Software Testers are accustomed to working in fast-paced projects, and we rarely have enough time to provide feedback and reporting to the fullest extent. Given the short attention span of people trying to do so much in less time, our reporting of test results needs to be abbreviated and dispatched more quickly versus completely, comprehensively, and too late. Sometimes offering a brief, crisp email with highlights of the test results is the best way to go. This article provides suggestions on how to improve your reporting skills when using email.
Why email as the channel of communication?
Following the execution of an important test, you may be expected to respond quickly with your findings. If you don’t have time to prepare a formal report, or you suspect that an attachment to an email will be ignored, then a self-contained email could be your best choice for communicating your test results. It’s tempting for busy people to postpone reading a document attached to an email, as they rationalize “I’ll get to that later.” Obviously, a text message or phone call with the highlights of your results is in order if someone is waiting on pins and needles for you to respond.
What should I include in my email?
Your emailed report is not a substitute for any required defect reporting using Quality Center, JIRA, etc. The intent of an emailed report is to provide immediate feedback without being too long. You be best judge of what needs to be included. Is this a fresh, new testing cycle? If so, you need to filter out the noise and be thoughtful about what you report. Of course, the basics should include the what, when, why, where, how, and who specifics (not necessarily in that order) of your test results. Folks high in the project hierarchy chain don’t like surprises, and your test results may serve as an early warning – just be careful about whom you alert first. If you need to compel someone to action, then dare to say so in your email. In my emailed test reports, I usually include a handful of observations substantiated with metrics and a chart or two. If more content is required, then email may not be your best communication option.
Iterative testing provides practice for us to filter out superfluous details. With practice comes the experience needed to focus on the key process indicators and factors that are most significant for your project’s success. Your emailed reports should follow suit by presenting just the facts your audience needs to assess success or failure for the situation at hand. Your readers expect you to exercise discretion in choosing what needs immediate attention and what can be left for later review.
If you’re still uncertain as to what to say in your email, simply state what you did during your testing effort and what you learned. If you feel uncomfortable making an assessment of the results, set yourself a goal to do so the next test cycle.
Who should get the emails?
If there is a project manager working on your testing project, you should send your initial emailed results to the PM. We have all experienced the Chicken Little ‘the sky is falling’ phenomenon when bad news is leaked. I like to lean on the PM when there is sensitive news to report because she or he should be politically aware, and will know best when to contain unfavorable test results. If your test results reflect poorly on a project or someone, you should limit your reporting to the person best positioned to handle the fallout. If that person is you, then tighten your seat belt and ask for a raise.
Who to cc:?
The cc: ‘carbon copy’ field in your email (an archaic reference nowadays) is reserved for those you want to know but not necessarily act on the information in your emailed report. All people receiving your email will see the names in the cc: field. Use the blind copy (bcc:) option with caution. There have been times I have used blind copy in an email when I wanted someone’s manager to feel my pain due to the lack of cooperation or non-responsiveness on the part of that manager’s direct report. I have had situations where I blind copied someone who indiscreetly hit ‘Respond to All’ in a response, thereby exposing their identity to all on the email distribution list. You have been forewarned!
Before you hit the Send key…
Here are some suggestions to consider before you send your emailed report:
- Before you hit the Send key, review your email. Start at the beginning and imagine reading it as if you were someone seeing it for the first time. Does your tone seem pleasant or off-putting? Do the points made in the email pass the ‘make sense’ test? Did you make a leap in logic somewhere or allude to something without precedence? Did you use ‘it’ or ‘they’ without clearly identifying your reference?
- Recheck any spelling of people’s names. People with irregular names may be more forgiving, but a misspelling of a name might imply sloppiness.
- If your email has new content and is not simply a rehashing of information previously distributed, then create a new subject line.
- Consider wording your introduction as an action item and ask your recipients to review, edit, challenge, or refute your test results.
- If time is of the essence, state the desired action item in the Subject line. Doing so will make it easier for the recipients to keep track of their to-do lists.
- The philosopher Blaise Pascal is attributed with writing the oft repeated quote “I have made this letter longer, because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Good writers know that it’s harder to be brief and concise. Brevity might forfeit nuance, but it’s kinder on your readers’ time.
- If your email is longer than several paragraphs, create bullet points of the most important statements or topics, and direct your readers to read an attached document with the full content –understanding that you may need to provide that document at a later time. Anything you can do to guide the eye of your reader to absorb and understand your report more quickly and easily is good.
- If you are sending your email to more than one person and need to offer specific observations or to make requests to particular person(s), start the line in your email with that person’s name (in bold) such as “Sharon, did you see any errors in the Apache log during last night’s test run?” Direct your questions and requests to a specific individual, otherwise those on the distribution list might assume someone else (and not anyone in particular) will respond to you.
Thank you for reading this article.