Reverse walkthrough

A walkthrough is defined by IEEE (1028-1997, IEEE Standard for Software Reviews)  as a form of review “in which a designer or programmer leads members of the development team and other interested parties through a software product, and the participants ask questions and make comments about possible errors, violation of development standards, and other problems”.

When preparation is sufficient and when the session is well-organised and moderated, this walkthrough can be very effective. In reality, however, this review technique can transform into a single-sided lecture in which the designer sends information to the passive attendees without getting a lot of feedback.

A reverse walkthrough is a form of review in which the development team and other interested parties lead the designer through it’s own product, and the designer asks questions, makes comments and provides clarification on misinterpretations and ambiguities.

Purpose and when to use

The purpose of a reverse walkthrough is to make sure the reviewers have the same understanding of the product as the author. A reverse walkthrough should be performed when the product has a high risk of being misunderstood. For example when it’s written in an other language, when a lot of slang is used, when it’s placed within a very specific context or when it concerns a very complex matter.

Step 1: preparation

The moderator facilitates the review. In the preparation phase the moderator asks the reviewers to prepare a short presentation  on (a part of) the document under review. “Short” is ambiguous; it should be well enough to discuss the document, but it should not leave too much time for extensive discussions. It’s advised to keep it well under 30 minutes to keep the audience focused. If more time is needed, the reviewer needs to inform the moderator. The moderator and reviewer sit together to see if more time is really needed or the presentation can be shortened.

The reviewer prepares the presentation. This presentation can be simple and does not necessarily need slides or handouts. The presentation should be from the reviewers perspective and should only handle the parts of the document relevant to the reviewer. As a guideline it can follow the following aspects:

  • The goal is…
  • My actions will be…
  • The results you expect are…
  • I should pay specific attention to…
  • I have dependencies on…
  • … are depending on me.

The author can prepare by marking the, in his eyes, most important aspects of the document. Next to this marking, the author notes the roles or names of reviewers who should be absolutely aligned. This helps in preparing double-check questions to the reviewers.

Step 2: the reverse walkthrough

The moderator chairs the session, going through the document in a chronological order as much as possible. The moderator decides who can present their view on the document, times the presentations and makes notes of comments and items to be discussed outside the walkthrough. Important is to make sure the reviewer is at ease and the author keeps his attention to the session.

At the end of the reverse walkthrough, the moderator has listed all new (and open) issues and questions and has noted items open for discussion

The reviewers present their views, answering questions from other reviewers or the author and making sure their own unanswered questions are answered or noted down. The presentations need to be within the provided time box and it ‘s up to the reviewer to have questions asked during or after the presentation. Note that the presentation is not an exam! This is thé moment to make sure you understand the document as intended.

The author makes sure to check, using the double-check questions, that the reviewers all share the same interpretation. This reverse walkthrough is not a cross-examination. Keep in mind to be gentle, friendly and to the point. Your task is to make sure your intentions are understood and to clarify any deviations.

Step 3: afterwards

After the reverse walkthrough session, the author brings together the reviewers and author to finish discussions, clarify unclearities and so forth. From now on the standard process is followed, including rework, approval an finalization.