Heuristic: Examine every word

At a ‘Testing Puzzles‘ themed Ministry of Testing evening event last year Karo posed an interesting question:

How can you find a needle in a haystack?

When faced with simple sentences that describe a problem, a statement, a project, a goal, etc. then I usually like to use my personal heuristic called

Examine every word

Simply take every word and examine it in the context of the sentence.

Look for hidden meanings, for assumptions that you or others might be making, and for additional questions that might help better clarify the context.

So applying that to the original question:

  • How
    • Do we have to physically find it
    • Can I simply describe how I might find it
  • can
    • Does the needle need to be in the same state/condition after we have found it
  • you
    • Is this only me
    • Could I consult with a team but find it myself
    • Could a army of people help find it
  • find
    • Do I have to physically locate it
    • Could I simply point to a haystack that I know had a needle in
    • Does the needle have to stay in the same position
  • a
    • A single needle
    • A particular needle in a group of needles
  • needle
    • What type of needle
    • What is it made of
    • How big is it
  • in
    • All the way in
    • Partially sticking out
  • a
    • Is it one haystack on it’s own
    • Is it part of multiple haystacks
  • haystack
    • How big is it
    • what is it made of

The above isn’t an exhaustive list but gives an idea of how you could use the heuristic to explore the problem space.