Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 3 (Lederhosen and Certified Self-Certifiers)

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 3 (Lederhosen and Certified Self-Certifiers)

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October 6

Wednesday. Michael Bolton warmed up the audience with the keynote performance How am I supposed to live without you?Testers: Get Out of the Quality Assurance Business!“, and proved once again that he’s a hard act to follow. He immediately came out of the closet saying that he’s an Agile skeptic and stated what “being Agile” means to him:

  • Adhering to the Agile Manifesto
  • “Be able to move quickly and easily” (cf the definition in the Oxford English Dictionary)
  • De-emphasizing testing for repeatability
  • Re-emphasizing testing for adaptability
  • For testers, focusing on testing skills
  • Focusing on not being fooled

Michael then defined quality as “Value to some person(s) who matter” (© Weinberg, Bach, Bolton) and said that decisions about quality are always political and emotional, and taken by people who actually have the power to make these important decisions. A little bit later, the main message of the talk jumped right at us and bit us in the face:

If you are a tester, do *you* hire the programmers? Fix problems in the code? Design the product? Allocate staff? Set the company’s strategic direction? Allocate training budgets? Set the schedule? Decide on raises? Control the budget in any way? Negotiate customer contracts? Actually choose the development model? Set the product scope? Do you decide which bugs to fix, or write the code yourself?

Did you answer “No” to most of them? Then you will probably agree that it is simply impossible to “assure” quality. But no worries – it is not our job to assure quality. What we *can* do is test, and make sure we’re damn good at it. Testing in the sense of a sapient activity, providing information with the intent of *informing* a decision, not *taking* the decision. Not to be confused with checking, which mainly aims at confirming existing beliefs. Checking is automatable and non-sapient.

Michael Bolton shifted into a higher gear, and claimed that “acceptance tests” are examples, and that examples aren’t really tests. They are checks, not tests. Acceptance tests don’t tell us when we’re done, but they do tell us that we’re not finished when they fail. They should in fact be called “rejection checks”.

I looked around me. Usually, at this point in a presentation and at this time of day, people are dozing off. Even the biggest barflies were wide awake now. He ended with a set of statements that almost read like some kind of Tester’s Manifesto:

We’re not here to enforce The Law.
We are neither judge nor jury.
We’re here to add value, not collect taxes.
We’re here to be a service to the project, not an obstacle. 

I got out of the room early and skipped the Q&A part, since my presentation was up next. Apparently the Q&A got a bit out of hand (I suspect the A was probably more to blame than the Q), because the auditorium doors swung open 15 minutes late. In hindsight, I was lucky that I even had an audience; in a parallel track, Gojko Adzic was delivering one hell of a performance (a stand-up comedy routine, I was told) for an overly packed room. 

No stand-up comedy in my room, but an honest “inexperience report” called “A lucky shot at Agile?“. I had ditched Powerpoint one week earlier and decided to go for Prezi, the so much nicer alternative. Of course, this was a bit of a risk, but I think it turned out fine. The presentation went well, and I received some good and heartwarming feedback which really made the rest of my day. 

In case you are interested, here’s A lucky shot at agile – prezi.

<Shameless_plug>In case you’re interested in the full story, Eurostar conferences has released my paper on the subject in an ebook-format – available for free – here </Shameless_plug>

I stayed in the room to attend Anko Tijman‘s talk “Mitigating Agile Testing Pitfalls“. Anko’s talk revolved around five pitfalls that threaten agile teams, and what we can do to mitigate them:

  1. Not testing with the customer. We can mitigate this risk by building a relationship, building trust.
  2. Not testing as a team. Teams are collectively responsible for the quality of the product. Share knowledge not only with your testers, but with the whole team. Work on a collaborative definition of done, tackle risks.
  3. Unbalanced test strategy. Teams sometimes focus too much on unit tests or acceptance tests, postpone other test activities to the next phase. This in turn can lead to a lack of feedback. To overcome this, put more detail in Definition of Done, schedule knowledge sessions, share content on a wiki.
  4. Requirements are too vague/ambiguous. Collaboration is the key in overcoming this pitfall. Communicate!
  5. Tools. Focus only on tools that add value to the team and that support the practices of the team. Decide as a team which tools to use and which not.

