Values Are Key
Good conventional software testers can potentially offer a lot to a team provided their working attitude is aligned with that of the team. One of the most important aspects of agile development is the values that many agile methods encourage. A team focus rather than an adversarial relationship is important, and testers on agile teams tend to agree with the principles guiding the development process. A conventional tester should at least understand them and follow them when they are on an agile project. Understanding the values goes a long way to understanding the other activities, and why agile teams are motivated to do the things they do. What is important to an agile team? For one, working software. It isn’t the process that is important, it’s the product we deliver in the end. Agile methods are often pragmatic approaches to that end.
A good place to start to learn about values on agile projects is by looking at the values for Extreme Programming. These are the values that I personally identify the most with.
Many times I hear that testing teams should remain separate from development teams so that they can retain their independence. Even agilists have different opinions on this. This might be due to a misunderstanding of what “independence” can mean on a project. Testers must be independent thinkers, and sometimes need to stick to their guns to get important bugs fixed. To be an independent thinker who advocates for the customer does not necessitate being in a physically independent, separate testing department. Agile projects tend to favor integrated teams, and there are a lot of reasons why having separate teams can cause problems. It can slow down development processes, discourage collaboration, encourage disparate team goals, and impede team communication.
Testers who are integrated with a development team need not sacrifice their independent thinking just because they are sitting with and working closely with developers. The pros of integration can far outweigh the cons. If your project needs an independent audit, hire an auditing team to do just that. Then you should be guaranteed an independent, outside opinion. In other industries, an audit is generally done by an outside team. Any team that does a formal audit of itself wouldn’t be taken seriously. That doesn’t mean the team can’t do a good job of auditing itself, or doing work to prepare for a formal audit isn’t worthwhile. What it means is that a formal audit from an outsider overcomes a conflict of interest. If your team needs independent auditing, prepare for it by testing yourselves, and hire an outsider to do the audit.
I personally would rather be influenced by the development team and collaborate with them to do more testing activities. I get far more testing work done the more I collaborate. If I become biased towards the product in the process, I will trade that for the knowledge and better testing I am able to do by collaborating.
Do What Needs to be Done
A talented professional who cares about the quality of the product that they work on, and believes in the values of agile methods should be able to add to any team they are a part of. This isn’t limited to those who do software development or software testing, but also technical writers, business analysts and project managers. If the team values are aligned, the roles will emerge and come and go as needs arise and change. “That’s not my job!” should not be in an agile team member’s vocabulary.
On an agile project it is important to not stick slavishly to a job title, but to pitch in and do whatever it takes to get the job done. This is something that agilists value. If you can work with them, they can work with you, provided your values are aligned.
Understand the Motivations
The motivation behind the values of agile methods are important. Read Kent Beck’s Extreme Programming Explained for more on values. Read Ken Scwaber and Mike Beedle’s Agile Software Development with Scrum to get insight into how an agile methodology came about. The first couple of chapters of the Scrum book really provide a picture for why agile methods can work.
My favourite line in the Schwaber/Beedle Scrum book is:
They inspected the systems development processes that I brought them. I have rarely provided a group with so much laughter. They were amazed and appalled that my industry, systems development, was trying to do its work using a completely inappropriate process control model.
p. 24, Agile Software Development with Scrum, 2002, Prentice Hall.
This book provides a lot of insight into what motivated people to try something new in software development, and the rationale behind an agile methodology.
The values behind agile methods really flow from these early motivations and discoveries of pragmatic practitioners, and are well worth reading. When you understand where the knowledge of delivering working systems was drawn from, the values and activities really start to make sense.