Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Lure of Specifications

There's a fun little exercise from Emily Bache called Gilded Rose. The exercise is intended as a piece of software to extend, and naturally you'd want to have tests before you go on changing it. Coming to it from a more pure testing / tester perspective, my fascination towards the exercise is on how people end up modeling the work.

Gilded Rose makes available:
When setting up the exercise, I hand people the spec, and create a combination approval test with the sample unit tests scope that is easy to extend with new values.

The question goes as so many times before: how would you test this?

Given a specification, most people jump at specification. As first values based on the spec get added, I usually introduce the idea of seeing code coverage as we are adding tests, and some people pick it up others don't.

This particular exercise lets me model on how people connect three types of coverage when testing: covering the spec, covering the code, and covering the risk.

The better ones have
1) Refused to follow the spec step by step, because someone else must have done that already
2) Thought of ways to test that neither the spec or the code introduce
3) Not stopped testing at covering the spec when code coverage is still low.

There's something about a specification that drives people's focus, making them less likely to see other things without added effort. Sometimes, it might make sense to step away from the lure of specification's answers, and see if the answers you'd naturally get to make any more sense.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Building a relationship with developers

At a conference talk, I again haphazardly shared the idea of not writing bug reports. I call it haphazard, because I my talk was about increasing your impact as a tester, and it was just one of the “try this” solutions I shared. But it is one that rocks people’s world and beliefs, makes them approach me with disbelief and even come off as attacking me for having an experience and sharing it.

In all these interactions, I found a lot of value for me, in recognizing how the environments I habitate and set up things can be different. While “stop writing bug reports” is the thing I say, what is really behind that is the idea of starting to pay attention to cost - value structure of your work, with particular focus on opportunity cost. Each one of us has more power to decide on what we do and how we do it than we realize. If we are asked to execute preplanned test case and a manager asks us which ones did we execute at the end of each day, we are more constrained that I believe great testing should ever be. Yet even in that setting, we can choose the level of focus we exert on each of the tests. We can add emphasis on some, quickly browse through others and add our own ideas in between the lines. If we book a meeting with ourselves for an hour to practice using tools and approaches that don’t fit into our normal day, most organizations don’t even notice. And instead of asking permission for this all, think of it as possibility to ask for forgiveness - but only if it is needed. 

The environments I habitate are essentially different. It’s been years since anyone told me specifically what I need to do, and what is my next task. Even the constraints that appear to be in place may not be real. But what is very real is the sense of responsibility and continuous value delivery. I know what good and better results could look like. And I know I don’t know how to get to the best results, without experimenting. 

So I experiment with stopping bug report writing. I end up working my first year in an organization, where on another business line a colleague is being scolded for lack of “evidence of value” saying they don’t write enough bug reports and since they don’t automate or review automation, they are not visible in the pull requests either. The number of Jira tickets I raise in the whole year can be counted with my two hands fingers. Yet the number of issues I find, address and get fixed is different.

It isn’t easy to say to myself to take the harder route and go talk to the developer who could fix this, and seek actively a way to get a decision on it on the spot - it either matters (and we fix it now) or it doesn’t matter (and we fix it when we realize it matters coming back from the users). Delivering continuously supports - even enables - this way of working because you cannot leave issues of relevance around without them impacting the users, very soon. 

The not easy route is rewarding though. In those moments where I used to enjoy my private time writing a bug report I could be proud of later (that never warranted for such care and love for any other reason that being the evidence of “me”), I’m building a relationship with the developer that I need so that my work has real impact. I learn more in that interaction. I have chances of getting my message across better. And more often than without, the bug turns not only into a fix but a unit tests too, in that little collaboration we end up having. 

When I need to choose time to writing a bug report and time to communicate bug report in a way that creates a better relationship, I stretch for the latter. Not because it is comfortable (it isn’t, sometimes the reactions are downright mean) but because it makes us and our software better. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Results from No Product Owner Experiment

Four months ago my team embarked on an experiment to change the way the team worked in an uncomfortable way. We called it "No Product Owner" experiment because it captures one core aspect of it. It was essentially about empowering a team to be customer obsessed without a decision proxy, in an organization where many people believe in finding one person responsible to be a core practice.

Four months later, the experiment is behind us. We continue working in the product-ownerless mode as the team's de facto way of working. The team is still very much an experiment within the organization, and our ways are not being spread elsewhere as we in the team like to keep our focus on the team, technical excellence and delivery.

Experiment hypothesis

We approached the No Product Owner suggestion as an experiment, as it had many things none of us had experience on. There was still the person in the organization that was hired to be the team's product owner. The team wasn't all super-experienced mega-seniors but a diverse group.

When thinking of the assumption we would be testing with this, we came to think of it as customer-obsessed team directly in touch with their customers performs better without a proxy. 

