Rapid Software Testing – skilled software testing unleashed

Up to 11

The software testing profession looks like a steadily maturing profession from the outside. After all, there are certifications schemes like ISTQB, CAT, IREB and QAMP (the one to rule them all), standards (ISO 29119) and companies reaching TMM (test maturity model) levels that – just like a Spinal Tap guitar amplifier – one day might even go up to 11. The number of employees that companies send off to get certified in a mere three days is soaring, and new certification programs are being created as we speak. Quick and easy. Multiple choice exams for the win!

The reality, however, is that the field of software testing is torn between different “schools” of testing. You could see these schools as determined and persistent patterns of belief, speech and behaviour. This means that different people – all calling themselves “test professionals” – have vastly different ideas of what testing is all about. Even something elementary as the definition of testing varies from “demonstration of fitness for purpose” to “questioning a product in order to evaluate it”, depending on who you talk with (for more info on the schools of software testing, I heartily recommend Brett Pettichord’s presentation on the subject).

And so it happens that different people think differently about “good” or “mature” software testing. I, for one, don’t believe in tester certification programs, at least not in the format they are in now and the way they are being used in the testing profession. The current business model is mainly designed to get as many people as possible certified within the shortest timeframe. Its prime focus is on certifiability, not on tester skill, and certainly not on the advancement of the craft. Advancement comes from sharing, rather than shielding.

Rapid Software Testing (RST)

So what are the options for a tester on a quest for knowledge and self-improvement? What is a budding tester to do?

I think there are valuable alternatives for people who are serious about becoming a world-class tester. One of these is Rapid Software Testing (RST), a 3-day hands-on course designed by James Bach and Michael Bolton.

Actually, calling this “a course” doesn’t do it justice. RST is at the same time a methodology, a mind-set and a skill set about how to do excellent software testing in a way that is very fast, inexpensive, credible and accountable. It is a highly experiential workshop with lessons that stick.

How is RST different?

During RST you spend much of the time actually testing, working on exercises, puzzles, thought experiments and scenarios—some computer-based, some not. The goal of the course is to teach you how to test anything expertly, under extreme time pressure and conditions of uncertainty, in a way that will stand up to scrutiny.

The philosophy presented in this class is not like traditional approaches to testing, which ignore the thinking part of testing and instead focus on narrow definitions for testing terms while advocating never-ending paperwork. Products have become too complex for that, time is too short, and testers are too expensive. Rapid testing uses a cyclic approach and heuristic methods to constantly re-optimize testing to fit the needs of your clients.

What’s in it for you?

  • The ability to test something rapidly and skilfully is critical. There is a growing need to test quickly, effectively, and with little information available. Testers are expected to provide quick feedback. These short feedback loops make for more efficient and higher quality development
  • Exploratory testing is at the heart of RST. It combines test design, test execution, test result interpretation, and learning into a seamless process that finds a lot of problems quickly. Experienced testers will find out how to articulate those intellectual processes of testing that they already practice intuitively, while new testers will find lots of hands-on testing exercises that help them gain critical experience
  • RST teaches you how to think critically and ask important questions. The art of questioning is key in testing, and a very important skill for any consultant
  • RST will provide you with tools to do excellent testing
  • RST will heighten your awareness

Bold claim bottom-line:

RST will make you a better tester.

RST comes to Belgium

Co-learning and Z-sharp are proud to announce that from 30 September – 2 October, Michael Bolton will visit Belgium to deliver the first ever RST course on Belgian soil, giving you the opportunity to experience this unique course in person. More info can be found here, or feel free to contact us for more info.

Brace yourself for an mind-opening experience that will energize and boost your mind.

All the way up to 11.

(for even more information and testimonials about RST, see Michael Bolton’s RST page)

 

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What happened at DEWT1 doesn’t just stay at DEWT1 (June 11, 2011)

A report on the first DEWT (Dutch Exploratory Workshop on Testing) on May 11, 2011 in Driebergen, NL

What started on twitter in november last year, culminated in a first major milestone last weekend: DEWT1, our first peer – and Exploratory – Workshop on Testing (yes, the D is for Dutch, but these Dutchmen happily accepted this Belgian foreign element in their midst). Michael Bolton added to the international character by agreeing to be our special guest for the weekend.

It turned out to be an inspiring and fun event. Here’s my write-up.

The venue

Hotel Bergsebossen, Driebergen, NL

The participants

People on DEWT-y, from left to right:

Jeroen Rosink, Ray Oei, Jeanne Hofmans, Michel Kraaij, Huib Schoots, Jean-Paul Varwijk, Ruud Cox, Zeger Van Hese, Michael Bolton

Peter “Simon” Schrijver (who was roaming the earth the Better Software conference at the time)  and Anna Danchenko could not attend

The pre-conference

We gathered on friday night as a warm-up to the conference. When Michael Bolton is around, this usually means getting lured into some tricky testing puzzles, and some beers to ease the pain of messing up. And yes, jokes too. And Talisker. After we discovered the versatility of the average Dutch hotel bouncer (half bouncer, half God ad-hoc bartender), we called it a night. A dream-ridden night it was, filled with newly learned terms, such as…

Shanghai (transitive verb) \ˈshaŋ-ˌhī, shaŋ-ˈhī\ (shanghaied / shanghaiing)

1 a : to put aboard a ship by force often with the help of liquor or a drug b : to put by force or threat of force into or as if into a place of detention

2 : to put by trickery into an undesirable position

The conference

Artful Testing

Speaking of which… during our last preparatory DEWT-meet-up, my fellow DEWTees shanghaied me into doing the first talk of the day, which they promptly called a keynote to make it sound like an invitation. I thankfully accepted though, since I wanted to get some feedback on my work-in-progress presentation. The link between art and testing has been consuming me for more than half a year now. I premiered my ideas on it at the second Writing About Testing (WAT) conference in Durango last month (if you haven’t done it already, you should check-out the great WAT write-ups from Marlena Compton, Alan Page and Markus Gärtner).

