The Mechanics of Modern Meetings

In these days of virtual meetings, the very structures of formal meetings are under change. It’s definitely forged by extensive work-from-home and working with people not in the same locations. It challenges the people that are used to having everything in documents and actions/assignments tracked as part of a “Minutes of Meetings” document. They seem to mistake the absence of document artifacts with no structure. But if you look closer you will see that even a circus is a choreographed act.

The Agenda is always the Current State of Affairs

A key observation from the agile and collaborative way of working is the principle of making work visible. Put tasks and assignments on a shared board for the team. The tool is not so important, as long as it reasonably supports the kanban/scrum-board mechanics. You can use Trello, Podio, Miro, Azure DevOps, or Jira – whatever is available to you in your organization.

Among the benefits of a shared digital board is that it additionally supports the team with the ability to work on items asynchronously, independent of timezones, working hours, and locations. The state of affairs is whatever state the board depicts – so make sure it’s always as truthful as it can be. It takes practice for the team members to learn to update the board outside of the meeting. But this small step is really key in making the meetings more effective and reducing the time to information.

The status board challenges the fact that an agenda can be locked prior to a meeting. All items are moving pieces – so the agenda can only be “look at the board“. If someone is working on something – put it on the board. This also helps if a team member runs off to join a circus – or is temporarily away from this very circus.

Boards help to streamline getting things done. Items might not be perfect – but the focus is on getting them done. “Stop starting – Start stopping” is a recurring mantra. Secondly using a board and agile backlogs and work limits help to prioritize the work according to the team’s availability and speed of delivery. Bottlenecks and overloaded staff can be more easily identified.

Recurring touchpoints, though, are still needed for the team, but the latest status of the work items is no longer at the end of a Minutes of Meetings document.

Recorded Minutes of Meetings

Originally, the MoM (Minutes of Meetings) documents hold the decision items and action items after every meeting. As discussed a shared task board can replace much of the MoM. Is Alice joining Bob on a task? Did Charles agree to deliver X by Friday? All of those actions can be activities on the task board, as long as it’s added during the meeting. A meeting notetaker could do this during the meeting on the board, and not focus on writing down every minute. Adding ideas to the board’s “to-do” column is also a powerful way to remember things for the future.

A strong trend I see in the use of virtual meeting platforms is a default recording of most meetings. You have to get used to it, also privacy vise. Be careful in political organizations – the spoken word is now recorded. Among the benefits of recorded meetings is that everyone can rewind into the meetings and that previous meeting content is available for new team members. This goes especially well for content that is more “show and tell” than status calls.

My preferred leadership style is to set direction, provide what I have of relevant information, and follow up indirectly via the board. I don’t need to meet for a status message that can be read from the board. But I will use the information on the board to reflect on where we are and where we’re supposed to be heading.

Reframe meetings as Collaborative Conversations

When I set up a meeting in someone’s calendar, it’s not always with the intention to have the formal mechanics of a Capital-M Meeting. The scheduling in the calendar is a way to respect people’s time and to make sure key participants can be available at the same time. It’s out of the same respect for people’s variety of availability that meetings need to be effective.

I rarely invoke the formalities of a Meeting. When we (small-m) meet it’s to collaborate and interact and discover serendipity. Sometimes it seems that the name “meeting” is taken literally as a formal structure, while to me it’s more like a placeholder for collaborative conversations.

It may look like a circus – but that is on purpose. There is a choreography behind it all.

The Circus by Alex Herreru00edas is licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0

#267 – Reminder – it’s about Story Shaping

In agile delivery teams, it’s recommended that stories and features are discussed before being developed. A checklist called “Definition of Done” can be used as a reminder to check that the delivery team has everything needed to prepare the delivery of the feature. A key ingredient is a shared understanding of how to confirm the delivery – for the whole team.

Story shaping requires at least three people to get together. They are not amigos nor amigas. They are often three, sometimes two people, and often more. They represent the different viewpoints needed to deliver: builders mindset, testing mindset, security mindset, operations mindset, business mindset, etc.

No one person can hold all these viewpoints – at least a builders mindset and a requester/business mindset is needed.

If you skip doing story shaping your acceptance criteria and testing activities will be misaligned. And you will either have overdone the effort needed or underestimated the challenges of the story.

Thank you to all who have replied to the tweet below.

One customer, three people to do the story shaping

#266 – Retraining Yourself for the Future

The local university college has a big sign outside saying: “Retrain Yourself for the Future“. The thing is – what is offered is at best years behind the current practice in the industry. If you certify towards a body of knowledge, you forget about the learning journey and only on the outcome. Innovation yet happens in many ways – and industry practitioners are only one form to train for.

