Agile Testing Days 2012 – Day 2 – Learn through disagreement

I think I was in the right place!
During Day 1 I kept on reading tweets about Lean Coffee that has happened earlier that morning. It intrigued me and I figured in for a penny in for a pound, and set my alarm for 6:45am. Following the award night the night before, it was _really_ hard getting up when it went off, but I did and after a very early breakfast, set off for the 10 min walk to the Dorint.

With Lean Coffee due to start at 07:30, I arrived at the hotel and made my way to one of the hotel bars. I soon realised I was in the right place as although the bar was empty, there was a table with post-it’s and pens! This MUST be the place!

The premise of Lean Coffee is to have several small timeboxed discussions. Everyone writes down what they would like to discuss on post-its that are then briefly explained and submitted to the pile. Once everyone is done, the group dot-votes on the topics. The topics are then sorted by the dot vote counts and the discussions begin. Each discussion had 8 mins to start with, which meant it prevented the discussions getting off topic too much. After the time elapsed, the group had a vote whether to extend the discussion by a further 4 mins or move on. Several discussion were had around training, soft skills etc. The conversations were really interesting and there were quite a few good ideas. Overall it was a very enjoyable experience, certainly worth the early start!

Make Melly Happy

Following Lean Coffee was real coffee, and much needed that was! The first keynote of the day was “Let’s help Melly (Changing Work into Life)”by Jurgen Appelo.

Draw lines to track happiness

This was a very interesting presentation, and set the day nicely. The theme to the keynote was projects are about the people, more-so than the actual tasks. So he started by showing a photo of an employee ‘Melly’ who looked happy enough. He then stated that she looked happy but actually hated her job. In fact 50% of Americans hate their jobs. He went on to say that the world over 50% of people hate Americans their jobs.

Jurgen talked about many ways to reduce the feedback cycle, not only of the project, but of the people management. Ideas such as Happiness doors, happiness tracking (drawing lines on a wall indicating your happiness for that day), kudo boxes (to compliment a colleague for good work). All of these (and more) ideas stimulate conversation amongst the team, lead to early detection of issues and investigation of solutions.

I’ve massively simplified Jurgen’s keynote and have certainly not done it justice, so I will post a link to the video once it’s available.

Following more coffee, the next talk was “How releasing faster changes testing” by Alexander Schwartz. This is a topic very close to our hearts at the moment, so I was eager to find out any juicy morsels that could help us achieve more frequent releases, and Alex did not disappoint.

He started off by confirming something that I have been a firm believer in for a number of years now; adding more people can do more harm than good when trying to release. This is for a number of reasons, but just adding new people to a team at such a critical time can be more of a drain on resources than they add.

The alternative is to have the whole team have shared responsibility for faster delivery. So the whole team is responsible for quality and testing. Obviously you will have the test engineers on the project who have the specialist skills, but there is no reason that the entire team cannot do exploratory testing on the product. This links nicely with the Developer Exploratory testing presented by Sigge on Day 1, and certainly something that my team are really striving towards.

Focus on cycle time, so what can be done to reduce the time between dev cycles, release cycles. What’s stops a release, what delays a release? all good solid questions that can be answered.

Alex suggested that perhaps the product doesn’t need to be fully tested. Doing less testing will reduce the cycle time therefore get the release out faster. He suggested a risk-based approach to planning what testing needs to happen. Reducing testing could have an impact on revenue if it causes harm to customers, so test the ‘right stuff’! Determine a set of tests that are ‘face saving’ or ‘smoke’ tests. These tests cover the core functionality of the product and aim to prevent major embarrassment if these areas were to fail!

Amongst many other very good points, Alex suggested that a good approach would be to release after every new feature is added. So do a bit of work -> release, do some more work -> release. By releasing small increments of work, the impact on the customer of bugs being introduced is reduced.

Red Pill, Blue Pill

The second keynote of the day was “Adaptation and improvisation – but your weakness is not your technique” by Markus Gartner and proved to be another very good presentation. It started off quoting lines from the Matrix which relate to adapting, improvising, realisation and mastery. It has alot of nerds in the room smiling!

