Friday, June 28, 2013

Reuniting With an Old Friend: Rapid Reporter

A few years ago, I was introduced to a nifty little tool for Exploratory testing and session based test management. That tool was Rapid Reporter, created and curated by Shmuel Gershon. It is a deceptively simple tool, in that it has a very limited interface, a few key features, and a very small footprint. It's what you can do with that little tool, and how quickly you can do it, that is impressive. Alas, it's been a few years since I've worked in an environment where PC's or PC based software was a major component of my work (I've been working on Mac's since January of 2011). Rapid Reporter is an application that requires .NET 3.5 to work, so I basically bid adieu to Rapid Reporter for my regular workday testing.

Fast forward to this week. as I am working with a summer intern, I was considering ways I could talk with him about how to focus on and test various stories. While we have well documented story tests and requirements, sometimes I found that we were losing some key steps in translation from story to actual testing. I also wanted to make it possible to encourage him to take more chances, reach out and explore without my having to be ultra explicit in what he should do. Additionally, we had a number of tests that we were going to need to focus on specific to accessibility, and more specifically, Windows XP and IE7 accessibility (I can hear the groans already ;).

It was while we were setting up for this round of stories that i thought "wait a minute, I know a tool that would be very helpful here". With that, I introduced the intern to Rapid Reporter, and set about to give him a  crash course in how to use it. In the process, I realized what a nice, elegant tool RR really is.

For many of you, Rapid Reporter is old news. You have it, you understand it, you use it, you love it. If you're one of those people, then there's probably not much more I can tell you that you don't already know. if, however, you have not used it before, then I encourage you to do so. It's a small executable, less than 100K. it will run anywhere you place it, and wherever you place it is where it will consider the root directory of all that it does. When you start up Rapid Reporter, you will see a small yellow window on your screen.


Really, that's it. that's the entire app as it appears on your screen. It floats above everything else and it's really unobtrusive. Stick it in a convenient place on the screen, and go about whatever it is you need/want to do.

Rapid Reporter makes for a simple and quick interface to jot down what you are doing. It also allows you to set timers and change where to set your root folder (really helpful if you want to manage/review several testing sessions). to get to those controls, simply click on the right mouse button anywhere that's yellow:


The two buttons on the left side give the user the option to bring up a pop out editor for more detailed comments (including RTF formatting of text if desired). The second button is a quick way to get a full screen capture. 

 Each line gives the option to select a unique label; reporter for the first line, charter for the second line and then a variety of labels for the test session (Setup, Note, Test, Check, Bug, Question, and Next Time). The ability to cycle through these labels quickly makes it easy to categorize what the tester is doing. Small labels above and below the current label help the user quickly see which item they want to dial up for each line entry.

Finally, there's a marching blue gradient that grows across the gray text input field to help the tester know how much time has passed. When the blue gradient has completed across the text input field, the test time expires (you can shut down the clock any time you want to if you finish up early).

When the testing is finished, there are a number of artifacts created. The most important deliverable is a .csv file with all of the data collected (time stamps test steps, comments, notes, and links to screen shots). Additionally , extended notes are stored as RTF files and images are stored as jpegs. All of these together helps to make sure that the tester can go back and review what they did and, if they chose to, see exactly what was happening at the time. 

What makes Rapid Reporter beautiful, in my opinion, is the fact that it does its job by getting out of your way. Shmuel noticed through numerous test sessions with a large number of testers that notes should be quick and easy to make. Notes are most effective if made in the middle of testing, in the thick of the action, and not later or while having to take the eye off the ball. Additionally, these notes are easily able to be put into different formats, condensed, collated and sorted, in any manner the tester or test manager might want. The fact that it's so small and self contained means that RR can be carried anywhere (well, anywhere that .NET 3.5 resides :) ).

Bottom Line: 

This was a great tool in 2010, and it's jut as great, if not better, here in 2013. I had a lot of fun showing our intern how to use this tool (and the fact I could do it over IRC since I was home recovering from surgery) is he real testament to hoe easy and clean this tool really is. Rapid Report does require a Windows environment to run, but if you have one, then by all means, put Rapid Reporter into rotation and see how quickly your focus and testing experience improves. Yes, that's high praise, and yes, Rapid Reporter deserves it.

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