When Edward de Bono published 6 Thinking Hats in 1985, he was speaking primarily to the business community. Over the past 3 decades, however, de Bono’s revolutionary approach to project management has spilled into countless other disciplines – including software testing.

We’ve spent the last several months outlining the importance of de Bono’s approach as it relates to software development and testing.

Below is a summary of those findings, complete with links to more in-depth articles.

1. The Blue Managerial Hat
Although there is no official order to de Bono’s framework, we recommend beginning with the Blue Managerial Hat – a starting point in which teams outline the ultimate goal of the project.

More specifically, they should determine:

  • What the subject is.
  • Why they’re testing this aspect.
  • How success should be measured.

In software QA terms, this means answering important questions like:

  • What are we building?
  • Why are we building it?
  • Will this benefit the user?

Getting this right informs all future steps of the process. Getting it wrong means building something that no one needs or wants.

It’s analogous to selecting a destination even before you begin plotting out a course. And just like all of the other components of de Bono’s approach, the Blue Hat is worth revisiting periodically throughout the development cycle.

2. The White Informational Hat
With the destination in mind, the team can begin taking stock of inventory. When putting on the White Informational Hat, you begin asking questions like:

  • What do we know right now?
  • What do we still need to find out?
  • How will we fill any remaining gaps?

In practical terms, this means determining resources and capabilities. More specifically, the White Hat demands that you ask:

  • What are our budget, tools, and timeframe?
  • Where does the project succeed?
  • Where does it fail?

Note that White cognitive thinking is only interested in the facts. The goal is to determine where you are and not where you’d like to be. Reserve judgment calls and preferences for later Hats in the series.

3. The Red Emotional Hat
When donning the Red Emotional Hat, you can begin tuning into those innate biases that all testers have:

  • How does the project make you feel?
  • Are there any nagging sensations in the back of your mind?

This step is the least analytical and should consume the fewest resources.

But make no mistake.

It is just as important as every other Hat on the rack. Relying on your gut allows you to view the project through the users’ eyes. You can begin to understand how aesthetics, UI’s, and other intangibles will either impede or guarantee success.

4. The Discerning Black Hat
Putting on the Discerning Black Hat allows you to methodically address gaps and issues gleaned from wearing the 2 previous Hats. But you should take this critical analysis even further by actively poking holes in your product and backing up those findings with facts:

  • What is wrong with the build?
  • Are we using our resources correctly?
  • What might we be overlooking?

This is where most software testers thrive. We’re paid to kick the tires and find leaks that everyone else has missed.

5. The Optimistic Yellow Hat
Many software testers stop at the Black Hat – i.e. find bugs and fix them.

But that’s a missed opportunity.

Releasing error-free products is the goal. But long-term success requires positioning each launch in a way that resonates with users. And this is where the Optimistic Yellow Hat comes in – an approach that fuses marketing with quality assurance so that teams can ask:

  • What benefits may have been overlooked?
  • How can we further enhance the value that users receive?
  • What tools or methodologies haven’t we tried yet?

Adopt a Picasso-like mind and study every problem and opportunity from as many different vantage points as possible – and decide which ideas are the most useful.

For optimal impact, consider soliciting input from non-team members.

6. The Creative Green Hat
At this stage, you should have an error-free build that speaks to users’ needs. But according to de Bono, you’re not quite finished.

The Creative Green Hat allows you to exceed expectations and solidify your place in the market. You’re not simply interested in a stable product – you want the absolute best product possible.

And you can accomplish this by creatively:

  • Exploring ways in which to improve the project.
  • Using new tools and methodologies that you’ve never tried.
  • Improving efficiencies and workflows (internally).
  • Cycling through the previous 5 Hats again and again.

It’s not enough to simply brainstorm ideas. You must actively implement those insights in a manner that benefits everyone.

Throwing Your Hat(s) into the Software Testing Ring

De Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats is a framework and not a step-by-step guide. And although we generally encourage starting with the Blue Hat, there really is no prescribed order. The process is iterative, requiring that your team wears all 6 Hats periodically (and repeatedly) from Day 1 until the final release.

Equally important, teams should deliberately set aside time for each individual Hat – especially as you move away from fact-based analysis into less familiar territory like Emotional Red or Optimistic Yellow.

Do this, and you’ll be amazed at what you’re able to accomplish.

Arguably more important, you’ll amaze your end-users as well.