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#265 – Using MTTR to Understand When to Test

It interests me deeply to explore why testing is happening. Often it’s because some decision-maker or framework dictates – “This is the Way“. And off we go on the quest to slay the dragon – or move items from point A to point B. Without much thinking about how the side quests help to move the main risks of the story.

The main risks are usually around something irreplaceable – and hence we test and try our best to shield it. But not all risks are equally dangerous. In IT we can build implicit testing into repeatable deliveries and reduce the time to fix things. The faster things are fixed, the better is time to information for the business needs.

Grogu agrees
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#263: There is a Model for your Trouble

Often directors, managers and other decision makers talks about an advanced challenge they have: What can we automate, who should automate and what tools to pick. There more and more I listen, the more I hear – they have not applied any models of the problem at hand. And there usually is a model of the problem space already. Any old model is preferable over no model at all. But it can be hard to see in the middle of chaos.

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Could Modern Testing work in the enterprise

So far I have mostly thought that “Modern Testing” of the A/B testing podcast would never work in an enterprise context. But it seems some tools and existing approaches in the enterprises already fits well with the ideas of the concept. 

The enterprise is all the privately owned companies that usually manufacture (non-IT) things –  for either the consumer or other businesses. The enterprise sell and produce tangible products like windmills, power tools, dairy consumer products etc. The interest with regards to IT for the enterprise is that it just works, and supports business processes around order setup, order tracking and invoicing – and many other moving parts.

While I have heard of some organisations that have successfully implemented some agile and SaFe methods (in banking), the enterprise have a hard time to change mode of operations, as it usually comes down to actual production of things, logistics and hierarchies of command-and-control … and culture, most of all culture.

 

@  via @HelenLisowski

 

Some enterprises change towards being learning organisations, but still treat their IT in general as low-value and an annoying cost. It seems the IT departments and IT contractors have a challenge in talking about what they do to achieve the right quality for the businesses….

 

 

Que: The Modern testing mission on “Accelerate the achievement of Shippable Quality”. While MT is mostly a concept around transition of testing activities, it seems the concept applies to IT delivery teams in general. MT has 7 principles and some of these are:

5. We believe that the customer is the only one capable to judge and evaluate the quality of our product

Most enterprise projects I know off around implementing SAP, MS dynamics 365, EPIC hospital solutions etc, have a large reliance on end-user testing and UAT. Often there is no professional testers involved, as the best tester is the business experts themselves. Interestingly the principle #5 fit’s well with existing practices from the UAT space.

Another interesting MT principle is #6 around data analysis of actual customer usage. This requires some totally different tooling for the tester, than previously generally available (…besides shifting-right perhaps…).

6. We use data extensively to deeply understand customer usage and then close the gaps between product hypotheses and business impact.

Yet recently I was investigating Panaya Autonomous Testing for SAP. One thing I realized is that what the tool collects real user usage of SAP and then provides the ability to balance the testing activities based on that analysis. It is interesting to see a commercial test management product for the enterprises following new trends like the “modern tester”.

While it’s interesting how some of the concepts of modern testing are reflected in testing in the enterprise – and vise versa –  the challenge remains for both the tools and concepts to be applied and accepted in more organisations. 

It might not fit everywhere, but it might be a good fit in more places than you think it would. 

 

A 30 Days Agile Experience

In September 2017 the Ministry of Testing had a crowd-based knowledge sharing event called “30 Days of Agile Testing” with a small learning activity for each day of the month. As with the similar security event I set up a weekly schedule at work to meet for an time-boxed hour and discuss 3-5 selected topics each time.

Our score was 17 topics discussed – some more discussed than actually tried out. Hence the half marks on the poster on the window below. Me and my coworkers work on many different teams – so to dig into specific team tools and processes was out of scope.

Here is a few of our findings:

IMG_0007

Links to “the Club” on some of the topics we selected:

 

 

Less Test Managers, More Test Coaches

One of the trends/shifts I experience in testing & test management in particular is the Test Coach as discussed initially here: The Shift-Coach Testing Trend (Oct, 2016). Recently (Aug 2017) it came up again in a Twitter thread, where Stephen Janaway stated the inspiration to the title of this blog post.

Less Test Managers and more coaches. That’s how I see it going.