By then it was time for lunch, which is always a good occasion to mingle with other testers, discuss and have some fun. And to ravage that German buffet, of course. I had the impression that everyone was eagerly anticipating the keynote that would follow, which was Stuart Reid with “Agile Testing Certification – How Could That Be Useful“. It became clear that he wasn’t exactly going to preach for his own parish.

And a controversial talk it was. Twitter servers were moaning as Stuart’s quotes and graphic interpretations thereof were launched into #AgileTD cyberspace. Strangely enough, the infamous twitter fail whale was nowhere to be seen, which surprised me since the whole auditorium was filled with bug magnets. Stuart Reid started off by stating that it is only a matter of time before a qualification for agile testing is proposed and launched, whether we like it or not. He continued to say that if we want our industry as a whole to improve, we should exert our influence to help create a certification scheme we can truly benefit from. Fair enough. But what followed next confused me.

Stuart Reid stated that “the certification genie is out of the bottle” – what started as a good intention has spiralled out of control, and there’s no way back. This sounded like nothing more than a public dismissal of ISTQB to me, coming from one of the founding fathers. He proceeded to give an overview of the typical money flows in such a certification scheme, which was pretty enlightening. At one point, Stuart even managed to upset Elisabeth Hendrickson by stating that “it’s not because you are teaching Agile, that the training itself has to be Agile”. The movie clip of that very moment will live long and prosper on the internet. The whole “if you can’t beat them, join them”-idea bothered me too, as if there are no alternatives. Instead of focusing on certifications, we could try to educate employers, starting right at the top level. Certification programs exist mainly because employers don’t really know what qualities define a good tester. For them, a certification is merely a tool to quickly filter incoming resumes. Anyway, I think it’s good that Stuart initiated the debate, which would continue the rest of the conference.

The room was buzzing afterwards. Nothing better than some good old controversy to get the afternoon started. David Evans calmed things down again with “Hitting a Moving Target – Fixing Quality on Unfixed Scope“. He had some great visuals to support a thoughtful story. Some heavily tweeted quotes here:

  • QA in Agile shouldn’t be Quality Assurance but rather Questions and Answers
  • The product of testing is confidence (to which Michael Bolton quickly added that the product of testing is actually the demolition of false confidence).
  • Acceptance Test Driven Development (ATDD) slows down development just as passengers slow down a bus. We should measure the right thing.

Then it was Markus Gärtner‘s moment to shine in the spotlights. He presented “Alternative Paths for Self-Education in Software Testing“. During the last year, I got to know Markus as a passionate professional, dedicated to learning and advancing the craft. An overly active and ever-blogging guy that may have found the secret of the 27-hour-day. He opened with the question “who is in charge of your career?” Is it your boss? Your employer? Your family? Your teachers from high school? Well, none of that. It’s YOU. If you find yourself unemployed a year from now, everything you do now is contributing to you being employed quickly again.

Markus listed several ways of learning and self-improvement:

  • Books:
  • Courses
  • Buccaneer Scholaring, a way of taking your education in your own hands, based on the book Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar by James Bach
  • Testing challenges – challenges to and by the Testing Community
  • Testing Dojos – principles: collaboration in a safe environment, deliberate practice. Usually consists of a mission which allows the testers to practice their testing and learning. Can happen with observers or facilitators, can be a good occasion to practice pair testing too.
  • Weekend Testing – A few hours of testing + debriefing in the weekend  according to a charter or a mission. I participated in a couple of European weekend sessions, and I must say: great learnings indeed. 
  • The Miagi-Do School of Software Testing, a school founded by software craftsman Matt Heusser. It’s a zero profit school where people can improve their skills, learn from others and share knowledge, using a belt system like in martial arts. They are not widely advertised – as Markus said: the first challenge is finding them.  

Janet Gregory‘s closing keynote fitted nicely in Markus’ theme, since it was all “About Learning“. It was an inspiring talk, about congruence in learning, the importance of learning, the curiosity of children – how their unspoiled curiosity makes them natural testers. She also related the learning to the agile principles. She managed to tie in neatly with Rob Lamberts presentation about structures and creativity. A safe environment helps you to learn. She referred to trust as an important element in team safety. A blame culture will work counterproductive. No-one will learn anything.

