Where I Have Changed

The Ministry of Testing Bloggers Club suggested that I write a post based on “In testing, I have changed my mind about ________”. As this blog dates back to 2012 with consistent (220) articles about testing, and my career in the field dates back to 2002 – it seems a 20-year experience should give me a few things. Testing is still not dead – and it’s still about the context (lower-case context, not CDT).

It’s not about: Testers being the only ones doing Testing

yeah, not so much these days. Testing is an act that any role can do in context. It’s about the testing – not so much the testers. And I have realized that even classic test management tasks can be done by someone else. Testing is not owned by the testers – it might be stewarded/facilitated by us, but it’s performed by a team member (who could be a tester).

It’s not about: Perfect Requirements

After decades in IT, it’s clear that even requirements are never perfect. When we look closer we see the business requirements can vary from a profound idea to a rudimentary feature of the system under test. Even in regulated industries requirements can be both about a specific configuration in a SaaS system or a loose idea of a relevant dashboard. Sometimes a requirement can be by design of an underlying commodity product – there doesn’t need to be a test case for everything.

The more rigor you add to the requirements management – the more fragile it becomes. It’s key to understand the risks and bets of the person paying for your solution. – in that lies the true borders of the delivery. Much can go informally along if it aligns with stakeholder values.

It’s not about: Defects

Back in the day defects needed to be accounted for, tracked, and distributed. Besides testing documents – defects were the only tangible delivery of the testers. The defects needed to be raised and closed. I recently wrote a guideline that stated that only observations that couldn’t be fixed within a day should be raised to the project manager for shared handling. In that context fixing things is within the same team. If it’s for another team to fix, defects are simply something communicated between the teams (check team topologies for team interactions). Sure you can still find a blocker or a P1 – what matters is how fast you can fix things.

It’s not about: Month-Long Testing Phases

The more time there is from idea to implementation – the more the requirement risks not addressing an up-to-date business objective. Timing is key. Some tools provide epics and user stories – but the structure is often misused to be a simple work aggregation – and not goal aligned.

The counter-intuitive trick is not to add formality, and more time between releases – but less. Less time between feedback between idea and implementation, and less time between implementation and test. Less time between the various forms of feedback adds to better results faster.

It still happens, I’m sure, that a business needs a month-long testing phase before a release; having a range of business staff to participate in testing the latest release of the enterprise ERP or CRM. More often the testing phase is one sprint behind the development activity. I have pondered this a lot.

At best testing is an integrated activity in the team and in the sprint. But if testing is a more separate activity – it can be both agile and context-relevant. So I have changed my mind about this anti-pattern.

It’s ok for testing to be in the next sprint –

if that adds consistency and less stress to the team*

* Seperate boards needed. Your Mileage Will Vary

Why Do We Fall, Master Bruce?

… So that we can learn to pick ourselves up, Alfred! I was recently reminded of this quote from watching the “Batman Begins” movie with my 16yo. I really needed that reminder. Then I read the two blog posts by Beren on “Those who Failed” and “Versus the Endboss“. Let’s put it out there that we fall – and fail to remember that we fall.

I had been part of a large project – but had read the culture all wrong and we had failed hard. For a number of reasons and maybe mostly for systemic reasons. The team expected one mindset and one way of tooling – we provided another one. Even with all my best intentions and know-how of change management, this crashed. As Hannes elegantly put it, we had cycled too far ahead of the team:

  • The team expected minutes of meetings and agendas, we worked for making things visible and shared
  • The team expected testing to be checking the requirements, we worked for testing to support critical decision making
  • The team worked political with back channels, we worked open and power-lifting
  • The team participants had agendas that didn’t align with the project’s purpose
  • The team expected all things equally important, we worked by priority and deadline
  • The team expected detailed test cases to be approved at all steps, we provided intentions and purpose
  • The team expected detailed handovers, we worked entrepreneurially to set things in motion
  • The team expected an error-free lead, we worked knowing I wouldn’t remember everything

At one point I was arguing that the team needed to read Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory – to read up on the different cultures we would be interacting with (our customers). In retrospect, we should have used it on ourselves first of all.

Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory

It’s a little more detailed than Westrum – and even Westrum might have helped. That is if we had been able to articulate the conflict well in advance. Perhaps a senior hire should have spotted the signals beforehand. As an outsider, I relied on people telling me things. I couldn’t hear or see the back-channel communications. This is a struggle for many staff people when switching roles:

Initially, no one from the operations organization and latest implementation opted for the leading the activity. As we had no playbook or project plan (only the produced artifacts) – I made a scrum-board-inspired work tracking system. Perhaps I should have used a Wardley map first of all as recommended by John Cutler in “TBM 18/52: We Need Someone Who Has Done “It” Before

What is Wardley Mapping doing for us here? It is letting us explore a more nuanced view of the problem space. Instead of treating things as one problem, we break the problem apart into a bunch of capabilities. When we do this exercise we typically find:

Not everything is an existing playbook. Not everything is a new playbook.

To solve new problems, we need a foundation of stable playbooks. For example, to solve that crazy new problem, the team might need a foundation of trustworthy data.

Yes, you can break things apart to see them better. But you’re also dealing with the whole thing.

But then again the team would probably have stalled over the very concept of a strategy map. People are weird. No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem. And even if you do try to take the first steps – your steps could be in the wrong direction. Even Master Bruce will fall in that situation.

Implementing Change – First Steps

TL;DR: Stepping into the deep water – have a few supporting first steps.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Pexels.com

Inspiration: Ministry of Testing Bloggers Club August Challenge and My three step recipe for overcoming procrastination

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You Cannot Be Everywhere

A key lesson with the whole situation is, that there is no Nirvana, no steady state nor closure to everything. The only constant is that life is ever changing. Coming up around the corner is a new change – some can be planned for and others not so much. Imagining that things can be different is the first step to dealing with change (Thank you, Virginia Satir).

There will always be more things needing attention. Sometimes it’s based on the fear of missing out (FOMO) and the urge to be involved in everything. You will very easily find yourself stretched too thin – and needing a way to scale the effort, both professionally and personally. Clocking more hours will only work in the short run. Remember, it’s ok not to scale – sometimes it’s actually the best solution.

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Strategy is about Making a Map

Strategy is not where you are heading, but how you’re getting somewhere in the long run. That goes for all strategies, and even for test strategies. Though for test strategies we often get caught up in mechanics of selector strategies, testing types and techniques that we lose track of the higher purpose: Moving the business towards a vision.

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The Testing, not the Testers

Occasionally I see posts and discussions, where testers are indignated that this and this company has no testers. How could they! Or similarly when a product is released publicly with significant issues: See – it’s because they have no testers! Or that the testers are not taken seriously. OMG!

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Someone else will do it

The testing activity has been under change for long. And it’s clear that the testing activity has shifted. Even the test managers have to re-calibrate – as other roles will be doing the test management activity. Be prepared, as someone else will do your testing job. Work on building self-reliance in others and be prepared to hand-over what you can do.

There is more to testing than testing specialists punching test cases. The testing activity as such, has shifted (both left and right), and testing is being done by more roles than “testing people”. Depending on the context, the explicit testing activity is done by a mix of developers, testing specialists, end users and others.

I often find myself as the only testing person on the project. The testing activity is done by automation specialists and end users in one project, and by technical operations staff and end users in another. In these projects either the technology or the business knowledge is paramount, and not so much exploration, flaws and edge cases for specialized testers to explore.

me, 2020. YMMV

Similarly for the test managers – there’s a trend/shift, that sometimes the test management activity is shifting away from the test managers. Even to me – even if I’m sometimes more an a “project manager of the testing activity“, a “Test coach” or similar. The trend is already there – coined sometimes as “whole team approach to quality“. Yes, most of the test management activity can be done by scrum masters, Release Train Engineers and even project managers ….

Recently I was asked to assist a large transition project for a holding company with many brands. Each brand had their own applications and technology stack, but the holding company had decided to move the hosting. So the holding company’s Project Management Office (PMO) was put in charge of facilitating the brand’s testing activities – an activity they had never considered nor done before. My role would only be to provide guidance, not do the actual facilitation.