Fittingly as they inspired the first post with the talk “How I Lost My Job As a Test Manager” presented at Test Bash 2015. This post is a further elaboration of the Shift-Coach test management trend. Here are some of my experiences:

  • I have been assigned to an agile development team to introduce them to 3 Amigos, Test data driven test automation and such things. The purpose of my involvement was to enable the team to continue the practices without me, and without testers besides the business analyst / product owner (See The domain expert is the tester) as they are doing Shift-left. Similar to an agile or scrum coach, my approach was to look at it as a change in the way of working.
  • Another project is an infrastructure project, there are no testers only technicians configuring Cisco routers that by software can replace firewalls, iron ports, VM servers and other network equipment. The project has to implement 80+ of these, so I setup both a test process and an ITIL change request process acting as a test and release manager – another quite frequent trend. I could continue in the project for the duration, but instead I setup guidance and leave when it’s sufficiently in place.

This might be similar to a test architect, a (internal) test consultant activity. It has nothing to do with diminishing testing. Rather I see it as more testing happening, something that would not have been done without the coaching from a test manager. It’s all about finding a test approach that is fit for the context.

Here are some things others have written:

The competence of the test coach is to have enough change management expertise (people skills) and test management expertise (domain skills) to know how to coach and facilitate the change. Should test coaches test too, perhaps when required, but not necessarily. The activity is primarily to up-skill the team to continue on their own.

The “Test Coach” is a trend similar to “shift-left” and all the other shifts in testing and test management. I see it as a pattern, and what I read from the threads and discussions is that many test managers gradually shift towards test coaches.

2017-07-03 13.57.42

The domain expert is the tester

Sometimes the best tester is the domain expert, the person that knows all the in’s and out’s and corners of the system. I have worked with testers that have had hands-on on a system since the late 1970’es, but I also know testers of mobile app’s that marvel in being the subject matter expert of the domain. Sometimes the professional tester doubles as agile Product Owner(1) too given their vast knowledge. The tester becomes the the SME …

The subject matter expert, though, is usually a business analyst, or perhaps a User Experience expert. Those persons might have a better stand to be testing the system, than testers with no prior knowledge. Often the SME is the best tester available. I see this happening in a shift-left setting – but also in settings with a heavy user and business involvement. Like SAP releases to enterprise systems – where the business users and SAP architects still spend a month off their “actual” work (user acceptance) testing corporate configurations and customization.

The UAT is not dead, but the classic role of the tester testing on behalf of the business is declining. The business would rather test their own, with in-house subject matter experts. The field is active, as there is tool support for this activity. Panaya(2) is a tool that specializes in managing the UAT of a corporate system like SAP, and one of the key elements is that test cases can be broken up in steps and handed over between persons. Not even classic HP ALM’s handle hand-over between testers well. While ALM’s support that the tester does the testing, Panaya supports that tests are distributed across many people. People that have other (“real business”) tasks during the work day.

Testing can also be pushed even further out to the users with crowd-based testing, beta releases etc. In both crowd-based and UAT-based testing, the role of the pro’ tester is missing but the testing is still happening. IT’s being done by the most skilled – most valuable for the task.

So what can we as testers do when our tasks are gone – skill up, go with the change and become the expert – or move out to other skills: Coaches, delivery leads etc.

2015-12-18 13.49.28
The expert says 5 pieces should be in the build – though the customer is OK.

  1. If they double as scrum master, she’s probably more a Test Coach
  2. this post is not sponsored. I’m just making observations – not recommendations.

Shift-Right, you wild one!

The Shift-Right label is that more and more testing (and checking) can happen on the live application in production. Some call it monitoring, some call it Testing in the Wild. It is a very wild idea for some people and some contexts #YMMV. It may very well be the best way of testing in some contexts.

Once I consulted on a network stabilization and delivery optimization project for a consumer bank. They had many issues in their production environment… I strongly advocated that they did test controlled and structured in production on the network changes and other operational activities. (I have talked about “How to Test in IT operations“ at Nordic Testing Days 2016). More on testing during IT deliveries in Shift-Deliver.

Shift-Right is trend that people have covered well before me, here are some pointers:

The key is really as Alan puts it “testers should try to learn more from the product in use” and with that comes the tools of Google Canary builds, NetFlix Chaos Monkeys etc.

kabuum

This trend goes along with Shift-Coach, Shift-Left and Shift-Deliver discussed separately. Initially I considered shift-right to be regarding consulting, but after hearing Declan O’Riordan at DSTB 2016 I realized that shift-right was the right label for test in production, testing in the wild etc.

Similar posts regarding things in the wild: Bugs HappensThe Kcal bugTradition is a choice and Can you see beyond the visible.