After all this theory about learning, we were all yearning for some hands-on practice. The Diaz & Hilterscheid gang gave us the opportunity to practice that typically German custom called Oktoberfest. Just like last year, they dressed up in Lederhosen (I’m actually getting used to the look of José in Lederhosen, go figure) and started serving plenty of local food and one-liter glasses of beer. There was live music as well, which added to a fun Bayerisches athmosphere. The evening culminated in some vivid discussions of the burning issues of the day. Well, actually there was only one burning issue: certification. Elisabeth Hendrickson was determined to get everyone mobilised for a worthy cause and whipped out her iPad on which she had written some kind of self-certification manifesto. Someone threw a pile of index cards on the table. Elisabeth was on fire and started handing them out everywhere. “If you agree with it, copy it. If you don’t, don’t”. Index cards on tables. Pens. Beer. Lots of people copying index card after index card till their fingers went in a cramp. That night witnessed the birth of a community of certified self-certifyers, all of them proudly carrying the message:

We are a community of professionals.
We are dedicated to our own continuing education
and take responsibility for our careers.
We support advancing in learning and advancing our craft.
We certify ourselves.

Some people took the discussions to the hotel bar, while others decided to dance the night away. I think I even spotted some genuine limbo-ing on the dancefloor. Someone ought to tell these testers about risk…

To be continued… Day 4

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 2 (Defect limbo and stunt hamsters)

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 2 (Defect limbo and stunt hamsters)

October 5

After a full day of playful tutorials on monday, it was back to business on tuesday. The actual conference kicked off with an interesting keynote by Lisa Crispin. Lisa is an author/agile tester extraordinaire/donkey afficionado with Belgian roots – a winning combination if you ask me. The title of her talk was “Agile defect management” and was all about finding a suitable approach to manage and track defects in agile projects. Lisa used the limbo analogy for defects, stating that we should strive to lower the bar on defects. I liked the analogy – but had a hard time dissociating from all the alcoholic connotations of a classic limbo-fest, where the bar is generally lowered until the first drunkard ruptures his anterior cruciate ligaments. I think it’s time to groom my unconscious backlog a little.

In the agile/lean world, using a defect tracking system (DTS) is generally seen as wasteful, since agile teams strive for ‘zero defects’. Instead of filing bugs in a DTS, they prefer to fix the problem immediately by creating an automated test for that defect and adding it to the unit test suite.

I particularly liked Lisa’s “tabula rasa” idea: try to start your project *without* a defect tracking system and see what you need as you progress. Set some rules like “no more than 10 bugs at the same time” and fix the important bugs immediately. You could even use a combination of a DTS and defect cards on a board. Use the DTS for defects in production and defect cards on the story board for defects in development.

The next track I attended was “Incremental Scenario Testing: Beyond Exploratory Testing” from Matthias Ratert. He started off by explaining that they performed exploratory testing in their project, that it was helpful for about 2-3 test sessions , but that it became increasingly difficult for the testers to come up with new and creative test ideas and that too many areas of the complex system remained untested.

My exploratory tester heart was bleeding at first because they dismissed exploratory testing so quickly. When I heard that they were using unskilled, untrained and outsourced labor in the form of students, without experience and/or motivation to continue in this line of work, it all made sense. No wonder the exploratory testing yielded sub-par results.

In order to cope with the testers’ lack of imagination and sense of coverage, they developed a tool (the IST-tool) to do Incremental Scenario Testing (IST). The tool was used to automatically generate test scenarios as a starting point, which were composed of preconditions, states and events. It was tweakable by all kinds of different parameters to suit different contexts. The testers would still have the freedom to test in an exploratory fashion withing these predefined areas, without stating expected results. The tool could be configured so that important areas would appear more often in the testers’ selected scenarios.

The tool as such sounded like a good solution to  generate different scenarios, to spread and divide work to have a better coverage, but in my opinion will not solve their initial problem: they were still letting unskilled and unmotivated people perform exploratory testing, which is especially known to be a highly skilled, brain-engaged activity. Replacing them was apparently no option because of budgetary reasons. But why not try to train them into first-class ET-guerilleros first?

For the last morning session I chose to attend “One small change to code, one giant leap towards testability” by the lively and ubiquitous Brett Schuchert (presenter of two track sessions and the open space facilitator on thursday, how much more omnipresent can you get?).  His topic was mainly technical – how to design for testability. He used the example of a dice game in which the rolling of the dice was a factor that was beyond our control. In order to make the design testable, we should use dependency injection: create two loaded dice with a predictable result, and feed them into the game.

