Would Heu-Risk It?

Lateral thinking in a box

"A fun way to get your team to overcome unconscious bias, think laterally, and possibly identify and mitigate those 'unknown unknown' risks" - Lisa Crispin

WOULD HEU-RISK IT? was born out of a risk workshop that Lena Nyström was planning with Lisa Crispin. The topic was risk analysis and Lena proposed to add a bit of gamification to it.

Each pack features 30 cards with illustrations by Trish Khoo. The cards are inspired by TestSphere but with Lena's own flair, style and experience.

Every card has a snappy title, a colourful illustration and a lovingly crafted rhyme that is intended to get your brain working. Depending on your background, skillset and experience some cards will feel obvious and intuitive and some will feel vague and unclear.

The cards are divided into three categories: Traps, Tools and Weapons.

How to use them
There are a lot of ways to use your cards.
You can use them:
  • On your own
  • 1:1 with someone
  • In a team or group
  • In a classroom
You can use them as:
  • A thinking tool
  • A teaching tool
  • A team-building tool
  • An ice breaker
  • As a game
Below are some examples to give you ideas to start out. If you come up with a new good way to use them, I would love to hear about it.

If you would like my help to run any of these with your team, company or at your conference - Just reach out!

1:1 Coaching, Mentoring or training

When mentoring, training or coaching someone, use the cards as a discussion starter. This is one of the most common ways I use the cards, especially when I am mentoring juniors.

Depending on how much time we have and the goal, I either pick a few cards to focus on or go through all of the cards and ask them to reflect on what it means (to them). I take notes on good examples, cards where the examples are very different to mine and which cards they struggle with. Once we have established that I have a good overview over their weaknesses, strengths and what they care deeply about. I can then use that to point them towards things to learn more about, things to try and litterature/courses/blogs to look into. Of course I also can craft training especially for them, typically the weapons cards are the ones where I find most gaps. If they have access to my book we can also use that as a starting point for learning but it works just fine without it.

You can also use it more light-weight by discussing possible interpretations of a certain card, use the cards to have them come up with tests and/or risks combined with a card or why not use them to talk about future ambitions and strengths?
The sky is the limit here!

Note: Be prepared to adapt to wherever the conversation takes you. Some people connect with these cards instantly and have a lot of things to say around each cards. For others, it might take some time to get started or you have to do a few sessions before you start getting under the surface and only have shallow conversations. I've found it helps if I can help kick-start the conversations with a few stories of my own to nudge people to get started.

Inspiration, unblocking yourself

Feeling stuck, uninspired or need to break out of your routine? Draw a card or two and try to think of a way of using that in your testing. Or maybe to find an area you need to learn more about! The ambiguity and openness of the cards has shown to be a great unblocker both for myself and others.

This works when you are planning testing, trying to think of test charters, doing ad-hoc testing or following up on the progress of a bigger scope, but it works at least as well for things like requirement analysis, system design or similar.

You can of course use the entire deck as well, you don't have to limit yourself to only a random card. Lay out the cards in front of you, look into a certain category or go through them one by one.

Communication/Testing stories

Use the cards to help you and/or your teams talk about testing. A lot of the time, good testers look a bit like magicians. We poke somewhere, seemingly random, and suddenly a hole appears. This is not random, you are using your experience, skills and knowledge. Use the cards to articulate what you are doing, why you are doing it and what you expect to find (or hope not to find?)

This I have found to be especially powerful when talking to non-testers about my work, or when trying to force myself to be more explicit when talking about testing to people more junior to me.

Sprint Planning, 3 Amigos, Refinement

In any meeting/session where you are talking about requirements, needs, stories, features and such - use the cards to come up with questions to ask, potential risks that need to be addressed.

As with unblocking yourself, you can choose to let chance guide you by focusing on a few random cards, you can focus on a certain category, you can spread out all of the cards and see which ones "speak to you" or you could take a very structured approach and go through all of them. It all depends on how long you have and perhaps how risky the change is.

Test design/Test planning

When planning your test sessions, use the cards to think of tests that could be important, potential risks that need to be mitigated or areas where you need more information, either about the solution or the user needs. Use them to come up with exploratory test charters, areas to focus your automation effors on or to see if there are any gaps in your Test Cases - They work whichever way you like to do your testing

And again: This is very similar to inspiration/unblocking and planning so you could pick a random card, a category of all of them. It's all up to you and your current need.

"Fortune Telling"/"Tarot reading" - Coaching yourself or others

I did an experiment at Agile Testing Days that turned out to work better than expected.
I offered very light-weight "coaching" on any professional problem in a light-hearted way
Anyone could come up to me and ask me for support on a problem.
They got to draw 3 cards and I offered advice based on these.
This is of course to be taken with a grain of salt, I am neither a medium or a profesisonal coach, but having the cards as a frame for my suggestions helped more than I expected them to. I believe this can be used for self-coaching as well.

If you fell stuck in a certain area, try phrasing a problem, draw a few cards and use them to think of answers to your problem.
Would Heu-risk it - Lightning Mode

This is a 30 min activity I've run at a few TestBashes to illustrate the cards.
It has proven to be an excellent way to get people to reflect share and discuss testing and risk.
We usually run it in a small group, 6-10 people I would say is the optimal size.