Better is vague, so we talked about looking at the released output from the team. Not all the tasks we could tinker on given the full freedom, but the value delivered for customer's benefit.

Happened before this experiment...

To understand what happened, there's some things that happened already before. We did not just talk about them as "grand experiments" that would be shared anywhere. They were just our way of tweaking our ways of working by trying out what could work, and not all did.

We had experimented with backlog visibility by using post-its on a wall in form of a kanban board, using all electronic kanban board, and not using a kanban board but a list of things we were working on within the team. The last worked best for us, we did not find much value in the flow, just the visibility (and discussions). We had experimented with the product owner location in relation to the team having him in the team room, and later on different floor. We had learned to do frequent releases, and through learning to do that stopped estimating and focusing on fast delivery of continuous value.

The frequent releasing, in particular, was the reigns of the team keeping us synchronized. The value sitting on shelf in the codebase not visible and available to our users wasn't value but just potential of it. It had transformed the ways we designed our features, and helped us learn splitting features always asking if there was something smaller in the same direction we could deliver first.

We also had no scrum master. At all. For years. No team-level facilitator, and our manager is very hands-off always available when called type with about 50 people to manage. 

Introducing No Product Owner

I blogged about the first activity to No Product Owner already months ago. We listed together all the expectations we had towards a product owner, and talked about how our expectations would change. We moved the person assigned Product Owner to a role we framed as Product Management Expert, and agreed his purpose towards the team was very straightforward: requirements trawling. He would sit through meetings, pick up the valuable nuggets and bring them back to the team for the team to decide what to do with the information.

Team embraced the change, and level of energy became very high. The discussions were more purposeful. We started talking directly to our sales organization, to our real customers over email and in various communities. We increased our transparency, but also our responsiveness.

In the first month, there were several occasions where the PME would join team meetings on a cadence, and express things in the format "I want you to..." to find themselves corrected. The team wants. The team decides. The team prioritize. The power is with the developers.

And our team of developers (including testers who are also developers) did well.

From High Energy to New Impacts

Before starting the experiment, we were preparing a major architectural change effort, and there were certain business critical promises attached to that change effort. As soon as the experiment started, we sat with sales engineers talking about the problem. An hour later, we had new solutions. A week later, the new solution was delivered. The impossible-without-architecture-change turned possible, understanding (and finding motivating) the real needs, and the real pain.

Throughout the experiment, I kept a diary of the new impacts. The impacts are visible in a few categories:
  • Taking responsibility of real customer's experience. We had a fix that is delivered in a complicated way through the organization's various teams, and we did not only do the fix like usually, but we followed through on the exact date the solution was available to solve the customers problem.
  • Fixing customer problems over handing the off through prioritization organizations. We hooked real users with problems directly to the people fixing problems. The throughput time increased, and we did fixes I can claim we would not have done before. 
  • Delivering customer-oriented documentation when there was a solution but it needed guidance.
  • Coordinating work across organization on level of technical details to increase the speed of solutions, removing handoffs. 
  • Coming up with ways of doing requested features that brought down the risk and scope of first deliveries, enabling continuous flow of value. 
  • Coming up with features that were not requested that the team could work on to improve the product.
  • Adding configurable telemetry to understand our product better in a data-driven way
There's two particular highlight days.

21 days into the experiment the team received feedback that  their latest demo was particularly good and focused on the customer value. When confronted with the feedback, the team considered it as "that's what we're supposed to do now" - we are customer-focused.

65 days into the experiment the team realizes the last appearance of the product management expert in planning was around day 55. There were other channels to maintain pulse of what might be important than the structure.

There was one particular low  or risky day.

40 days into the experiment the team reallocated 3/4 programmers and 1/3 testers to work on things outside the usual team scope.

Interestingly, the reallocation after 40 days took the already customer-obsessed developers and moved them to work on something where they could still implement the responsibility assignment. The subteam ended up representing the business like in the cross-business line effort without needing a matching role to the other business line's product owner. Progress on the tasks with the high motivation while feeling empowered has also been great. 2.5 months into a 9 month plan there is an idea that we might be done in 4 or 5 instead, while still bloating that effort with necessary improvements over following the plan.

Team Retrospective

After the 90 days period, we had a team retrospective with the ex product owner and talked about what changed. The first almost unanimous feeling was that nothing changed. Things flowed just as before.

The details revealed that there might have been change we did not appreciate.
We delivered about twice the amount/size of things of value as in the two previous 3-month intervals, all of them assessed after through discussions, not through the estimates.
We were more motivated, regardless of the team split that was temporary (even if for 9 months).
We did things we were not doing before, without having to drop things we were doing before.

I can now believe in magical things happening in very short timeframe. I couldn't before. Some of the things never reached us before to help us keep focus, and turned into big things that could never be done.

We did not magically have more people available. But the people we had available were more driven, more focused, more collaborative and believed more in themselves in their ability to take things through to customers.

