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The Macro Expansion Heuristic – A Real World Example

I enjoy learning new things, and I especially enjoy making connections between things I've learned or read about, and applying them to real-world situations. I had the opportunity to do that today while I was brainstorming with a colleague for a presentation on model-based testing and its application in intelligent automation. We were talking about the benefits that model-based testing provided when my colleague said something that caught my attention: we are modeling requirements.

I tend to be overly careful in conversations about model-based testing because my experience comes from modeling the states of use of an application and not the approach we’re taking with model-based automation, and I don’t want to use the incorrect context. So I stopped and thought about it for a few seconds before telling my colleague that I wasn't comfortable with that statement. Something about it didn't sit right with me, and I suspected it was that the statement either did not correctly say what was meant or did not mean what was said.

We talked it through and mapped it out in our mind map, but were still unable to agree that the statement was correct, but by now I believe that my colleague was also unsure as to whether or not he had said what he meant or meant what he said. It then occurred to me that I had seen a similar problem before, and that problem had been presented along with a heuristic that we could apply to solve the problem – the concept of a macro expansion, which I had first seen applied to communication by Michael Bolton in his blog post “What Do You Mean By ‘Arguing Over Semantics’?

When we generalize on the concept of a macro expansion we can utilize it to take a single word and expand it into a series of words that more accurately express what we mean. I asked my colleague if we could do a small exercise on the white board to sort this out, and he agreed. Taking one of the markers present I wrote on the board:

“We’re modeling the requirement.”

As I was writing I told my colleague that if we were to expand that statement, we would get something that better said what was meant. So, under that I wrote:

“We’re modeling that the requirement was correctly implemented.”

After further discussion we agreed this could be shortened without a loss of clarity, so I wrote:

“We’re modeling correct implementation.”

We were both comfortable with that statement, and felt that it truly expressed what we were attempting to say. 

Having the feeling that we were on to something, we took this one step further. If we’re modeling correct implementation then any discrepancy between the actual implementation and what we have modeled means that there is a problem. That means that the models we are creating are mechanisms by which we recognize a problem. That sounds rather familiar....


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