It lets you reflect on situations in your past work life and how you could use heuristics like these cards to explore your own, your team's and your application's strengths and weak spots.
I believe this would also be an excellent team-building exercise or even an ice-breaker if you simplify it a bit


  • Start by each and everyone picking a random card.
    Remember: If anyone struggles with a card, it's fine to pick another!
  • Individual reflection: Spend a few minutes on reflecting on your card. Write down if it helps you collect your thoughts.
    What does this card mean to you? Is there a time in your work life when this was relevant?
    Or can you imagine a situation when it would have been?
    Questions you can use to spark ideas:
    - Is this something I come across a lot?
    - What does this card mean to me?
    - How does it apply to my current scope?
    - How could I imagine using it?
    For traps (purple): Is there a time when you fell into this trap, or you observed someone else fall into it?
    For Tools (orange): Is there a time when you, or someone else, used this to your advangate? What was the result?
    For Weapons (green): Is there a time when this was a problem in a project you worked on?
  • Pair discussion: Pair up with the person sitting next to you.
    Share your reflections and add your thoughts to each other's cards and reflections.
  • Repeat if needed: If you happen to be done before it is time to gather in the larger group: Draw another set of random cards and keep going :-)
    Spend about 10-15 min on individual reflection + discussing in pairs.
    Some people need a lot of time to discuss each card, some go through half of the deck.
  • Big group: When it is about 10 min left - gather everyone and bring the discussions to the bigger group
    - Share the group reflections in the larger group.
    - Did you learn something new?
    - When could you use this in your team and/or own work?

Reflecting on our work, our strengths and weak points can be intimidating, but it's the way we grow and become better. Using focal points like Would Heu-risk it, TestSphere or similar, can help trigger new thoughts and discover new perspectives. Sharing and discussing in a group, hopefully diverse, is a great way of adding more angles and seeing things we were unaware of ourselves.

Risk workshops/Risk analysis

This is the original use case for the cards.

A traditional risk analysis - but with an added twist to get people to think outside of their normal day-to-day context.

I've done this workshop as a 4h workshop down to a 99min workshop. Shorter than an hour and a half I believe would be hard without loosing value. Longer than 4 hours might start getting repetetive.

  • Give the groups something to do a risk analysis on. This can be a requirement specification, a high-level description of a feature or something similar. Have the groups do a classic risk analysis where they put identified risks on a canvas with probability and impact as x and y-scales.
  • Debrief: talk about the findings of each group.
  • Have each group draw a number of weapons cards. These are meant to add complexity to the challenge. Have each group discuss how they would affect their analysis. Did some risks get more important? Did some new risks appear? If time allows - Add activities to mitigate the risks.
  • Debrief: talk about the findings of each group. What cards did they get? How did they interpret them? How did it affect them?
  • Have each group draw a number of trap cards. Have each group discuss how those traps might affect the test plan. What tests might you miss if the person/people testing would fall into that/those traps? How will that affect your risk analysis? If time allows - Add activities to mitigate the risks.
  • Debrief – talk about the findings of each group. What cards did they get? How did they interpret them? How did it affect them?
  • Have each group draw a number of trap cards. Have each group discuss how those tools might affect the test plan. What tests might you prioritize based on the tool(s)? How will that affect your risk analysis?
  • Debrief – talk about the findings of each group. What cards did they get? How did they interpret them? How did it affect them?
  • Have each group do a poster with their experience and present it to the rest of the groups. How did the risk analysis change with each added information/restraint/complexity? What new ways did they come up with along the way?

The original workshop can be found here

Elisabeth Hocke has this to say about the cards and the workshop: “Lena's card deck "Would Heu-risk-it?" is exceptional. I had the chance to use it in one of her workshops to identify and assess risks. These cards really triggered our group to think in new ways, leading to many valuable discussions and coming up with lots of risks to consider for the target product. I could already see how useful these cards would be to trigger much needed conversations about testing and risks, and (re)discover aspects we might have overlooked otherwise. They help us practice our own thinking, provide us helpful tools, and offer a great way to teach other people about testing. Lena's blog post series about the card deck demonstrates this wonderfully!”

GAME: Connect the dots

Number of players: Unknown, I would think 3-5 is best but should work for less and more

Start by dealing everyone 3-5 cards. (Find what works for the group. I would try 3 to start)

Put the rest of the card with backside up on the table where everyone can reach. Flip the top card up.

Each player tried to find a connection to one of their own cards and shouts/raises their hand when they do.
That player then explains the connection and if the group agrees it is a reasonable connection they get that pair of cards.
Put the pair in front of you to keep score. Each pair = 1 point.

Each player should always have 3-5(the number you chose as starting point) cards on their hand.

Goal: First one to x points win (Find a number that works for your group. I would try 5 to start). If you run out of cards - most points win.

Variants: Each and every player gets to do a turn. If you can find a connection you get rid of that card, if not you have to pick up a card. First one to get rid of all cards win.

This exercise, as the lightning mode one, can serve as a way to build relationships, get people talking to each other, have a bit of fun - but also as a learning opportunity. It might be hard to think of connections in the beginning, especially if you have a limited set of experiences, but you will get the hang of it. The aim of this is to learn more about how other people see the cards, what connections they make but also to learn to make connections between things and learn to reflect and talk about your thought processes.

GAME: The Power of Three

Number of players: Unknown, I would think 3-5 is best but should work for less and more

Agree on a reasonable time for each round. I would start with 30 seconds but might need longer/shorter depending on the group.

Make sure someone can (and will...) keep time!

Agree on a start player. This could be the one with most years in testing, the newest member, the one with smallest feet. Anything! Just pick one!

Put all cards with backside up on the table where everyone can reach. Flip the top card up.

Starting player must think of three distinct interpretations of applications on that card.
It they can, they get that point. If not the turn goes to the next player.

Flip up a new card and move on to the next player. Since we are reasonable people: This is of course the next person clockwise.

Keep going until you run out of time or cards. Most points win!

If this is too hard, try with 2 interpretations instead of 3.

This exercise is also great for anything from team building or just fun to learning a craft. By having to think of several interpretations you push your brain to go outside of what you instinctively go to. This is great both for learning better testing, better bug reporting but also building empathy and stop making assumptions.