Not using time and energy on estimating and the value of that became evidently clear with the taskforced subteam inflicted into an environment where estimates were the core. The thinking around opportunity cost - what else could one do with the time used estimating - became more clear.

Finally, we looked at what the Product Management Expert did. They reported higher job satisfaction and less stress. They reported they focused on strategic thinking and business analysis.

No one remembered any pieces of information the PME requirement trawling or the strategic thinking would have brought to the three months, so there is value potentially not delivered through to customer (or work wasted as it has no impact).

Improving the ways of connecting product management and RnD efforts is a worthwhile area of tasks to continue on. There may be a need of rethinking what and RnD team is capable of without an allocated, named product owner.

There was also some rumours around that I've really assumed the de-facto product owner role, but I assure I haven't. Things flowed just as well while I took my 3 week winter vacation, and spent at least another 2 weeks in conferencing around the world.

Every single team member acted in the product owner role. Every one. Including the 16-yo intern.

I couldn't be much more proud of my colleagues. It is a pleasure to change the world in our little way with them. Without a product owner.  

Grow your Wizard before you need them

Making teams awesome is something I care deeply for, so it is  no wonder that discussions I have with people are often on problems around that. Yesterday again I suggested pairing/mobbing at work to receive cold stares and unspoken words I heard in the last place I worked: "You are here to ruin the life of an introvert developer". I won't force this on people,  but they can't force me not to think about it or care about it.

As I talked about the reactions with Llewellyn Falco, he pointed out a story he has been talking about many times before. And with "just the right slot" in my calendar, I go and write about it. He will probably make an awesome video when he gets to it.

Some of us have some sort of history with computer games. Mine is that I was an absolute MUD (multi-user dungeon) addict back in the days, and I still irregularly start up Nethack just for nostalgic reasons. In many of these fantasy game types, we fight in teams. And we have characters of different types. If you play something that is strong in the beginning, you survive early on more easily. The wizards on low levels are particularly weak, and in team settings we often come to places where we need to actively, as a team, grow our wizard. Because when wizard grows to its high level potential leveling up with others support, that's an awesome character to have in your team.

A lot of times we forget the same rule goes around growing people in our teams. The tester who does not program and does not learn to program because you don't pair and mob could be your wizard. At least the results of being invited to "inner circle" fixing problems by identifying them as they are being made feels magical.

Just like in the role plays, you need to bring the wizard fully into the battle, and let them gain the XP, you need to bring all your team members into the work, and find better ways for them to gain experience and learn.

Pairing and mobbing isn't for you. It is for your team.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Assignments in Intent

We're testing a scenario across two teams where two major areas of features get integrated. In a meeting to discuss testing some of this in end to end manner where end to end is larger, we agreed the need to set up a bunch of environments.

"Our team sets up 16 windows computers in the start state" seemed like an assignment we could agree on.

Two days later, I check on progress. I personally installed 3 computers on top of what we agreed to be what my team would do, and was ready to move on to using the computers as part of the scenario. The response I get is excited confirmation of having the rest of them available too.

The scenario we go through has a portal view into the computers installed, and checking if the numbers and details add up, I quickly learn that they don't. Ones I set up are fine. All others are not fine. We identify the problem ("I forgot a step in preparing the environment" and "It did not occur to me that I would need to verify on system level that they are fine") and agree on correcting them.

Two days later, I check again. It has not been corrected. So I ask where we are, to hear that we are ready, which we are not. Containing the mild steam coming out of my ears, I ask if they checked the list in which they could see things are fine from a system perspective and I get explanations ("I don't have access", "I did not know I have access").

Another day passes by and I realize there's a holiday season coming up, so I check again. They are not fine, but "they should be". I ask for a list of the computers, to learn there isn't one. And I spend a few days tracking the relationship of the IP (given by DHCP, changes over time) as the only info given, matching them to image names and actual statuses of getting things to work.

The assignment was made in intent. No clarifying questions were asked. Given solutions, instructions were being dismissed. Learning did not show up in the process with repeating patterns. And finally, there was no consideration for the handoff that was evident for the planned vacation.

This is the different between a trainee and a senior. Seniors see things and track things others don't.

Today I'm enjoying the results of this prep, finding some really cool bugs having guessed some places where it would be likely to break. Having these issues now and having them soon vanish, knowing that my mention of them here is all I have to show is deeply satisfying.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Conferences as a change tool

European Testing Conference 2018 is now behind us, except for the closing activities. And it was the best of three we’ve done so far. We closed the 2018 edition saying thank you and guiding people forward. Forward in this case was a call for action to look into TestBash Netherlands, which is in just two months in Utrecht. I will personally attend as a speaker, and having been to various TestBashes, I’m excited about the opportunity to share and learn with fellow test enthusiasts. 

