In 1985, Edward Charles Francis Publius de Bono (yes – his real name) introduced a lateral thinking concept in his landmark book, Six Thinking Hats.

According to this new philosophy, it is possible to fuse the best components of many different cognitive styles to achieve optimal results in project management.

These 6 color-coded Hats include:

  • Managerial Blue. What is the goal? What is the subject? Why are we here?
  • Informational White. What are the facts? What are our resources?
  • Emotional Red. What does my gut say about this project?
  • Discerning Black. Where are the danger areas? What can go wrong?
  • Optimistic Yellow. Where are the opportunities? What are the benefits?
  • Creative Green. Can we make this better? Can we incorporate new ideas?

According to de Bono’s research, teams that incorporate these 6 thinking styles:

  • Make the fewest mistakes
  • Identify the greatest opportunities
  • Cover the most ground

And although he originally promoted this philosophy as a management principle to business leaders, it has many applications in other fields – including software QA management.

Over the next 6 articles, we’ll explore how wearing these Hats can make you a better tester who creates superior products. Each article will define what the Hat does, when it should be worn, and how the results can be applied to the software development cycle.

We’ll start with the Blue Hat.

Blue Software Testing Defined

Wearing the Blue Hat allows testers to ask the most important questions.


  • What is the subject?
  • Why are we testing this facet?
  • What is our goal?

The Blue is top-level. The navigator who charts the direction. The conductor who leads the orchestra. The umpire who makes the rules.

The thinker who thinks about thinking.

In the software testing world, Blue is the official (or unofficial) QA manager who:

  • Defines the objectives and sets the methodology.
  • Assigns the testers and determines the schedule.

The Blue Hat wearer decides when tests begin and end – and under what conditions these tests are run (and why).

In short, the Blue is all about summaries and conclusions – the big decisions and the most important questions.

The Blue is the WHY of it all.

Blue Hat Applications in Software Testing

Most of the Hats in this series will have specific testing methodologies attached.

Blue is one of the exceptions to that rule.

When you wear this Hat, you’re not as concerned about individual steps or tactics. You’re focused on the overall strategy:

  • What are we building?
  • What does the end user expect?
  • What is OUR role in delivering that outcome?

Answering these questions will help you decide the best methodology or tools later on – once you don different Hats.

Why Blue Cognitive Thinking Matters

All of the Hats in de Bono’s framework are vitally important. You need 6 modes of thinking to cover your bases. But Blue is the foundation. And you should wear this Hat during all initial planning stages of any project you begin.

Doing so ensures that you’re committing future resources to a project that makes sense:

  • If you get this step right, all subsequent steps align more smoothly. There will be obstacles and setbacks along the way. These are inevitable. But your Blue Hat planning offers a roadmap that will allow you to overcome these hurdles. With a destination in mind, you’ll know which mountains to climb and what rivers to cross. Blue thinking removes much of the guesswork from the equation.
  • If you get this step wrong, your project will join the countless other brilliant ideas that couldn’t find a ready market. When roadblocks emerge, you won’t have the resources to circumvent them. And you’ll waste precious time climbing mountains that don’t need climbing or crossing rivers that don’t need crossing.

Do NOT begin any project unless someone on the team is wearing Blue. And ideally, this Hat should remain within easy reach throughout the development and testing cycles.

Stay tuned.

We’ll soon explore the next cognitive stage in de Bono’s framework – the White Hat.

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