Which got me thinking….

And after some deep thinking. – I do have the privilege to be able to adapt. I don’t need to hoard knowledge or make power moves (anymore) or worry about health-coverage or any of the lower Maslow pyramid terms (anymore).

It’s very natural for me to hand over project approaches to my co-workers. I’m often on the “blue team” to outline the strategy, My best field of work is to bring clarity and consistency, not scalability or repeatability to the practise.

I naturally hand over learning anyways, so why not re-calibrate when the thing I do has reached a stage, where it’s repeatable. And then focus on building the skills in others, work myself out of the test management role as we know it.

And don’t worry that someone else will eventually do my (testing and test management) job. The first step is to acknowledge the trend/pattern, second to redefine and bring clarity! Let’s explore and see what we find!

Someone else will do the building, not Emmet. His task is repeatable.
Someone else will do the building, not Emmet. Their task is repeatable.

Shoot, Neglect or Train?

How you treat the bringer of (bad) news tells me a lot about the organisation and potential for business growth. Go Read Accelerate – that book is full of insights. One of the models, is the organisational types from Westrum:

[ Screen capture from the Kindle issue of Accelerate ]

Andy Kelk has a to-the-point description about Westrum on their blog:

To test your organisation, you can run a very simple survey asking the group to rate how well they identify with 6 statements:

https://www.andykelk.net/devops/using-the-westrum-typology-to-measure-culture
  • On my team, information is actively sought.
  • On my team, failures are learning opportunities, and messengers of them are not punished.
  • On my team, responsibilities are shared.
  • On my team, cross-functional collaboration is encouraged and rewarded.
  • On my team, failure causes enquiry.
  • On my team, new ideas are welcomed.

The respondents rate each statement from a 1 (strongly disagree) to a 7 (strongly agree). By collecting aggregating the results, you can see where your organisation may be falling short and put actions in place to address those areas. These questions come from peer-reviewed research by Nicole Forsgren.

https://www.andykelk.net/devops/using-the-westrum-typology-to-measure-culture

So when a passionate person comes to you with (bad) news, what do you and your organisation do? Do you reflect, ignore or hide the request? Do you say that it’s not a good idea to bridge the organisation? Do you raise an Non-conformity and set in motion events to bring “justice”? Do you experiment to implement the novel ideas and actively seek information?

FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.

To Transform Testing

There is no doubt that our long lived testing narrative is under pressure. To continue to bring business value, both the IT field and testing is transforming to be about proactive business enabling.

The IT domain is currently buzzing with the word “IT transformation” – the idea that IT services should be more about “inspire, challenge and transform the digital businesses“. That it should be less about delivering IT products and artifacts and more about enabling digital business outcomes. Even for testing – it should be less about a product/service, and more about business necessity. As Anders writes:

Stop focusing on the things that bug people, and dare to do both IT and testing smarter and more business focused from the start. Build Quality in – smarter from start. That goes for IT services as a whole, and definitely also for the testing activities.

What can you do to transform your testing? I have three areas:

Discuss Business Strategy

Learn Wardley mapping – and use it like Chris McDermott to create context specific maturity models with Wardley Maps informed by Cynefin. Use the mapping to Broaden the scope of the system under test.

Align with the Business Strategy

Leading Quality [Cummings-John, Peer 2019] has a whole chapter on “Align your team to your company growth metric“. Consider if the company you work for is driven by Attention, Transaction or Productivity metrics, and arrange your test activities accordingly.

Dare to Deliver in New Ways

We are usually talk so much about optimizing the (IT and testing) delivery, that we forget other ways to be innovative and provide business enabling. One way could be to dare use new technology like RPA or a HoloLens to support tedious tasks in testing – to use an existing product to something new. Another approach to actually test “all the things” that matter or to apply testing to IT outside the realm of application delivery.

To Transform Testing I will discuss, align and dare so that test solutions can be proactive business enablers – (not only achieve shippable quality).

Mapping Mondays – Pioneers, Settlers, Town Planners