Ruud (who facilitated the morning sessions) kicked off the conference and invited me to take the proverbial stage. Based on the feedback from WAT, I made some modifications to the presentation and put it out here again for a second time. I don’t know if the subject was really fit for an early morning session, but I received some gratifying feedback that convinced me to pursue my efforts in this direction.

Transpections

Transpections (basically a way of learning and sharpening your ideas by putting yourself in someone else’s place in some kind of Socratic dialog) were on our DEWT wish list for quite some time already. We had been reading all sorts of interesting stuff on it (see James Bach’s post here, some Michael Bolton posts here and here, and Stephen J. Hill’s post here), so we asked Michael Bolton if he would be willing to give us a quick roundup on the subject. Michael agreed and made it into an interactive session, inviting us to pair up to gather information about transpections and then transpect on that. Meta-transpection for the win!

The information gathering exercise was enlightening, and brought up some good food for thought. Michael compared a transpection session with the play between a hammer and an anvil, where the hammer would be the initiator of the transpection, the anvil the person whom the initiator is transpecting with, and the metal the idea being shaped.

In the end, we didn’t get to try an actual transpection session, partly because I artfully exceeded my allotted time in the previous session. Oh well…  It was a valuable exercise nonetheless.

Lightning talks

After lunch there were some lightning talks to fight the afternoon dip:

  • Jeroen got started about the hierarchic “testing pyramid” model (testers / test coordinators / test managers) and how he wants to challenge that classical view
  • Huib followed, on “the power of knowing nothing”, about how starting with a (mentally) clean slate reduces the chances of being biased. “It’s not about the what, it’s about the “why”
  • I touched upon the topic of the Baader Meinhof phenomenon and how testers could leverage the effect by absorbing as much knowledge as possible, on several subjects (a blog about that has been sitting in my drafts since january 2010 – I’ll try to finish that)

Introducing exploratory testing in Dutch projects

Ray then presented an experience report on how he was able to introduce exploratory testing and session based test management in classic, T-Map-style projects, using the principles he learned from Rapid Software Testing. Discussion ensued on how to prove the benefits of RST, and what the major differences between the approaches are. But we ended up talking mostly about “release advice”, and what to do when you’re asked to give it. One take-away phrase for me: “it’s not declining, it’s empowering the product manager”.

Walking break & Positive Deviance

Although we finished the previous topic way ahead of schedule, everyone felt like the last discussion drained our energy (our staying up late the night before probably didn’t help either). Jeanne, who facilitated the afternoon sessions, had the brilliant idea to just go out for a walk in the “Utrechtse Heuvelrug” national park, which turned out to be a conference session in its own right: relaxing, fun and informative. A beautiful spot, too. There was a moment where I thought we were getting lost, but here’s another lesson: do not underestimate the power of nine explorers, without a map.

Back at the hotel, Michael talked about positive deviance and positive deviants (people whose uncommon but successful behaviors or strategies enable them to find better solutions to a problem than their peers, despite having no special resources or knowledge). He also showed us a video of Jasper Palmer, a patient transporter at the Albert Einstein hospital (and a positive deviant) who became famous for his “Palmer Method”, which is now a standard life-saving practice in a number of hospitals. A mighty fascinating topic, that I’ll be exploring more for sure.

Credibility

Ruud delivered the closing presentation, on credibility – the quality of being trusted and believed. The main issues Ruud addressed were: how do we – testers – build credibility, and how do we manage to maintain it? After all, trust is built slowly, but destroyed in seconds. Simple questions, but a very complex subject indeed. “Trust” and “credibility” are relations: you can be credible to some person at a certain moment in time, but totally incredible to another. Trying to build your credibility is not always something controllable. Sure, you can do your very best to improve your credibility on a personal level, but you don’t really have an influence on how people will perceive you. Ruud then explained how he tries to build credibility. He impressed me with the personal mnemonic he developed, and the matching artwork as a personal reminder to stick to these principles:

STYLE

  • Safety language
  • Two ears one mouth
  • Yes but
  • Lighten up a little
  • Empathy
I’m not going in detail here, because I specifically want Ruud to finish that blog post he’s been mulling over for ages now. So, yes Ruud, the pressure is on. You’ve got some great material – time to share it with the world!

DEWT1 ended with drinks, testing games and dinner. I ended the day way more energized than I started it, which is always a good sign (silly extroverts like me get fueled by events like this). DEWT1 rocked. It was informal, informative and entertaining. When is the next?