional details or need more guidance, feel free to reach out to me at info@qualityworkscg.com. 

I can’t wait to hear how you apply mind maps! If you’re already a mind map convert, let me know how you use mind maps in your testing. 

 


About the Author

Brittany is a jane-of-all-trades in the design and tech industry. She is QA consultant at QualityWorks,  a graphic and UI designer and an interior designer specializing in workspace design.  Check out some of her design work at agilecreationsja.com 


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