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Using Problem Steps Recorder to Help Communicate

Most anyone who has worked with me for a while has probably heard me say “it’s not about what you know, but what you can prove”. I am often referring to automated testing, but this also can be applied to communicating the steps to reproduce a problem (repro steps) encountered by a tester or end user when it cannot be reproduced by the developer that is trying to isolate and remediate the problem. Far too often developers and the person they are trying to support become frustrated with one another as the tester “knows” they are seeing and giving the appropriate repro steps for a problem and the developer “knows” that they are faithfully following the steps given by the tester and cannot make the problem happen. In extreme cases, the frustration level escalates to the point where people “flip the bozo bit” and it’s nearly impossible to return to a productive exchange.
While excellent commercial tools exist to automate the capture of repro steps (such as the IntelliTrace tools that ship with some versions of Visual Studio), a simple and useful tool is already installed on the workstation of every tester running Windows 7. This tool is Microsoft’s “Problem Steps Recorder” and can be invoked by opening the start menu and typing “PSR”. The Problem Steps Recorder application has a minimal interface that allows the user to start recording, stop recording, and add a comment while recording. When the “Add Comment” command is selected, the user is also able to highlight a region on their screen to give their comment more context. Once the user has stopped recording, a zip file is created containing an MHTML document that shows screen shots of the users interaction with applications while recording as well as text describing those interactions and details of the program with which the user interacted.
Problem Steps Recorder is by no means a perfect of full featured tool and one conspicuously (and intentionally for security reasons) missing feature is the ability to capture the actual text typed into input controls. Limitations aside, however, PSR is an excellent tool to use when you can’t justify bringing in a full featured test tracking tool or just need help communicating a one-off problem. By capturing and recording the steps and system information the potential for steps to be miscommunicated or misunderstood is significantly reduced and focus can remain on fixing the problem.

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