Markus went on to explain how through deliberate practice ( and a lot of it!) you can achieve mastery, but then you never stop learning. Through methods such as code retreats, testing dojos, workshops you can continually improve and learn. The code retreat idea was one that interested me. It involved pairing to write an automated test for, say, 45 mins, they deleting all the code, finding a different partner and writing the same test again!

This is another keynote where the video will speak louder than anything I can write here! Markus did elaborate on something that Lisa and Janet had touched on yesterday whilst busting the myth that “Testers Must Code”. Whilst it is true that to be a tester, you don’t need to code, it is becoming more common that there is this crossover happening where more testers are coding and more programmers are testing. Markus made a special distinction between programmers and developers as testers develop tests code so this helped to make that clear.

“Extending Continuous Integration and TDD with Continuous Testing” by Jason Ayers was my next talk after lunch. We already do CI and a bit of TDD on my project team so I was interested to see what this continuous testing thing was all about and whether it would actually work for us. At the start of the presentation I was of the opinion that it just would not work for us because our tests are too slow, and that would be the case for many people.

Jason started off by setting the scene and saying that those doing TDD spend between 10-15% of their time waiting for tests to run. This can be reduced by testing less often, reducing the test time but this then increases the risk of introduced bugs not being spotted quickly.

Therefore, in comes Continuous Testing (CT). CT systems run your unit tests whenever you save some code and runs them in the background so you can continue working. This is a really nice idea, but to do this, your tests must be fast, independent and reliable. The latter two should be the case anyway, and the first is ideal, but hard!

Jason makes several suggestions to make tests fast. Firstly keep the scope of the test small, secondly spin off any expensive tests into a suite which is run, perhaps, overnight or outside of the CT system at any rate. So this started to change my mind, perhaps we could re-engineer our tests, and continuously run the quick ones to give an element of coverage.

This talk was very interesting and I’ve already tried a couple of the tools mentioned on our product (Mighty Moose and NCrunch). Sadly due to the way our solution is built, it currently doesn’t work, but we will look at whether we can make this work because this has the potential to be a mini-game-changer for us.

Using the wrong data

Gojko’s Hierarchy of Quality

The final keynote of the day was “Reinventing software quality” by Gojko Adzic. He opened the talk with the statement “We’ve got quality wrong because we are using the wrong data”! Gojko then went on to explain that we should judge a bug by whether the customer cares about it, not by whether we think it’s important. Why spend time fixing issues that the customer just wouldn’t care about and releasing months later because of this? Surely it’s better to release now and get customer feedback?

This was another reference to the idea of how it’s better to build the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. Get feedback early to make sure you’re making the right thing.

Gojko then showed something which was very analogous to Maslow’s heirachy of needs.

Successful – does it contribute to the business? Useful – does it do what the user wants Usable – does it do what it’s supposed to without breaking Performant/Secure – is it secure/is the performance acceptable Deployable Functionally ok – can it be deployed without breaking?

He then explained that User Stories should focus on change. In other words they should focus on the users needs, not the users process. Describe what the change will be, how that change will happen then measure it!

Networking and Beer

Following the day’s closing keynote, there were drinks and nibble for the ‘Networking’ evening. This was a great opportunity to talk to people. I find approaching strangers very uncomfortable but once again, when in Rome! Pete Walen and I had a long conversation about only fixing issues that the customer cares about versus fixing issues that make you proud of your software! Without saying much, and asking the right questions, Pete made me re-evaluate my thoughts on the matter. Clever, very clever! Oh and he ‘bought’ me a beer! 🙂

My Takeaway Triple from Day 2:

  • release small and release often to minimize issues creeping in and get faster feedback from ‘the real world’ 😉
  • Focus on issues that the customers care about, not what we think is important
  • It’s okay to disagree with someone, even if they are well respected agile testing gurus, that’s how discussion and learning happens!