This promotion of other conferences is yet another thing where we are different. We don’t promote the other conferences because they ask us to. We don’t promote them because they pay us to. We promote them because we’ve learned something before we started organizing our own conference: we all do better when we all do better. 

In TestBash New York, Helena Jeret-Mae delivered a brilliant talk about career growth, with one powerful and sticky message: in her career, while she stayed in the office and focused on excellence at work, nothing special happened. But when she went for conferences, met people and networked, things started happening. She summed it up as “Nothing happens when nothing happens”. There’s side effects to growing yourself in conferences, learning and networking, that create a network impact of making a change relevant in advancing your personal career. This resonated. 

At European Testing Conference 2018, there was a group of people in different roles in a company. There was the manager, and there was the person the manager would manage. Telling the person to do something differently had not resulted in a change. Sending the person to a place where people enthusiastically talked about doing the thing differently made the person come to manager with a great idea: there’s this thing I’m not doing now, I want to do more of it. Ownership shifted. A change started. The threshold of thinking “all cool kids are doing this” was exceeded. Power of the crowds made a difference. 

While we would love to see you at European Testing Conference 2019, the software industry is growing at a pace where we are realistically seeing that the need of awesome testing and programming education (tech excellence) is needed. We need to grow as professional ourselves, but also make sure our colleagues get to grow. We all do better when we all do better. We suggest you find a local meetup, learn and network. Go to any conferences, go to great conferences. Go and be inspired. The talks can give you nudges with ideas, the skills you acquire by practice. Sample over time, always look for new ideas. 

The short list of conferences I pay attention to mentioning are ones I recognize for being inclusive and welcoming, and treating the speakers right (paying their expenses and including new voices amongst seasoned ones). I want to share my love and appreciation for TestBashes (all of them, they are all around), Agile Testing Days (in USA and Germany), CAST (USA, since latest editions)  and Nordic Testing Days. The last one is a fairly recent addition to my list now that they’ve grown into a solid success that can treat the speakers right. 

I enjoy most of the conferences I’ve been to, and would recommend you to go to any of them. I have a list of my speaking engagements in and the places I’ve experienced is growing. 

What’s the conference you will be at this year? Make sure there is one. Nothing happens when nothing happens. Make things happen for you. 

Introducing intentional vs. accidental bugs

There was an observation I made on the psychology of how people function in a previous job that has kept my mind occupied over time.

When I joined, our software was infested with bugs, but the users of the product were generally satisfied and happy. It appeared as if the existence of bugs wasn’t an issue externally. It was an issue internally - we could not make any sense of schedules for new features, because the developers got continuously interrupted with firefighting for a bug fix. 

Over time working together, we changed the narrative. The number of bugs went down. The developers could focus better on new features. But the customer experience with our product suffered. They were not as happy with us as they had been. And this was puzzling. 

Looking into the dynamic, we grew to understand that for the product, there was a product and a service component. And while the product was great, the service was awesome. And there was less of the service when there was no “natural” flow of customer contacts. If a customer called in to report a problem and we delivered a fix in 30 minutes, they were just happy. Much happier than without the need they had for our service. 

This past experience came about as we were organizing European Testing Conference 2018. Simon Peter Schrijver (@simonsaysnomore) was awesome as a local contact, focusing on a good experience for the venue in making things clear and planned in advance. As a result, things flowed more smoothly than ever before. There were “changes” as we went on setting up sessions on when we’re reorganize rooms, and those changes required the conference venue to accommodate some unscheduled work. While we felt we can do this ourselves, this venue had a superb standard of service (highly recommending the Amsterdam Arena conference center) and would not leave us without their support. 

Interestingly, some of us organizers felt less needed and necessary when there was less of firefighting, bringing back the memories of the service component from the past. Would there be a way of knowing if people were happier with our past years quick problems resolution (we were on it, so promptly) or this years feel of everything just flowing? Whose perception of quality mattered? Interestingly, in retrospect we identified one problem that we had both earlier years and this year. Earlier years we fixed it on the fly. This year we did not fix it, even we should have had equal (if not better) financial resources to act on it. I personally experienced the problem with the microphones, and failed to realize that I had the power to fix it. I can speculate on the feeling of “executing a plan” vs. “emergent excellence”, but I can’t know the real causes to the effects. 

This brings me to the interesting question of introducing intentional vs. accidental bugs. If the problems while they exist make things better as long as we can react on them quickly, would moving from accidental to intentional be a good move? Here the idea of opportunity cost comes to play: are there any other, less risky ways to focus on the pull of service, than creating the need of the service with bugs? 

With the software product, we needed to invest more in sales and customer contacts to compensate for the natural pull of the bugs for the customer to be in contact and nurture our mutual relationship. Meeting people on content can happen ore in a conference with less issues to resolve. Did we take full advantage of the new opportunity? Not this time. But we can learn for future.