Schuchert’s inner showmaster came to surface when he threw some jeopardy-style quotes at us to illustrate the importance of Test Driven Development – a design practice rather than a testing practice:

The answer is 66%. What was the question?
“What is the chance that a one-line defect fix will introduce another defect?” (Jerry Weinberg)

After a copious lunch, ‘Fearless Change’-author Linda Rising inspired the big auditorium with her keynote “Deception and Estimation: How We Fool Ourselves“. She defined deception as consciously or unconsciously leading another or yourself to believe something that is not true. Her main message was that we constantly deceive ourselves and others. She illustrated her point with the typical marrying couple at the altar. Although current studies indicate that chances for a marriage to succeed are only 50-50, this knowledge doesn’t keep anyone from getting married. I didn’t know these odds when I decided to get married. I like to think it wouldn’t have made a difference – I’ve always liked to defy statistics. 

Us humans, we are a strange lot. We are hardwired to be optimistic. We see what we want to see, so we unconsciously filter out the things we dislike. After all, we fear what we cannot control. And it’s here that estimations come into play. Our hardwiring biases our estimations – we constantly overestimate our ability to do things: coding, testing, everything. And do we ever learn from our mistakes? But we shouldn’t be too overwhelmed by this, there’s hope: achieving good enough estimates isn’t totally impossible, if we just take small enough steps, experiment, learn from failures as well as successes.



Software Testing Club busybee Rob Lambert provided some very good food for thought in his talk “Structures Kill Testing Creativity“. I don’t know how deliberate it was, but he did this really cool thing of standing at the door outside the room and greeting people as they came in. It certainly made me feel welcome from the beginning. He was also the first person up till then that I saw using Prezi. A kindred spirit! I sat back and enjoyed the show. The main point of his presentation that in order to foster creativity, we need *some* structure (he used the example of a sonnet which has *some* predefined rules to it), but that imposing excessive structure upon people and teams will suffocate creativity (my wording, not his). Rob defined creativity through the equation:

Expertise + Motivation + Imagination = Creativity

Rob then tried the Purdue creativity test on his audience – he asked us to draw the person sitting next to us in a mere 30 seconds, which led to some hilarious results (you can check some of the drawings on his blog – the speed-portrait of Lisa Crispin by the artist formerly known as Ruud Cox is pretty mindblowing). The point of the exercise was to show that when we have to share creative ideas, we constantly self-edit. We feel shy and embarrassed, even more so if the environment doesn’t feel safe to us. True. It struck me that almost everyone was apologizing for the bad portraying afterwards. Excessively structured environments don’t make good breeding ground for creativity.

Rob Lambert told a couple of personal stories about people who actively pursued creative environments for the better. Marlena Compton moved to Australia to work at Atlassian, a cool company without excessive structures in place. He talked about Trish Koo, who works at Campaign Monitor, a company that is apparently all about people. He mentioned Pradeep Soundararajan, who started using a videocamera to film testing in progress to make the testing language more portable and universal.

© Quality Tree Software Inc.

Dynamic? Peppy? Is there a stronger word than energetic? If so, it would describe the keynote by compelling storyteller Elisabeth Hendrickson. The title of her talk rang a little bell: “Lessons Learned from 100+ Simulated Agile Transitions“. The main subject was indeed the infamous WordCount experiment, which she has done numerous times, including her tutorial on day 1 of the conference (you can find my write-up for that here). Because of non-disclosure agreements, she couldn’t use actual pictures, so she used stunt hamsters to illustrate her point. Throughout her talk, it was nice to see that our WordCount group from the day before was no bunch of forgettable dilettantes. It was déjà-vu all over the place:

  • Round 1. The computer is bored (check)
  • Round 2. Chaos (double check)
  • Round 3. Structure (triple check, at least the beginning of structure)
  • Round 4. Running on all cylinders (quadruple check)

 The lessons learned: teams that struggle, typically

  • Hold on tight to rules, silos and work areas
  • Have everything in progress and get nothing done
  • Sit in meetings constantly instead of creating visibility
  • Fail to engage effectively with the customer

Teams that succeed, generally:

  • Drive development with customer-provided examples
  • Seek customer feedback early and often
  • Re-shape their physical environment
  • Re-invent key-agile engineering practises like ATDD and CI

The ressemblance to what our team went through the day before was striking. I was still pondering that throughout dinner, when it hit me that it would be my turn to perform the next day. By that time, the stage in the dining hall was taken over by overly enthusiastic improv actors, but I wasn’t really in the mood for that kind of entertainment. I obeyed the voice in my head. Must. Prepare. Prezi. 

To be continued… Day 3

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 1 (Agile transitions)

Agile Testing Days 2010 – Day 1

After a great experience at the Agile Testing Days last year, I decided to answer their call for papers early. By the time the full program was announced (somewhere in april), I had almost forgotten that I participated. So it was a pleasant surprise to see my name listed among all those great speakers. I decided to break out of my comfort zone for once and in the last minute I “prezi-fied” my existing presentation. Confidently stressed, I flew east to Berlin to be part of what proved to be a wonderfully memorable conference. 

October 3

It was sunday October 3, which meant I arrived on the 20th anniversary of the German unification. The last time I had been in the city centre, Berlin was still a divided city. I was 16, and overwhelmed by the contrast between the neon-lit Ku’damm and the clean but spookily deserted East. Going through checkpoint Charlie to the East – and happily back again, while others desperately wanted to but couldn’t – still ranks among the most awkward moments in my otherwise pretty uneventful youth. Sure, the Alexanderplatz, Ishtar gate and Pergamon museum impressed me, but why a country would deliberately lock up its people was totally beyond my 16-year-old self.

So, with a few hours of daylight left, I headed to some sites that I still remembered from the days of yore. The Brandenburger Tor was now the backdrop for big festivities: music, beer, bratwurst and parachute commandos executing a perfect landing at Helmut Kohl’s feet at the Reichstag. No concrete walls to be seen. Unter den Linden completely opened up again. It felt great. Sometimes nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.

October 4

© Stephan Kämper

The morning of tutorial day, the Seminaris Hotel conference lobby was buzzing with coffee machines and activity. I had enrolled for Elisabeth Hendrickson‘s “Agile transitions” tutorial, which turned out to be an excellent choice. Eight people were taking part in the WordCount experiment, of which Elisabeth recounts an earlier experience here. After a round of introductions, we divided roles within the WordCount company: tester – developer – product manager – interoffice mail courier (snail mail only) – computer (yes, computers have feelings too) or observer. Strangely enough, I felt this natural urge to be a tester. I didn’t resist it, why should I? Elisabeth then proceeded to explain the rules. We would play a first round in which we had to stick to a set of fixed work agreements, like working in silos, formal handoffs and communicating only through the interoffice mail courier. The goal of the game was basically to make our customer happy by delivering features and thus earning money in the process.

We didn’t make our customer happy, that first round. On the contrary – confusion, chaos and frustration ensued. Testers belting out test cases, feeding them to the computer, getting back ambiguous results. Developers stressed out, struggling to understand the legacy code. Our product manager became hysterical because the customer kept harassing him for a demo and no-one was responding to his messages. The mail courier was bored, our computer felt pretty abandoned too. It all felt wonderfully unagile.

In round 2 we were allowed to change our work agreements any way we wanted, which sounded like music to our agile ears! We co-located immediately and fired our mail courier. We organised a big kickoff-meeting in which the customer would explain requirements and walk us through the application. We already visualised the money flowing in. In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice – not so much. We spent a whole round discussing how we would work. We lost track of time. There were no new features, and no money. We felt pretty silly.

Round 3 was slightly better. We were able to fix some serious bugs and our first new features were developed, tested and working. But just when we thought we were on a roll, our customer coughed up some examples that she really wanted to pass too. They didn’t. 

Pressure was on in round 4, which was going to be the last one of the day. Would we make history by not delivering at all? Well, no. We actually reinvented ATDD, by letting the customer’s examples drive our development. This resulted in accepted features, and some money to go with that. We managed to develop, test and demo some additional functionalities too. A not-so-epic win, but a win nontheless. Wordcount was still in business. If there would have been a round 5, I’m pretty sure WordCount Inc. would have made a glorious entrance at the Nasdaq stock exchange.

Elisabeth did a great job facilitating the discussions in between rounds and playing a pretty realistic customer. All the participants made for a very enjoyable day too. The day really flew by and ended with a great speaker’s dinner at the borders of the Schlachtensee. A Canadian, an American, a German and a Belgian decided to walk back to the hotel instead of taking the bus. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but that refreshing 5km walk through the green suburbs was actually the perfect closure of a terrific day. And without a map, I might add. As the rapid Canadian pointed out later: documentation is overrated.